Robert S. Donovan

A coal fired power plant on the Ohio River just West of Cincinnati

Climate Change May Be Humanity’s Biggest Challenge

Two Perspectives

May 2, 2022

Never before in human history have we been so advanced. Yet we feel overwhelmed when trying to fix rapid climate change. On the surface, it seems like a simple fix, but this is one of the most complex topics that humanity has ever tackled.

To Fix Climate Change, We Must Hold Those in Power Accountable

When I was little, I didn’t want to think about the fact that the earth could die, and we too would go with it. When I first learned what climate change is, I would ask my mom why we didn’t have solar panels. Sometimes I would go outside and see how hot it had gotten. I was terrified and constantly worrying about what will happen. I would even sit down and just go on an endless cycle of thoughts about how the earth would look and feel. Would the earth burn up? Will the oceans flood us? Would the ground crack under my feet?

Global warming, now mostly called “climate change,” is the rise in the Earth’s temperature. Now, when you first hear that, it may not sound too bad, but these changes become permanent and will cause long-term damage. Because of these changes, food production is threatened, and the sea levels are rising, which increases the levels of disastrous flooding. It will get more hot and hot as time goes by. To me, global warming is a much more appropriate name than climate change, it hits you and gives you the hard truth. Climate change has more of a gentle approach to the enlarging problem we face today.

It seems as though many people have neglected the fact that global warming is still a very real thing. It can’t just go away. We have let it go on for too long and before you know it, it may be too late to reverse all its effects. The news about global warming was spread all over the world at one point, but it seems to have died down. Some people did try to help fight it but eventually forgot about it or gave up.

Now to prevent further climate change, we have to know what it is. Earth’s greenhouse gasses trap heat to warm the planet; without them, we would all freeze and turn into human popsicles. They are not only beneficial but necessary for life on Earth to exist. Unfortunately, too many of these gasses will cause the temperature on Earth to rise too high to the point where the ecological balance will be destroyed.

We humans are making the greenhouse gasses increase by us burning fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas, all of which release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

To reverse global warming, we need to leave fossil fuels. This is a very difficult thing to do because we rely heavily on them to heat our homes, run our vehicles, and provide us with electricity. The oil industry consistently makes trillions of dollars, but there are other energy sources we could turn to, such as solar, wind, and nuclear energy. The United States needs to step into its role as a leader and make the changes we need to start a healthy and refreshed world.

Not only are solar and wind energy renewable sources, but we can also use hydroelectric, geothermal, tides, and biofuel. Renewable energy is an energy source that we could not run out of because our using it does not deplete its source. For example, no matter how much we use the sun’s energy, sunlight will continue to exist. Renewable energy could play a big part in our conversion from fossil fuels.

The United States leaders know fossil fuels are terrible for the environment, yet they haven’t put them down. Senators and their spouses have invested in fossil fuel companies, making sure their money will continue to flow in. Leaving oil will be very hard to do, and doing so would leave an incredibly large impact on the economy. So many people invest in the oil industry. While 2.9 percent of industry shares are owned by corporate management, the rest is owned by 10s of millions of middle-class Americans. The industry supports more than 11.3 million jobs around the country. Since the oil industry is relied on so much around the world, we would have to move off of it slow and steadily.

Switching over to sustainable energy is extremely expensive. For solar panels, the price of installation can range from $9,255 to $28,000 for a single home. If the United States were to leave fossil fuels and use sustainable energy instead, how would we all afford it? President Biden made a bill called the ‘Build Better Act, which, if passed, would have provided the needs necessary for the American people, address the dangerous lack of money we have, and overall improve our economy by making transformative investments. Tax laws would be enforced so everyone would pay their fair share, and large corporations, wealthy citizens, and corporations would no longer get tax benefits for shipping money and jobs.

The Build Back Better Act contained many programs that would have tackled climate change. The programs would have helped the switch to better sources of energy easier for the people who can’t afford $20,000 solar panels, by offering a stimulus for homeowners to install solar panels. If citizens would get a check to get rid of their electricity bills, they would be more motivated to do something to address climate change.

Unfortunately, Biden’s bill did not pass in the Senate. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, whose family profits from a coal business in West Virginia, has had issues with plenty of climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act. Eventually, Manchin pulled his support for the act altogether, and without any Republican support, the bill died. This is a prime example of why we can not make the changes we need to better our problem with climate change. There are people in power who do not want to see these changes made because they profit off of the companies adding to the problems. They would rather continue making money instead of doing what’s right for everyone else. I’m sure they can make money elsewhere. There are many other industries to invest in. I get it, oil and coal are what’s making money, but you can even make your own money doing something that won’t put the entire planet at risk. Who will be the first person to invest in a renewable energy source? I’m sure after someone makes that decision, the rest will follow.

It is so tiring, we get so close to a solution, and then here comes more problems crashing down. The Build Back Better Act would not have completely solved climate change, but it would have been the perfect start. This act made it where we would have been way more likely to actually switch to sustainable energy. Some of the provisions would have had many persuaded citizens; they had benefits for the people following them and that would have helped save the Earth. It’s terrible how some people wouldn’t want to make the world better just because they want to stay wealthy. Don’t you have a savings account?

A budget was made specifically for fighting climate change. The reconciliation bill would have been an initial step in making America better. We will eventually run out of oil anyway so why not make the change now? Our say matters. Without us, these senators and presidents wouldn’t even be where they are. We need to stop giving the wrong people power, we need to lift up the people who actually want to make a change. We have the power so we need to use it for the better.

