To Save the Planet or to Not Save the Planet; We Really Have No Choice
2017, Middle School, Prose
4.65 trillion miles … an extremely great distance in almost any context. Well, this is how far the nearest hospitable planet, Kepler-186f, is from Earth. Many claim that the future is in space and that we can simply move if we corrupt the planet we were given. Well here’s the thing: you can gaze at the skies for years, but if it’s the land of the future you seek, I would shift your gaze back down to the planet on which you stand. Earth has all of the resources that our species needs; it only asks that we protect and respect it. As you know, we are not following this policy. We are not treating our Earth with the gratitude it deserves. Which is quite ironic considering that, as we have established, we have no other options. If we continue our habits, with the average American living in a nearly 3,000 square foot home and driving a pickup truck, we are not only figuratively – but literally (due to rising temperatures) – toast. As you delve into the issue of climate change, you realize that humans are hurting themselves on so many fronts. Essentially, the Earth’s equilibrium has been overthrown, and now we face the repercussions for our lavish lifestyle.
One of the main things that is being affected by climate change are the oceans. The oceans are carbon sinks, meaning that they absorb and retain carbon dioxide. Crazily enough, the oceans have taken in half of all human emissions since the Industrial Revolution (Pickrell 2004). But now we are emitting more CO2 than ever before, and every time that the oceans absorb carbon, they gain heat. This heat is threatening how the oceans function in many ways. One way that this heat is affecting the oceans is that warmer temperatures are melting freshwater ice. If this fresh water is put back into liquid form, it could negatively affect how the oceans circulate water. National Geographic writer John Roach explains that, “In the Atlantic Ocean … warm surface waters push northward, releasing heat into the atmosphere and becoming cooler and denser. As they do, the waters sink and flow southward in the deep ocean.” This circulation is crucial in bringing hot and cold water to different parts of the world. It brings warmer water and weather to parts of Europe, and helps regulate how cold the Arctic becomes. But, since freshwater has a lower salinity, and thus has a lower density, the balance that the more-dense cold water and less-dense warm water currently has could be thrown out of whack. If this off balance occurs, many species that rely on these currents would be at risk, and the countries that are affected by these currents, such as the United Kingdom, would face a climate crisis.
Another thing that this added heat will disrupt are many of the ocean’s species. For example, coral bleaching poses an immense threat to coral reefs, a crucial habitat for marine life of all sorts. According to the National Ocean Service, in the article “What is Coral Bleaching?”: “Warmer water temperatures can result in coral bleaching. When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white … Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.” In the last 30 years, approximately half of all the world’s coral reefs have been lost, leaving some of the millions of species that rely on these habitats exposed. If these species perish, the large and intricate marine ecosystem that we see today will be at risk.
Another problem that added heat will bring to the world is sea level rise. There are two ways that heat is causing this rising sea level: one, ice is being melted so there is now more water in the ocean, and two the heat is causing the water to literally expand. This is happening because the particles in the water are more active, so they collide and ricochet with more force, expanding the water. This is a serious issue for those who live below or at sea level. According to John D. Sutter of CNN, “147 million to 216 million people worldwide can expect to see their homes submerged or put at risk for regular flooding by 2100.” He also discussed the best and the worst that sea level rise will bring. For example, if we start turning ourselves in a positive direction, we could keep the sea level rise to only about one meter. But, if nothing is done and the East Antarctic Sheet melts, there could be a sea level rise of a whopping 65 meters. But no matter what, if humans don’t adapt to climate change, coastal cities could be looking at a trillion-dollar bill due to rising sea levels every year.
Another significant issue in ocean pollution is plastic waste. According to National Geographic, eight million tons of plastic trash are dumped into the ocean every year. This plastic collects in massive patches due to circular currents known as gyres. In these patches lie large chunks of plastic, but also lethal microplastics. Microplastics occur in two ways: when plastic breaks down creating small pieces, or when manufactured microbeads, found in some cosmetics, enter the water. Microplastics of all kinds are hard to spot and unfortunately, easily ingested. Many animals, including humans, are found with these plastics in their digestive systems. Fish mistake the pieces for small fish or plankton, and these plastics continue up the food chain when the fish are eaten. Microplastics never decompose, and as stated by “Tox Town,” a government website, “Microplastics both absorb and leach out chemicals and harmful pollutants in the marine environment.” These small plastics pack a toxic punch that is seriously hurting marine animals.
So, what do we do? The million-dollar question. There seems to be a lot of different opinions on this. Some say that climate change is not an issue, others are preparing for the end of the world. In my eyes, those responses are equally wrong. To ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence is simply stupid, but to believe the truth and not do anything is almost worse. Here’s what needs to happen: we need to change. By change I do not mean taking shorter showers or planting a few trees, I mean make a dramatic difference in how we live. There should be a limit, a terrifying word in our society apparently, on how much carbon companies are producing. There needs to be regulations on plastic production and consumption, deforestation must cease, cars must be electric, renewable energy must be used, and water needs to be conserved. We know how to make this happen, we just need to want to make this happen. We need to take a step back and realize what is important. To quote Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” We are supposed to be the smartest species that has ever lived, yet we are continuously hindered by our fear of change. What will it take humans to make the realization that what we are doing is not working? Will it need to be the day when we are drowning in water we cannot drink and praying to see the sun through the smog? That paints an ugly picture, but thankfully, that day can be avoided. If we are not dictated by our obsession with consumption and money, and act as a world, not as 196 countries, we can ensure a promising future for the generations to come. Because as the Native Americans once said, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
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I wanted to voice my frustrations but acknowledge the hope that I have as well. One of the things that irritates me most is someone with no hope. I understand that people are feeling beat down by current events and statistics, but no problems were ever solved with desperation. We need creative, inspired, and optimistic people to power through these tough times and secure a better future for our planet.