Our Generation’s Great Challenge

Throughout recorded history, every generation has faced some sort of challenge. Sometimes it’s disease, famine, war or equality. Each generation so far has overcome what they faced. The Irish sailed across the ocean to avoid the potato famine, peace was returned after WWII, and much of the world recognized the equal rights of all people. Today, this generation, my generation faces something bigger than all of that. Something that could cause famine, bring war and will require the best of every person on this planet to solve. Yet as important and impending as this is, a large part of the population still fights the need to change it. As nice as it would be, ignoring climate change will not make it go away. The world’s climate is warming and it is the responsibility of all of us to start making changes so there is a world for us tomorrow.

As I write this, I look out my window to see snow falling onto a wintery wonderland…in April. Skeptics will be quick to jump on this and point out that if everything’s getting warmer there’s no way we’d have snow this late in the year. However, the model for climate change and global warming actually fits perfectly around what is happening right now. To understand how, we first have to know that there is a difference between weather and climate.

Weather is what happens out side each day. Today the weather is cold and snowing. Next week [I hope] it will be warm and sunny. Climate on the other hand, is determined by the long term trends and averages of the weather. Neil DeGrasse Tyson used a great example in Cosmos. Think of a man (climate) walking a dog (weather). The dog is free to wander back and forth, side to side but can only go as far as the leash. In the end, the dog’s direction is determined by where the man is walking. Likewise, as Earth’s climate warms, the weather may sometimes be colder, but overall it will be warmer and warmer.

There are other forces at work behind this snow as well though. The warming planet is melting the polar ice caps. This exposes more water. Surprising to many, open water is actually the darkest natural surface on the planet, which means it absorbs more heat energy than anything else. Water has a huge effect of the world wide air currents, which are a vital part of weather. With more water, absorbing more heat, the air patterns are changing and driving the cold arctic air South. Imagine walking into your kitchen and opening your freezer. If you leave it open for a few minutes you may feel a cool breeze moving across the room, and the air inside the freezer will begin to warm up. We’re leaving the door to our polar freezers open and though we feel cooler here, they are feeling warmer. It’s only so long before there’s no more cool air left.

Try as some might, there is no denying that the Earth’s average temperatures are rising. It is a fact. We have data from every imaginable resource to prove it. Satellite imaging, ocean currents, local readings. They all show a rise in the average global temperature. To claim this isn’t true is simple, willful ignorance. Others argue a much more debatable point. What is causing global warming. While I think it’s obvious that humans are the single most driving factor, there is evidence that we’re not completely alone in it. There is data to show that over the billions of years the Earth has been around, average temperatures have radically fluctuated. We know the dinosaurs lived in a very hot global climate, and there have been multiple ice ages. Many factors have played into this. Switching of Earth’s poles, moving of the tectonic plates, and even our precise position relative to the sun. Small changes make big differences, and so some argue that this global warming is just another natural process the Earth is going through.

While nature may be playing a hand in it, that hand would be extremely small and insignificant. These natural changes have happened over millions of years from one to another. We have witnessed huge changes in just a few generations. Specifically since the industrial revolution. Every since we started burning coal and fossil fuels, the average temperature has been rising in direct correlation to the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we’re pumping into the air.

In a previous post I touched a little on the importance of CO2 . If we didn’t have any of it in the atmosphere, our planet would hold onto virtually no heat from the sun. We would quickly turn into a frozen waste land like Mars. It traps some of the heat that is radiated from the planet’s surface from escaping back into space. But to see what happens with too much CO2, we have to look the other direction in our solar system to Venus. It’s runaway greenhouse effect has driven it’s average temperature up to nearly three times that of Mercury, despite it being almost twice as far from the Sun. While we’d never survive long enough to pump that much CO2 into our atmosphere, it’s an easy example to see how much of an effect it can have on a planet.

Now, before we all get too scared, let me just say that climate change is something that we can manage. There are many people world wide who are very passionate about it, and are already making huge strides towards fixing out planet. This does not have to be a sentence. In fact, it can be an opportunity. Our generation has the chance to change our entire way of life for the better. Cleaner energy not only means less greenhouse effect, but also less pollution for us to breath in. It means better weather and visibility. More easily accessible power for every person on the planet. For the tech people out there, think of all the possibilities which will come out of it. Longer lasting, smaller batteries. No more over heating. With cleaner modes of transportation would come some really cool advances we thought only possible in sci-fi movies like Elon Musk’s hyperloop. New industries would be booming and driving world wide economic growth! Fighting climate change could be the catalyst for the largest technological revolution the world ever has, and maybe ever will see!

We need to stand up not as a single nation, not as a single gender or skin color, but as a planet. A whole species, working together. There are countless ways we can all make a difference and while some may seem expensive, or too inconvenient, there is one that we can all easily do for free. Stop tolerating the willful ignorance of those who say it isn’t real. Open our eyes to scientific fact and realize that if we deny what is happening around us, we will condemn our selves, our children our entire race and every other living thing on this planet to extreme environmental changes which all may not survive. Earth will still be here. It will still spin and it will still orbit the sun. We are not saving the planet, we are saving our selves. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different.

If you’ve made it through all this with me, I thank you. I know that was rather long winded, but I felt I needed to say it all. I encourage everyone to learn more. Read, watch or listen to anything you can. Don’t base your stance only on what I’ve said. Familiarize your self with both sides of the argument, but remember to think critically about and fact check it all. Only you can make up your mind. I recommend Unstoppable by Bill Nye, or, as i always recommend, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. In the words of Bill Nye, lets change the world!

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