At ACE Recycling, we believe that knowledge is power and that small changes can have a big impact. To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, we wrote a series of blogs to help equip our readers with the information they need to make conscious decisions to reduce their environmental impact. We invite you to join us in making every day Earth Day by taking small steps to live more sustainably and create a healthier life for yourself and your loved ones.

In the second article of this series, we will look at how carbon is affecting humans as a whole. For a general rundown 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 common problem-solving is uniquely human and one of the most potent forces on Earth. We have created civilizations from dirt, flying machines from metal forged in fire, and the internet. We have always had a significant impact on Earth and each other. This article explores some of those significant impacts.

Knowledge is Power

These impacts come from choices made by you and me but ripple out to affect humans halfway around the world. How do your preferences have that far of a reach? Because nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything affects everything else. It is essential to understand that humans are a part of the system and subject to nature’s laws. Therefore, when we alter one thing, it will change something else, and those alterations will affect all life on Earth. Knowledge is power, and understanding is the first step to making conscious, deliberate choices in our everyday lives to decrease our impact. Every decision we make, from the car we drive to the meat we eat, affects 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 changes the water cycle (increased temperature causes evaporation), 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. 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 increases, putting more water into the air to act as a greenhouse gas, further warming Earth. This phenomenon is called a feedback loop. In “normal” circumstances, this feedback loop creates and maintains the conditions for life to exist. However, it can “run away” and compound itself to wildly swing in one direction and become irreversible. More frequent and powerful storms in some regions and extreme drought in others directly affect 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 yearly due to flooding and drought is 26 million. Estimates show that 180 million people will be displaced by 2100 due to altered weather patterns.

Causes of Climate Change

Events once considered unlikely or rare (in intensity and frequency) are becoming part of our “new normal.” The impacts of this new standard will affect all sectors of society, including 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 monetarily and in human health and life. The changing Jet Stream is an example of this. “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. Changing weather patterns will ultimately affect the economy of these regions, modifying what can be grown. For France, this is especially pertinent, considering they are synonymous with vineyards.

Changing jet stream

Protecting the Most Vulnerable

In these early days of climate change, the populations most affected are the world’s most vulnerable. Estimates show that poor communities are 8-32 times more sensitive to the risks of climate change. This could be why the developed world is so slow to accept the changing climate. It is, after all, our lifestyles that are causing the most damaging changes to the environment. Still, we are not 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 need to be more aware of the source of our food. Additionally, we employ technology to fortify food with vitamins and minerals. But what we must remember is we are the exception. Most of the world is growing their food without the help of such technologies and catching food from nature. Most of the world meets its nutritional needs through rice and fish.

Climate and Food

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 could fall by 4.1%, iron by 2.8%, and zinc by 2.5% at carbon concentrations expected by 2050. A lack of nutritious food could affect the nutrient status of 600 million people. With reductions in productivity due to climate change and the rising food costs associated with it, many countries will be in economic and social crises. As climate change intensifies, an estimated 100 million could fall 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.

Climate Change and Crop Yields
CLimate change and Food Prices

Money, Money, Money

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. The need for the latest, greatest thing fuels production and waste. SUVs (which are a squarely American invention) were the second most crucial cause for increased global emissions in the energy sector (after power) between 2010 and 2018. Global emissions have increased by 35% in 5 years, and overall oil and natural gas use has increased yearly, 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 and then re-adopted), 33 global banks have invested $1.9 trillion in fossil fuel companies. Another reason we continue to emit carbon even though it is apparent we shouldn’t be is straightforward: change is scary. This great country was built, literally, on coal. It is part of the American identity, and it feels as though we are betraying it when we walk away from it. The most important reason we continue to rely on carbon-based fuel is that we, the people of America and, ultimately, the world, have not demanded that we do not. We checked out and stepped back.

Looking at it Another Way

What if, instead of seeing reducing our carbon output as an attack on our way of life, we saw opportunity? Instead, consider it a chance to be healthier, more community-based, and less obsessed with material things. Use this time to re-evaluate what is important and “cut the fat.” This modern time calls for harnessing the most important human behavior – collective problem-solving. Humans excel at working together to innovate and create positive, sweeping change. I find that thrilling. It boils down to this: the species that will be most uncomfortable, most affected, and most desperate as the climate changes will be 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 idea is a subjective, human-made concept with no basis in 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 for us as a species. I see my fellow human beings as my tribe. If I can make a small change that will significantly impact 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. 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. After all, the waves we start are ultimately our legacy after we are gone.