What is Climate Change? How is it Affecting Us?

Hailey Jiang, Staff Writer

 Two years ago Greta Thunberg, Swedish climate activist, gave a heartbreaking speech about the climate crisis at the UN summit. She proclaimed: 

For more than thirty years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight!

She is right. Let’s look at some of the facts. Climate change is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.”  Climate change is a global warming or difference in the climate caused by the greenhouse effect.

Fossil fuels emit dangerous gases into the atmosphere. These gases cause the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are all called greenhouse gases.

The three main fossil fuels are oil, coal, and natural gas. According to the EESI, or Environmental and Energy Study Institute, a large amount of oil is used for transportation. Oil extraction and spills significantly damage the environment. Oil emits forty-six percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The greenhouse gases from oil aren’t natural! We release so many greenhouse gases that just the emissions from oil alone is almost half the amount of total emissions! 

Coal is used to generate electricity, and the burning of it releases air pollutants. Coal mining destroys crops and soil, and mine waste pollutes waters. On top of this, coal is responsible for nineteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions with the number expected to rise to twenty-one percent in 2021. 

   Clean coal is an environmentally friendly way of making use of coal. When people talk about Clean Coal, they refer to Carbon Capture and Storage. In this process, the carbon and coal are separated, and the carbon is returned underground. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions.     

 The last fossil fuel is natural gas. Natural gas is made mostly of methane. It is released when waste in city landfills decomposes. Natural gas makes up a third of the total amount of energy used in the U.S., and is mainly used for heat, electricity, or industrial purposes. It is responsible for one third of greenhouse gas emissions.

The greenhouse effect is a natural process where gases such as carbon dioxide warm the Earth’s surface. These gases allow sunlight to shine on Earth and then trap it like a greenhouse. This is essential for human life. However, since the early 1800s, we have released greenhouse gases at a faster rate than ever before. In turn, this sudden increase has caused a rise in the Earth’s temperature. The bottom line is that the average temperature is rising higher and higher. If we don’t act quickly, we will see catastrophic effects.

Climate change spreads diseases. According to the article “Half of All Species Are on the Move—And We’re Feeling It” by Craig Welch of National Geographic, scientists in Sweden found that many lakes and streams once used for drinking water now have a parasite in them that causes giardia, a human intestinal illness. Disease research scientist, Maria Furberg, suspects the cause is newly arrived beavers. The beavers traveled there because they were following the willow trees north. This is most likely because their natural habitat was too warm for them. This threatens part of the water supply in Sweden. A situation such as this could happen anywhere.

Malaria is an example of a deadly disease aided by climate change. Mosquitoes love warm climates, and the climate crisis is widening their range of mobility. They appear higher up the Colombian and Ethiopian mountain slopes. With increased rain in Africa and warmer temperatures, the mosquito population has bloomed, and with it, malaria cases. Leishmaniasis, a virus once only in the tropics, has traveled with their host sandflies all the way north to Texas – to a whole other continent.

The above mentioned article also describes crop pests. Crop pests pose a significant threat to our food supply. Diamondback moths are spreading in South Africa, devastating the cabbages, kale, and cauliflower grown there. Fungi and pests that attack coffee plants are popping up in new areas. They pose a great threat to such an important crop. American scientists believe the Johnson grass, a type of protrusive weed, is encouraged to grow due to climate change. It takes up the limited space farmers need for crops such as corn. 

      Climate change is a serious problem. It can kill us in the long run. It is affecting us in more ways than damaging the wildlife; it is changing weather patterns and causing storms to be more destructive, destroying many coastal cities and pushing some further into poverty. If we don’t act soon, the Earth will soon be uninhabitable for human life. Climate change is real; it’s a serious problem, and we need to be the generation that stops it.