By Mihika Chechi
~ Op-Ed ~
Our world is facing a crisis. Well, several crises in fact. From the massive humanitarian crisis occurring in Yemen to the oppression being faced by the Uighur Muslims in China, our planet is not devoid of its issues. Not to mention, of course, the global pandemic that has ravaged the world and managed to turn life upside down for billions of its inhabitants. However, the one crisis that has been grossly overlooked and swept under the rug of global predicaments will perhaps end up being the one that kills us all. And that is the crisis that is climate change.
Too often is the topic of climate change met with scoffs and rolled eyes when brought up. Too often does the world label climate activists as “hippies” or “fanatics” so as not to discuss the problem. And far too often do the leaders of our world claim there are more pressing issues at hand than something as trivial as climate change. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Climate change poses a risk to our modern-day human civilization in almost every way imaginable. Climate change leads to more bouts of extreme weather, which of course poses an immense risk to people’s lives. Climate change not only intensifies the water cycle but it also increases the risk of severe drought. Hurricane Harvey, a devastating Category 4 hurricane, moved across abnormally warm waters in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico before dropping unprecedented rain on Houston, Texas. Hurricanes and typhoons require warm, moist air to fuel them - something readily provided by climate change.
Greenhouse gas emissions are the leading cause of the Earth's rapidly changing climate.
Not only that, but climate change also poses a huge threat to our agriculture and food production. Farmers rely on a stable climate with predictable seasons and weather in order to cultivate their crops properly. With climate change, this becomes extremely difficult. In 2011, during Mexico’s worst-ever drought on record, more than 2 million acres of crops were lost. Climate change also makes soil less suitable for farming, as nutrients that are key to plant growth are stripped out by these same droughts and floods.
Moreover, a major issue we now face as a result of climate change is our own health. Rising temperatures, air quality, vector-borne diseases, and extreme weather are all rising as a result of climate change. Scientists predict more heatwaves than ever before in the coming years - the likes of which can overpower the human body and cause dehydration, heatstroke, and major organ damage. Air quality suffers not only from the root of climate change, which is the burning of fossil fuels, but also from its result, which is a major increase in wildfires. Exposure has been linked to burning eyes, heart and lung diseases, and even death. Vector-borne diseases are illnesses spread by insects or arachnids like mosquitoes, fleas, mites, and ticks. As our climate becomes warmer, some insects will see their geographic ranges grow – bringing the Lyme disease and West Nile or Zika viruses they carry along with them to new regions. Extreme weather can not only have drastic consequences for large populations affected by it, but it can also lead to major injuries and the spread of waterborne illnesses such as wound infections, dermatitis, conjunctivitis, and ear, nose and throat infections.
Forest fires can devastate the ecosystem of the areas they impact - often beyond hope of repair.
On top of all this, a monumental problem that goes simply unmentioned in conversations regarding climate change is that of the economy. In 2017, a team of scientists and economists mapped out the potential economic damages different counties in the US can expect as the climate continues to change. The researchers found “that if warming continues at recent rates, it could shave 3 to 6 percentage points off of the country's gross domestic product by century's end — the warmer it gets, the bigger the hit to the economy.” Extreme weather linked to climate change also has huge economic repercussions. In fact, 2017 was the United States’ costliest disaster year on record. Between 2007 and 2017, the federal government spent an estimated $350 billion responding to extreme weather and fires. Alternatively, climate solutions like renewable energy are fueling our economy and creating good, well-paying jobs. In 2016, renewable energy employed nearly 10 million people around the globe.
With all these looming problems faced by the world as a result of climate change, it’s simply astounding that we continue to overlook this issue. Focusing on short-term problems over long-term ones that could potentially destroy our planet forever will only backfire on us. For how long can we continue to fight over the facts and not discuss actual policy-making? The longer we wait, the more difficult it gets to restore our planet. Do your part today in spreading awareness of climate change and demanding we change our ways. We all have a voice - so let’s use it.