The State of Our Planet

While the average human can take baby steps to solve climate change, without the help of big corporations, the human impact on Earth will only get worse.

This is where the majority of the human imprint is created, through big corporations who produce mass amounts of pollution daily.

Kevin Beck

This is where the majority of the human imprint is created, through big corporations who produce mass amounts of pollution daily.

by Jayden Johnson, Contributor

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The way people are treating Earth is becoming a very serious issue as humans continue to destroy the planet. Benjamin J. Henley and Andrew D. King at AGU100 conducted a scientific study showing that the world may be facing a potentially dangerous level of climate change in 15 years. This could mean that humans and animals will not be able to survive if humans continue to mistreat the planet.

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An oil rig exploring for oil and gas. A new report says more than 50% of global industrial emissions since 1988 can be traced to just 25 companies.

While the average human does contribute to climate change, those at most fault are big corporations like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron. Tess Riley, a writer for The Guardian states in her article Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says  that “100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.”

“Certain gases (carbon dioxide and methane) in the atmosphere absorb the heat (infrared radiation) coming off the Earth and reemit it back to Earth, warming the planet. We need a certain amount of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere to keep our planet comfy, but human activities (burning fossil fuels and methane emissions from agriculture) are putting too much of these gases in the atmosphere,” Wilson responds. “Ice core samples from Greenland and Antarctica reveal historical concentrations of these gases going back a million years. Levels are carbon dioxide and methane observed in the atmosphere today are much higher than the ice core records. The ice core data shows natural fluctuations in greenhouse gases before humans. Today’s carbon dioxide levels are way beyond those “natural” fluctuation; providing evidence for the idea that the changes we are observing today are a result of human activities. We’ve been burning fossil fuels in large amounts since the early 1800s.”  The average human contributes to climate change through littering, driving, and consuming meat, but corporations contribute to climate change by producing major amounts of carbon into the environment.

Climate is the general, cumulative pattern of regional or global weather patterns. It’s very common for the climate to change and many factors play a role in this, such as atmospheric composition, rates of solar energy, the Earth’s reflectivity(which is referred to as albedo) and terrestrial geography. Climate behavior could be described as chaotic. It consists of changes and movements so complex that they can’t be perceived.

There is a common misunderstanding among people about the terms “global warming” and “climate change.” Many assume that they mean the same, however, they are different concepts that tend to go hand in hand. Virginia Burkett, the Chief Scientist for Climate and Land Use Change (CLU) states, “the climate of a particular place or region includes a combination of meteorological variables, including temperature, precipitation, barometric pressure win, and humidity. So the phrase ‘global climate change’ does not just refer to the warming of the atmosphere. ‘Global warming,’ on the other hand, literally refers to one variable – temperature. When the atmosphere warms, it holds more moisture and affects other aspects of the climate system, such as precipitation and humidity.”

“It is almost important to know the difference between weather and climate,” Burkett continues. “Weather refers to short term atmospheric conditions at a specific time and place, while climate is the weather of a specific region averaged over a longer period of time. Climate change refers to long-term changes that can be detected in the instrumental or paleo-record. ‘Climate change’ is a trend that can be detected in a record of several decades. The World Meteorological Organization states that climate change is a change that occurs over at least 30 years of record.”.

Conversely, The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) has solid evidence that humans are now a contributor to climate change. “Scientists have reached the conclusion (with very high

confidence) that the climate is changing by examining a combination of instrumental and proxy records. We have very good instrumental records of changes in the surface air temperature over the past century. Our scientists at USGS study the Earth’s paleoclimate record using ice cores, pollen in sediments, tree rings and other “proxies.” Those records help us understand and document changes in the Earth’s temperature were over the following online publication that shows how temperature has changed since 1900”, Burkett states. “This report also concludes that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. It concludes that the Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization and that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities will continue to affect all aspects of Earth’s climate system for decades and even centuries. The largest uncertainty in projecting future climate conditions is the level of greenhouse gas emissions going forward. In other words, the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.”

Bill Wilson, CKHS’ environmentalist teacher states that “historical climate data mostly comes from studying ice cores which reveal ancient gas concentrations and temperatures. Current climate changes are measured by thousands of weather stations all around the world monitoring temperature and carbon dioxide levels. NASA has a fleet of satellites making direct measurements on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, surface temperatures, and melting ice. All of these measurements point to the same conclusions: carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are rapidly rising and the carbon dioxide is coming from human activity, the average surface temperature is also rising to historic levels, and ice is rapidly melting rising sea levels. As the world warms, storms become more powerful, droughts and wildfires more frequent and more intense, As you watch the nightly news, you get the feeling that we are already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate, You would be right”. “Eating Meat. Industrial meat production is the leading cause of water pollution and not too far behind in air pollution; especially methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in its heat-trapping ability,” he continues. Human activities such as driving contribute to the amount of carbon dioxide released into the environment. Carbon dioxide is the gas that is most responsible for the warming of our planet because of its heat-trapping abilities.

So, how can humans prevent any further damage to the planet? “Solutions fall into two categories: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation involves activities that help reduce human influence on greenhouse gas concentrations — such as reducing fossil fuel emissions. As students, you can take actions in your homes and communities that reduce your impact on the atmosphere. Citizens can reduce global warming by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and by enhancing carbon stored in natural ecosystems, such as forests and grasslands. Adaptation involves purposeful actions taken to reduce undesirable effects or enhance positive effects of climate change,” Burkett responds.

Wilson states, “the world will transition away from fossil fuels because they are nonrenewable natural resources. The big question we need to ask ourselves is how much damage to the Earth System are we willing to accept before making the transition. Scientists, who are typically very conservative in their estimates, tell us that the global community must cut its carbon emissions in half by 2030 and increase the percentage of electricity generated by renewables and nuclear to 80% by 2050 to limit the 2100 global average temperature change to a mere 2oC above our current temperature. The longer we wait, the higher the global temperature by the end of the century.”

Starting with transportation, nothing beats walking or biking because it produced zero greenhouse gases beyond those produced to make the bike. If one is too lazy, transit buses and carpooling is second best.

This will only do so little, because unless large corporation is able to cut their use of greenhouse gases, the human impact on the planet may become irreversible. “Burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) emits carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas,” Wilson continues. “Most businesses would switch to renewable forms of energy that emit little or no carbon dioxide if these alternatives were cheaper and readily available. Governments can help hasten the transition to renewables by providing subsidies to the wind solar energy sectors. However, the fossil fuel industry is a well-entrenched and powerful special interest group; influencing government environmental policy in this country and around the world. Simply put, the fossil fuel industry is willing to risk the long term health of the Earth and its people, for a short term profit.” It’s too late to keep some fossil fuels from being burned, however, carbon dioxide removal, stratospheric aerosols, and space sunshade can all greatly improve big business impact on the planet.

Carbon dioxide removal can be done naturally from the atmosphere. But with human help through restoring forests or sprinkling iron dust on the oceans to spur rapid plankton growth will typically boost natural processes.

“The impacts of climate change are already being felt across the country, and climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well-being are rising. The following publication summarizes the impacts that have already been observed and the kinds of changes that scientists expect to occur over the coming decades. Again, you are free to use any of the materials in the National Climate Assessment,” Dr. Burkett concludes. While the average human can take baby steps to solve climate change, without the help of big corporations, the human impact on Earth will only get worse.

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