#EarthDay2020: Carbon & Us

In the second article of this series we will look how carbon is affecting humans as a whole. We have always had a big impact on Earth and each other. This article explores some of those big impacts.

#EarthDay2020 ACE Recycling Blog Series

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.  #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

In the second article of this series we will look how carbon is affecting humans as a whole.  For a general run down on carbon, read Carbon 101, the first article in this series.   It is a scientific fact that the climate is changing at an unprecedented pace caused by human activities, in the same way that it is a scientific fact that a pencil will fall to the floor when dropped.  Now we need to band together to innovate and create a solution.  This communal problem solving is uniquely human and one of the most powerful forces on Earth.  We have created civilizations from dirt, flying machines from metal forged in fire and the internet.  We have always had a big impact on Earth and each other.  This article explores some of those big impacts.  These impacts come from choices made by you and I, but ripple out to affect humans half way around the world.  How do your choices have that far of a reach?  Because nothing exists in a vacuum, that is to say that everything affects everything else.  It is very important to understand that us humans are a part of the system and are subject to the laws of nature.  Therefore, when we alter one thing, it will alter something else and those alterations will affect all life on earth.  Being a former teacher and general science nerd, I believe knowledge is power and understanding is the first step to making conscious, deliberate choices in our everyday lives to decrease our impact.  Our choices, from the car we drive to the meat we eat, affect everything else because we are part of this big, beautiful system we call Earth.       

Climate Change is Happening Now

According to the 10 New Insights in Climate Science, “The pace of contemporary rise in greenhouse gas concentrations is unprecedented in the climate history over the past 66 million years.”A warming Earth alters more than just baseline temperatures.  A warmer climate alters the water cycle, (increased temperature causes evaporation) and is shifting biomes northward.  We are actively, in real-time, seeing life on Earth adapt to this ever-warming climate.  Migration patterns, mating seasons, harvest cycles and many other season-linked activities are changing or have changed.  Life is adjusting and adapting as it has done for millions of years. Humans are too, but most do not see the connection between climate change and societal issues.  Immigration, war due to drought and famine (Arab Spring), increased energy prices, higher food costs and more intense and far-reaching diseases, are all direct consequences of climate change. 

As the temperature increases, evaporation is increasing putting more water into the air to act as a greenhouse gas, which in turn, further warms Earth.  This is called a feedback loop and in “normal” circumstances this feedback loop creates and maintains the conditions needed for life to exist.  However, it can “runaway” and compound itself to the point that it will wildly swing in one direction and become irreversible. More frequent and more powerful storms in some regions and extreme drought in others are a direct effect of the altered water cycle. Both of these scenarios displace populations and change food production leading to immigration and higher food costs, respectively.  Conservative estimates on the average number of people pushed into poverty each year due to flooding and drought are 26 million.  It is estimated that 180 million people will be displaced by 2100 as a result of altered weather patterns

RCraig09 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

What was once considered unlikely or rare (both in terms of the intensity and frequency) is becoming part of a “new normal”.  The impacts of this new normal will affect all sectors of society and include, increased food prices due to crop failure, health impacts from the outbreak of water-borne disease or heatwaves and infrastructure damage from storms.  All of this will cost us, both in monetary terms, but also in terms of human health and life.  One specific example of this can be seen in the Jet Stream.  “The jet stream – a fast-moving band of air 11 km [7 miles] up in the atmosphere – is increasingly showing signs of unusual behavior…” . It is shifting hot air circulation Northward around the globe, leading to hot African air reaching northward to France and Germany.  This will ultimately affect the economy of these regions changing what can be grown.  For France, this is especially pertinent, considering they are synonymous with vineyards.  

https://electroverse.net/multiple-all-time-low-temperature-records-fall-in-minnesota-the-changing-jet-stream/

