By Samantha Johnson
Climate change and global warming are terms used intermittently but there is a distinction. Global warming occurs when the average temperature of the earth increases over a period of time. Global warming is a result of greenhouse gases that become trapped in the earth’s biosphere. Climate change is the result of global warming. Climate change refers to a change in the ecosystem, long term weather patterns, oceanic activity, and animals. Climate change and its impacts have an array of societal implications; I am going to address these implications along with possible solutions within this analysis.
Climate change is a topic that has been spun by the mainstream media, debunked by corporate scientists, and remains a controversial topic in the US. In the media, there isn’t a clear consensus on whether the climate is changing due to humans, or just simply another event that may happen because the earth has gone into seemingly random and severe events throughout history. There are several contributors to climate change, and scientific data supports the fact that the contributors of a changing climate are due to humans.
Greenhouse gases are the leading cause for global warming. Greenhouse gases are unable to escape the earth’s many layers, so it becomes trapped in the biosphere (specifically, the stratosphere, a layer of the outer earth composed of gases). Since greenhouse gases become trapped and they don’t go through the various layers of earth and out into space, they stay within the surface of the earth, thus creating heat and lead to detrimental changes to the climate. One example is a rising ocean. Norfolk Virginia residents have experienced several flooding events caused by a rising tide. According to the New York Times, “Norfolk has experienced the highest relative increase in sea level on the East Coast — 14.5 inches since 1930.” (NYtimes.com).
Greenhouse gases are causing an abrupt change in the climate, proof that several man-made pollutants are to blame for weather and ecological changes. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas that is threatening our environment. Carbon dioxide is emitted from burning fossil fuels, cement production, and deforestation. Air pollution and water pollution are the main sources of chemical and toxic waste pollution, as well as burning garbage containing plastics and clothing. These all have an effect on greenhouse gases, and the disturbance of life-sustaining ecosystems around the world. (epa.gov).
The US is responsible for 75% of the world’s toxic waste. America only accounts for 5% of the global population, yet we use more energy and building resources than any other country. (Intersections, 2009). The US disposes of toxic waste in the ocean, rivers, sewage systems, underground, and by burning it. Society at large has an assumption that technology can clean up our environmental mess, and that humans can “fix” any problems that we’ve created. The problem with this logic is that humans live on planet earth- planet earth does not adjust and accommodate the climate and ecosystems to fit our needs. We have to recognize that protecting forests, rainforests, and countless eco systems on land and in the ocean keep us alive. If we disrupt these systems, we are jeopardizing billions of lives on earth, and the entire population of the United States.
I believe the blatant disregard for protecting the environment in our society is due in part to our economic system. We live in a free enterprise country, a place where you can run a corporation and make millions of dollars, and are rewarded for your monetary success, and there is no consequence for environmental implications caused by a corporation. Capitalism is about profit, and profit turns a blind eye at global environmental crises. Koch Industries is the 2nd largest corporation in the US. They own 200 companies under their primary corporation. This company has hired scientists and lobbyists to protect their interests- coal, oil, deforestation. (climatesciencewatch.org) Corporate science has been used to debunk climate change by companies like these who have a stake in the resources that harm the environment and impacts society the most. GE was responsible for dumping toxic waste into the Hudson river- and the company was never forced to hold accountability. To this day, the Hudson is so polluted that doctors warn people in the area to not eat the fish or drink the water. GE supposedly stopped this horrendous practice in the 1970’s, and supposedly began dredging PCB’s out of the water 2 years ago- but people are still told that the river is a health hazard. (livescience.com). This is an example of corporations not having to be accountable to the EPA, or anyone else for that matter. They were told to stop dumping waste in 1977- and it took GE over 30 years to do anything about it. It’s also an example of how as a society, we worship the dollar over the earth that inhabits us. Thinking this way is irrational and dangerous.
The only way to try and stall the looming change in climate is if we, as a society, drastically change our lifestyle and consumption habits. We have to adopt methods of clean energy that do not emit carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other pollutants into the atmosphere while protecting our soil and water. We cannot rely on the government or corporations to lead the way; it would have to begin with a massive social effort.
To go a step further, assuming society is ready to change their lifestyle and adapt to a simpler, environmentally friendly one, we would have to stop producing products that contain plastic, synthetic and chemical materials. That alone wouldn’t even be enough. Driving cars would have to be a thing of the past. This would lessen the production of fossil fuels and oil drilling, if enough people stopped driving. The food industry would have to be addressed; the meat industry contributes in several ways to climate change. Society would have to change their consumption habits surrounding meat. If more than half of our population stopped buying beef, there would be a surplus of beef that is not being used and it would force meat industries to reduce their level of production. Something like this would need to play out in order for toxic industries to change their harmful production practices. Likewise, if American’s stopped buying plastic products, companies would slow down production and it would alleviate chemical waste.
There are a few steps we can collectively take now to stall the imminent threat of climate change. Stop using commercial cleaning products. Baking soda and vinegar work fine; they even kill mold and mildew. Save rain water and use it to water your garden. Stop buying beef entirely. Recycle what you can; if you can’t recycle certain things, make use of them in your home- we must be creative with waste. And, start shopping at second hand stores. Stop buying new clothes, socks, or shoes. It’s a money saver and will eventually lead to clothing manufacturers limiting their production. And, last but not least, we have to find a way to be less – dependant on driving cars. If physically able, ride a bicycle. If that is not a possibility, use mass transit. These solutions are only stalling tactics, but if our society adopts these methods of living, it will become habitual. Everyone will save money in the process, and my hope is that we will be able to see a quantifiable decrease in greenhouse gases if we can adapt to this kind of lifestyle change. My fear is that these are unrealistic goals in our culture, and based on the values of our culture. Our culture is based on consuming, throwing away, buying what’s trendy, and believing what you watch on television. Materialism is a valued cultural attribute for many Americans. Before we adopt all of these lifestyle changes, it would be necessary to analyze cultural reasons for consumption, and giving incentives to people immersed in materialization to come back down to reality and consume thoughtfully, not selfishly.
Eitzen and Zinn Custom published “Social Problems”. Intersections Collection. Social Problems, Rowan Wolf’s Sections Only. 2009.
Piltz, Rick. “Koch Industries Multibillionaire Koch Brothers Bankroll Attacks on Climate Change Science and Policy.” Climate Science Watch. Web.
http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/2010/03/18/koch-industries-multibillionaire-koch-brothers-bankroll-attacks-on-climate-change-science-and-policy/. Government Accountability Project. 2010.
United States. Environmental Protection Agency. Climate Change- Greenhouse Gas Emissions. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/index.html. Web. Greenhouse Gas Overview. 2011.
Kaufman, Leslie. “Front Line City in Virginia Tackles Rising Sea.” New York Times. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/26/science/earth/26norfolk.html. 2010.
Welsh, Jennifer. “Fish Evolved to Survive GE Toxins in Hudson River.” Live Science. Web. http://www.livescience.com/12897-fish-evolved-survive-ge-toxins-hudson-110218.html. 2011.