Ask Not What Your Planet can do for You; Ask What You can do for Your Planet

Ask Not What Your Planet can do for You; Ask What You can do for Your Planet

To Teen Ink:

I feel that one of the largest challenges facing the world is the utter unawareness of the environment, and disregard for nature which plagues most people today. People simply do not care and are too undereducated to realize that the entire earth is undergoing a massive climate shift and will soon be irreversibly different. Two of the hottest years on record have occurred within the past five years. That record has existed since mid-1800. Undeniably, the earth’s climate is changing. At the current rate at which the global temperature is increasing, within fifty years the earth’s average temperature will be 10oC higher. To put this in perspective, over the last hundred years (1900-2000) the earth’s average temperature has raised 0.18oC.
Multiple different factors all culminate in global warming. The main perpetrators of the earth’s heating are greenhouse gases. A greenhouse gas is any gaseous particle suspended in the atmosphere which has the ability to absorb and reflect solar radiation. The actual heating occurs when the heat caused by the sun becomes trapped by these chemicals. Many people simply assume that carbon dioxide, produced by industry and internal combustion engines, is the only cause of greenhouse gasses. This is only partially true. While carbon dioxide does indeed make up the majority of the existing heat-absorbing gases, it is far from the only one. The primary greenhouse chemicals are CO2 (carbon dioxide), CH4 (methane), NO2 (nitrous oxide), O3 (ozone), CFC-11, and CFC-12 (chlorofluorocarbons). Through human production and microscopic algae, CO2 is the most abundant of greenhouse gases; however, CFCs are 17,000 times more potent at producing the greenhouse effect. Because there are so many different chemicals in the atmosphere and more being added every day, the rate of warming is beginning to spiral upward at an alarming rate.
What does this mean for the earth as a whole? One major effect would be a significant decrease in ocean salinity as the polar ice caps melt and fresh water flows into the oceans. The amount of permanent ice (ice that exists year round) is currently 54 percent lower than it was 50 years ago, with a dramatic decrease estimated to occur in the next twenty years. If the entire Antarctic ice cap were to melt (30 million cubic kilometers), then the world’s oceans would rise some thirty meters. This massive influx of cold fresh water would greatly decrease the ocean’s temperature. This change in temperature would in turn create a major imbalance in the ocean’s currents, making much of the northern latitudes far colder than they are today (since much of the north is kept temperate by the ocean’s currents). Besides this oceanic cooling, the water level rising so dramatically would flood virtually every coastal settlement, as well as greatly reducing usable farm land. In all actuality it is highly unlikely that the entire icecap would melt so quickly that it completely floods 70 percent of the world’s population centers. However, it does give an alarming worst case scenario, which is simply one more reason people should take notice, and be educated about the earth.
Assuming that the apocalyptic floods never occur and the icecaps stay stable, earth will be posed with many more heat-induced problems. With such a massive temperature increase, the amount of precipitation will take a steep decline, thus causing massive drought, such as the current Atlanta water shortage. Simply take that, and project it all over the world. Furthermore, many plants that live in very stable environments will be affected (the rain forests stay a fairly constant temperature). Because all of these plants would die, much of the already dehydrated world would begin to drop into famine as well. These are only the immediate effects. After the earth warms it will begin to cool (because of the aforementioned ocean currents) and be thrown into a new ice age. This is not a very optimistic projection.
This is the point at which the human race comes into play. While the damage to the planet that we have already caused is difficult to reverse, the majority of these disasters may be avoided. I strongly believe that with proper education, as well as some degree of determination, the human race can break its addiction to pollutants. If even just a small fraction of people walked to work or school, recycled their plastics, and planted one tree a year, the atmosphere would be far better off. In the style of J.F.K. “ask not what your planet can do for you, but what you can do for your planet.” It is our earth, and up to this point we have mistreated and misused its valuable assets.

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