Nonfiction in response to Climate Action
By Grace Muresan
At school, I was taught that climate change is defined as a change in global or regional climate patterns. As I grew up, I learned that the phrase ‘climate change’ refers to the insidious, long-term impact of actions by humans to the one place in the universe that they have been living in, mostly due to the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere produced by the use of fossil fuels. Climate change leads and has been to blame for the change of weather patterns, rise in sea levels, more frequent extreme weather events, and disappearance of many species, which I will bring up again later. (https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/climate-change-2/).
On November 10th, 2018, I went to the 1st Youth Climate Action Summit, founded by The Tech for Global Good Student Board. The Summit was held at The Tech Museum and introduced by Bob Ballard, the man who discovered The Titanic, streaming live from The Nautilus off the Channel Islands. He said that 90% of large fish in the ocean, a main food source, have been eliminated, and that tropical forests are being destroyed at a rate of 31,000 square miles a year, even though they are the lungs of the earth and help climate change recovery by absorbing carbon dioxide. He continued by saying, “Planet Earth can always bounce back, but can we?” I think that he meant that earth has been around for 4.5 billion years, but modern humans have only been around for about 200,000 years, and even if Planet Earth survived the disease of humans and their side effects, we might not.
The entire Youth Climate Action Summit was an amazing and inspiring experience in general, but one of the most remarkable things about it was the general and well-expressed feeling that empowering youth and women is the key to sustaining the earth. The logic in that is that almost 50% of the population of the world has almost no say in solving society’s problems, and we need to change that. Another key point that I noticed was mentioned often was that the generation just before today’s students left our younger generation with an environment and systems that need fixing, and due to this, we need to be educated early about climate change and global warming.
I was also inspired by an activity during the Youth Climate Action Summit, a short Model UN meeting. A partner whom I had never met before and I were representing developing countries, including Mexico, most of South America, most of Africa, part of South Asia, and Indonesia. Something important that I learned was that developed countries generally create climate change because the way that their economy developed leaned on fossil fuels, while developing countries are most affected by it due to position.
I must admit that I heard a lot of stories but have never felt the actual impact of climate change. For example, when I went to Mt. Rose in January of 2018, I could still ski the snow-covered slopes and there were even days when I could not go out because the road up to the resort was closed due to a snowstorm. The concierge, however, recalled that back in his younger days, the snow would start coming in early December, and that if he wanted to enjoy the sport, his family would have prepare to be buried under the snow for days, sometimes weeks. Now, he said, the resort had to run the snow maker in order to get business up and running. The snow would not fall regularly, either, he added, and only for a few days or weeks in a year.
I feel like I did not witness the impact of rising sea levels firsthand either. In March 2018, I went to the Dry Tortugas archipelago, the most remote islands in the Gulf Coast, and found that the island and its facilities were still intact since its establishment in 1935. (https://www.nps.gov/drto/index.htm). None were buried under rising sea levels. The disappearance of many species, however, affected me a little more.
In November 2018, when I went snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay, Honaunau Bay, and Kahalu’u Beach in Hawai’i, the supposedly top snorkeling spots in the Big Island, I saw various types of fish and sea creatures, swimming in and out of rocks and corals. I thought it was common to see grey, black, or white corals inside the water, but my parents told a different story when they were there 15 years ago. They explained that there had been many more colors and species, and that due to global warming and warmer water temperatures, most of the coral had been bleached over the years. When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae, bleaching the coral. I would have loved to see more colors. Then I went back to school, and I witnessed firsthand the unfortunate fate of a 5-year-old girl who had to stay with her cousin, my schoolmate and friend, because her parents were killed in one of the deadliest fires in California. (https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/12/us/california-wildfires-woolsey-camp-hill-missing/index.html) Those fires are definitely considered extreme weather events, and most likely related to climate change.
My experience and literature review led me to ask: “What exactly is causing global warming and climate change?” I found that some causes are:
Burning coal, oil and gas
Cutting down forests (deforestation). Trees help to regulate the climate by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, so when they are cut down, that beneficial effect is lost and the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect.
Increasing livestock farming. Cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane when they digest their food.
Fertilizers containing nitrogen produce nitrous oxide emissions.
Fluorinated gases produce a very strong warming effect, up to 23 000 times greater than CO2. Fortunately, these are released in smaller quantities and are being reduced by EU regulation.
From this comes an argument which cannot be resolved too easily. Who is doing these things that cause global warming, and why have regulations not stopped them yet? Some people argue that industry and the government is responsible for all of this. On the one hand, this argument is valid because industry includes all the oil, gas, and coal companies that supply us with energy, certain factories that pollute the environment, and the concept that government won’t put an end to this quickly.
I found a website that supports this side of the argument: (https://blog.ucsusa.org/aaron-huertas/dear-humans-industry-is-causing-global-warming-not-your-activities-697)
However, global warming is not completely industry and government’s fault, and we can do things about it too other than pinning it on them. You have probably heard a lot about how adults can help the cause of saving the earth, maybe by eating less meat, being careful about what they buy, driving less, etc., but what can we do, as young people, to help the cause of global warming and climate change?
I learned over the years that we can do the following:
Volunteer (e.g. I write for Actions in Spotlight, to raise awareness)
Write to political representative (e.g. When I was 9 years old, I wrote to Barack Obama and got a letter back)
Use online platform to reach others
Be a role model to inspire others (e.g. not wasting food when buying in school cafeteria)
Do scalable acts:
a. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (e.g. fixing, repurposing, upcycling, instead of buying new goods)
b. Be aware of water and non-renewable energy use (e.g. fill up dish and clothes washers, do not fill a cup with water for drinking only to throw it away, turn off taps when brushing teeth, dry clothes on a clothesline under the sun instead of using a dryer, use solar lights for gardens/lawns, use a timer for use of electrical outlets, do not open the refrigerator too often or too long, install plastic on windows and repair cracks in the house to prevent cold drafts in winter, open windows to improve air circulation in summer)
c. Be green (e.g. use bikes, walk, or carpool to get places)
Finally, I was inspired by my interview with the founder and chairperson of The Tech for Global Good Student Board, Haris Hosseini. He said that he created the Youth Climate Action Summit because he realized the real need for young people to learn about global warming and climate change, because this world is our future home.