Why do people ignore repeated warnings before finally taking action? It seems that only during 2019 people have finally begun to recognize – seriously recognize – that the world faces a catastrophic environmental crisis. Why now? We’ve been warned about this for years. Of course we need to solve these problems – but why did we wait so long? Are we just lazy? Is this some weird biological limitation in humans? Do other animals suffer from this problem, too? Of course, I am no saint, but my point is, why does the lightbulb now switch on for these problems?
“Only 12 years remain until the world is in an irreversible environmental crisis.” I am not sure how many times I have heard that warning phrase within the past year. This is perplexing because scientists have cautioned the public for years, decades even, that the environment is becoming crippled to a point where people and other species may shortly become extinct.
Up until recently, many people either didn’t believe or didn’t care that the environment would become as bad as scientists were saying. As a result of almost no one making significant changes to help the evolving crisis’, the world is now in an almost irreversible environmental crisis. People are only seeming to change their habits now because it is almost too late, this could have been easily prevented.
One of the first warnings for the environment dates all the way back to 1824 when French scientist Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier described the greenhouse effect. This is the observation that the Earth’s atmosphere traps heat and makes the planet warmer. Without the greenhouse effect, Earth would be a very cold place. It has been suspected that there may be a balance to the atmosphere that could be disrupted, leading to a “greenhouse” so hot that it could kill all plants. Since 1824, more environmental theories have been studied, including climate change.
Climate change has been thoroughly studied since the early 1900’s because scientists noticed ice ages were melting and other natural changes in paleoclimate were found. The natural greenhouse effect was first identified then. Climate change is a change in global or regional climate patterns. This has greatly attributed to the increased levels of carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels and global warming (a steady global rise in the average temperature which has caused a rise in sea level and melting glaciers.)
What Caused the Environmental Crisis?
People often don’t want to hear that they are the cause of any problem, but the environmental crisis happens solely because of humans. There have been continual environmental crisis’ during the past few decades. The Earth is sensitive and can easily be trashed by humans and the products we use. While this is true, there are ways we can solve this.
One environmental problem that people caused, but mostly fixed, was the problem with a hole in the ozone layer. The ozone layer prevents UV light from passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. This is vitally important to living species because without the ozone layer, harmful UV wavelengths can cause skin cancer, sunburn and cataracts. In 1974, scientists found that the ozone layer was getting thinner which was probably caused by human activities. In the mid-1980s, scientists discovered that holes in the ozone layer existed at the poles. According to World Economic Forum, the layer was being depleted by chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were at the time widely used in aerosol cans, fire retardants and refrigerators, among other things.
When inhaled, ozone can damage the lungs and can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation. Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections. The particles in ozone can also contaminate the air which makes it hard to see objects even just a little far in the distance.
Los Angeles is a huge city that was strongly affected by ozone pollution from the 1970’s through the 1990’s and somewhat still today. My mom grew up in Los Angeles during this time frame and lived only 3 miles away from a 5700-foot-high mountain that would vanish on high pollution days. This always shocked me because I know whenever I visit, I can see the mountains clearly from a much greater distance. How was this problem resolved?
Ozone pollution in Los Angeles was slowly cleaned up by improving automobile emissions, in particular, and other anti-pollution controls. California is allowed to set higher air quality standards than the other US states.
As for the ozone hole, in 1987, 197 countries signed the Montreal Protocol to save the ozone layer. Simply put, the treaty stated that those countries would stop using and producing products that had CFCs and similar ozone-depleting chemicals. This went into effect in the beginning of 1989.
This treaty worked. More than 135 billion tons of CFCs emissions were prevented from rising into the atmosphere between 1990 and 2010. The World Economic Forum estimates that this action may have prevented up to 2 million cases of skin cancer worldwide by 2030. In 2016, scientists confirmed that the agreement was working. The ozone layer was healing.
While the levels of CFC emissions in the environment dropped after the Montreal Protocol, we’re now facing an even bigger program with CO2. When CO2 is produced methane is also present, these particles are released during the combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, to produce electricity. Similar to CO2, if methane leaks into the air before being used (from a leaky pipe,) it absorbs the sun’s heat, warming the atmosphere. In short, one major cause of dramatic climate change is due to the large amounts of methane and CO2 produced. About 63% of the US electricity is generated by fossil fuels; only 20% was from nuclear energy, and about 17% was from renewable energy sources. In 2017, 45 billion tons of global emissions were produced from all human activities, and there was a 2% rise in burning fossil fuels from 2016. An effective solution to solve this problem would be to use renewable resources for our energy including solar energy, wind energy, and hydropower.
Although there are problems that seem to have a permanent solution, such as the problem with ozone, there are other problems where a temporary solution can backfire overtime and lead to even greater trouble. For example, one of the causes of the current environmental crisis is because of the daily, global use of plastic. Plastic used to be considered environmentally good as it was seen as a “solution” to end another environmental crisis several years ago. How ironic.