In these early days of climate change, the populations most affected are the world’s most vulnerable. It is estimated that poor populations are 8-32 times more vulnerable to the risks of climate change.  It could be argued that it is this reason alone that the developed world is so slow to accept that the climate is changing.  It is, after all, our lifestyles that are causing the most negative changes to the climate, but it is not us that are being negatively affected by that lifestyle. Yet.  Climate change is already affecting food production by reducing agricultural yields.  Increasing concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere decreases the nutritional value of food.  In the Western world we are largely disconnected from the source of our food and employ technology to fortify food with vitamins and minerals.  But what we must remember is, most of the world is growing their own food without the help of such technologies and catching their food from the natural world.  Most of the world meets its nutritional needs through rice and fish.  The oceans are taking on the brunt of the access heat on Earth.  As ocean temperatures rise, fish yields decline.  The global availability of protein is projected to fall by 4.1%, iron by 2.8%, and zinc by 2.5% at carbon concentrations expected by 2050.  This could affect the nutrient status of 600 million people.  This coupled with reductions in productivity due to climate change and the rising food costs associated with it, will leave many countries in economic and social crisis.  As climate change intensifies an estimated 100 million could be pushed below the poverty line by 2030 and 3 billion by 2050.  It will be the wealthy developed nations that are called upon to assist with the humanitarian crisis that climate change causes. 

https://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/climate-change-and-farming-what-you-need-know-about-ipcc-report#.Xjx8zWhKg2x

Quite frankly, we should be the ones called upon to help those affected.  The US is the second highest producer of carbon emissions, second only to China.  In an ever-competitive environment this will only get worse.  It is the need for the latest, greatest thing that fuels production and waste.  SUVs (which are a squarely American invention) were the second most important cause for increased global emissions in the energy sector (after power) between 2010 and 2018.  Global emissions have increased 35% in 5 years and overall oil and natural gas use has increased every year, despite growing awareness of the consequences.  Why?  Money, which ultimately leads to power.  Four out of the five top fossil fuel investors are US based and four out of the five top coal investors are Chinese.  Since the Paris Agreement was adopted (and unadopted by the US), 33 global banks have invested $1.9 trillion in fossil fuel companies.  Another reason that we continue to emit carbon even though it is clear we shouldn’t be is very simple: change is scary.  This great country was built, literally, on coal.  This is part of the American identity and it feels as though we are betraying it when we walk away from it.  The most powerful reason why we continue to rely on carbon-based fuel is because we, the people of America and ultimately the world, have not demanded that we do not.  We have checked out and stepped back. 

Looking at it Another Way

What if, instead of seeing the call to reduce our carbon output as an attack on our way of life, we saw it as an opportunity?  This is an opportunity to be healthier, more community based and less obsessed with material things.  This is an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important to us and “cut the fat”.  This is an opportunity to harness the most important human behavior – communal problem solving, working together to innovate and create positive, sweeping change. Personally, I find that thrilling.  Really it boils down to this: the species that will be most uncomfortable, most affected, most desperate as the climate changes will be us humans.  Life will go on without us, just as it has for millions of years.  We are not the most important of the species, that is a subjective, man-made concept that has no basis is biological or ecological reality, we are just another life form on the planet.  The question is, how much do we care about our survival?  Not you as an individual, but us as a species. Personally, I see my fellow human beings as my tribe.  If I can make a small change that will have a big impact on them, I am willing to do it.  More importantly, if I can leave my children a better, healthier planet, I absolutely will because I am a mother and the drive to give my children “better” is innate and visceral. Everything affects everything, so I am sending out a positive ripple that I hope will be felt for years to come. After all, the ripples we start are ultimately our legacy after we are gone.

NOTE: For the first article in this series click here

COMING UP NEXT:

Your Carbon Footprint: A look at what a carbon footprint is and how to calculate and reduce yours in fun, family-friendly ways.

Author: Shelby Maguire

Shelby earned a bachelor's degree at Lake Erie College in biology and a master's degree in education at Ursuline College, both in her home state of Ohio. She currently lives in Phoenix, AZ where she was a high school science teacher for 10 years. She left the classroom to run ACE Recycling with her husband, but is an advocate for education and a life-long learner. She is passionate about science and works to educate the general public about science, specifically environmental issues. She is a self-proclaimed science nerd who loves research. She and her husband John, have three small children.

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