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A Reason for Optimism in the Climate Crisis

The Earth is warming, and it’s not cooling off. Each year seems to break some horrible new record. We may eventually reach a tipping point that signals not only the end of humanity but the end of life on earth as we know it. Even while scientists, activists, and much of the younger generation call for action and change, it seems most politicians and business owners are not interested in doing meaningful work while the fossil fuel industry works actively against climate change, leaving most people to feel cheated and hopeless because humanity can’t overcome its greed and obsession with personal gain. 

This leaves many people feeling discouraged. To them, the future looks dreadful. Younger generations feel particularly anxious and depressed because they don’t get to look forward to a lifetime of opportunity. Many are even afraid to have children for fear of having them live in a near-apocalyptic world. It feels like it’s too late for the human race and that our fate is sealed. But that’s (probably) not true.

Despite the seriousness of the climate crisis, over the years, a stigma has emerged that we are doomed and there is not enough time left to reverse the changes. This idea has rooted itself in many people, myself included, and this has affected the way we discuss this climate catastrophe. We think we are doomed and absorb all of our information through this filter. Most people believe that the end is unavoidable now. As of 2022, the global average temperature has risen about 1 degrees Celsius ( about 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times. The Paris Agreement’s (adopted on 12 December) main goal was to limit global warming to around 1.5 degrees celsius. But it looks unlikely that we will meet it. With the warming that we already have today, hot places will get hotter, wet places will get wetter, and the risk and strength of extreme weather events will increase significantly. 

Warming temperatures to 2 degrees cause all of these extremes to be more extreme, making them more common, and more ecosystems will be put under stress and many may not even survive. If it reaches 3 degrees celsius, major regions of the earth, especially in countries that are still developing, might become uninhabitable due to a lack of food for the population. Heatwaves will become a major global issue. Some of the bigger natural systems on earth such as the nitrogen cycle, the water cycle, and the carbon cycle will begin to break down. Hurricanes, fires, and draughts will all increase in scale and frequency, causing trillions of dollars in damage. Hundreds of millions of people will need to leave their homes. 

If the temperature increases past 4 degrees celsius, things will truly become apocalyptic. A decade ago, due to a lack of action and perspective, many scientists believed we were heading towards a 4+ degree world, and this belief was then subsequently adopted by the media and then the general public. Luckily this future is not as likely as before. Even if current climate change policies stagnate, we’re more likely to end up with 3-degree warming by the end of 2100. This is still terrifying and unacceptable. But comparatively, it can also be seen as good news. It may not seem like it, but this signals that over the past decade, we’ve seen enough progress that most scientists now think we have likely avoided the worst possible scenario. Although much risk still exists, we can pretty confidently say that humanity won’t go extinct. And from there, things will eventually change. 

So what has changed? Well, you probably already know this, but climate change policies all over the world have done nothing substantial. Instead of holding the main polluters accountable and adapting our lifestyles to be more sustainable, we mostly did nothing. And while this is mostly true and this is something we should be angry about it, it’s not the whole picture. Even though climate change policies were neglected and there was ongoing misinformation campaigns from the fossil fuel industry, there WAS progress. 

Between 2000 and 2010, total greenhouse gas emissions had grown by around 24%, over 3 times the increase in the previous decade. Considering that for countries that were expanding their infrastructures like China and India, coal was the cheapest fuel for growth, while countries who have already built most of their infrastructure using coal as a basis seemed uninterested in any other source, many people expected these trends to continue. The next decade turned out to be different though. Coal-burning in countries like India and China has been slowed down or leveled off. And it has noticeably fallen in more coal-dependent countries like the UK and US. Since 2015, three-quarters of planned coal plants have been canceled and 44 countries have agreed to stop making them. 

This was something we could only dream about ten years ago, but now it is very much a reality: coal is dying. It’s just not competitive anymore because technologies that we thought would remain expensive have matured rapidly instead. I’m sure we’ve all seen the commercials telling Pennsylvania homeowners that they can get rid of electrical bills completely and even receive government subsidies if they just switch to renewable energy. In just one decade, wind energy got three times cheaper, and solar energy is now 4 times as cheap. Both wind and solar are significantly cheaper the coal and other fossil fuel-based energies, despite the massive subsidies, investments, and global infrastructure propping up fossil fuels. We are at the point at which not decarbonizing is a bad business decision. 25 times more solar and almost 5 times more wind electricity is produced today compared to ten years ago. While this still isn’t enough to undo the major environmental disaster we have created, it is much more progress than we have ever seen. Not to mention that it isn’t just the renewable energy that has seen major progress: throughout the economy, people are working on and improving technology to lower emissions such as LEDs, electric heating, better insulation, and even ships traveling at slower speeds to save fuel. 

Everywhere we look, we see human ingenuity being used to help fix this larger problem. More and more people are prioritizing preventing rapid climate change and are coming up with solutions that, while on their own won’t stop global warming, all add up to help reduce emissions in even the unlikeliest of places. 

However, let’s not get carried away; all of this change and progression is great but it’s not enough. We are still doing too little, and technology alone is not going to magically solve everything. We need to use fewer resources and use them longer, design consumer goods that are repairable as well as durable, and decrease our energy requirements.

It will be hard work, but for the first time ever, enough positive trends have accumulated and there is actually some good news revealing a clear path toward reversing the change and becoming a sustainable society. Even though there wasn’t proper financial and political support, and despite fossil fuel lobbying, we were still able to make some progress. Now just imagine what we could do when climate change finally gets the political attention and funding it needs. But if the situation is so dire, why focus on these positive aspects? Well, If we want the world to change, we first need to believe that change is possible.

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