The reason why plastic bags became globally used was not only due to the fact that plastic bags are cheaper and stronger than paper bags, but also because plastic bags were a solution to the problem of deforestation. In the 1980’s when plastic became mainstream, no one seemed to realize that this would become a contributing factor to one of the most devastating, nearly irreversible crisis in human history. Plastic has negatively affected many areas, such as the environment and human and animal health. As stated by TernGoods, plastic is environmentally bad because it contributes to global warming and ocean pollution. Plastic is bad for human health because the molecules in plastic are synthetic and can result in environmental degradation which can take a toll on human health if the particles are absorbed into our bodies, and even though the cost of plastic manufacture is low, the cost of disposal and clean-up of plastic bags is not trivial.
Plastic is everywhere, it is hard to know how much you are using since it is everywhere. When you are eating at a fast food restaurant, it probably doesn’t occur to you how much plastic and paper you are wasting. Think about it, almost any burger chain will give you a wad of napkins, ketchup packets, plastic straws, cups, and lids. It can be inferred that after this one use, that you will casually throw it away; or, you might not even use this product and still throw it away. If I had to guess, not many people after they are finished with their meal would go back up to the counter and give the unused product back to the employee for someone else to use, and imagine the startled look on the clerk’s face if you did.
Every day, large amounts of single-use disposable plastics are thrown away, but they will last forever, in landfills. Globally, we make 300 million tons of plastic waste each year. Disposable plastics are the largest component of ocean pollution. According to OceanConservancy, every year, 8 million metric tons of various plastics enter oceans along with the already existing estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate our marine environments. To help our friends in the ocean, we can give back the products we don’t use at fast food places, use reusable cups and straws, and when shopping we can bring our own backpack so we don’t have to use the plastic bags they give us.
There isn’t a way to stop new environmental problems from existing, but we have the ability to fix them as proven by the effective solution with ozone. We can solve the current problems of our environment by making a few changes.
What Can We Do to Help?
While there will likely be more environmental crisis’ in the years to come, this doesn’t mean we can’t help the crisis that is occurring right now. To help the crisis right now we should try to do everything in our power to clean up after ourselves. We can do this in many easy ways by: reusing single use products or not using them at all, recycling, reducing CO2 emissions by using public transportation, walking, and biking instead of primarily using individual cars to take us places. This is also good exercise, too. As of right now, this is what we should do to help the occurring situation and hopefully if it goes away, we can continue doing these minor changes to our daily lives to ensure a better future for ourselves, our following generations, and our animal friends.
A very quick and easy way to help out and do your part in helping this crisis is to donate money to a credible charity that will help clean the oceans, the air, or the animals that are going extinct.
Hopefully in the future, we as a society have learned a valuable lesson from this specific environmental crisis which is, do not wait until the last minute to fix our mistakes.
Which Websites Are Not Fake?
Many websites that say they’re “charities,” actually aren’t, so make sure you know where your putting your money towards and do your research but as for now, here are a few real charities you can donate money to:
As mentioned above, CO2 emissions are one of the main reasons for being in this crisis. Project Vesta is a charity to safely remove CO2 from the environment. First you go to the website, https://projectvesta.org/grain-of-hope/, and in the top bar of the website there is a tab that says “donate” and you click on that and you can make a one time purchase of however much money you want to donate over $25. In addition to donating, you will receive a necklace per every $25 you choose to donate. The website states that in the future when they have a beach, each $25 donation will equate to 1.25 tons of CO2 removed.
Previously explained, plastic pollution is a cause for death of sea animals and Plastic Oceans is a charity to clean the oceans of plastic. To donate money to the charity you go to the website, https://plasticoceans.org/, and the first thing that you will likely see is an option to donate money to the charity. After you click the “donate” button, it will lead you to a page that gives you the option to donate however much money you want and you can also do a one time, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual donation.
The Leonardo DiCaprio foundation is another charity that people can donate to. This was established more than 20 years ago and through partnership raises money to help the environment and the species living in it. Some of the areas the foundation tries to rehabilitate are wildlife and landscapes, marine life, and climate change. Although the foundation mainly raises money through partnerships, you can still donate to the causes. This can be easily done, first you go to the website, https://www.leonardodicaprio.org/, then you click on however many of the six areas they focus on, and the website will give you an option that says “support (whatever cause you choose)” and you can donate however much money you want either once or monthly.
We should always try to do anything we can to help the Earth not only for the current situation but for future situations as well.
I know that this article is only raising awareness towards the issues, but I am not trying to fool you that by reading this you are raising money towards these issues. Hopefully this article better informed you of your knowledge of the crisis’ and helped you decide to do something to help. In the end, these problems still exist, and the world has been crying out for help for so long. There’s more you can do than read about these problems, physically do something to change it. My final question, how will you actually help? It is not too late yet, but it will be soon, we as a society really do need to change.
Climate Change Research: