We will all continue to feel the consequences of climate change if direct action is not taken immediately
In May 2019, the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Australia released a report on climate risk, detailing the possible environmental disasters that could take place by 2050 if we proceed to wreak havoc on the environment at the same rate we have been for the last 100-some years. The report, which uses models based on prior research to illustrate potential outcomes, outlines jarring scenarios—warnings, really—including mass human displacement, the collapsing of many ecosystems and even global food shortages.
The causes of warmer temperatures due to climate change are mainly attributed to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions, which trap the heat radiating from Earth in our atmosphere. Human activity over the last century or so has led to the emission of several types of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, which make up most of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The three economic sectors that are responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions are electricity and heat, agriculture, forestry and land use and industry. So, we’re pointing to the people in charge of these massive sectors to make a change.
All of these sectors, of course, are necessary to sustain human life as we know it. Though humanity may need to adjust to a new lifestyle in an effort to protect the planet, it is not a matter of simply halting production in all those arenas but rather overhauling the way we go about them. To the major corporations responsible for providing these resources: It’s time to stop prioritizing profits at the expense of the environment and invest in renewable energy and other environmentally-conscious practices. The people making trillions of dollars off of climate change are responsible for increasing global temperatures, and as such have the most obligation—and means—to do something about it.
Despite the undeniable role these companies have both in creating and combating climate change, they have managed to convince citizens that it’s the individual’s responsibility to clean up after them. When the public began to realize that too much plastic waste was being produced in the 1980s, big oil companies that wanted to keep making money off of plastic funneled millions into advertising campaigns that touted its necessity and the ability to recycle it. This not only falsely justified continued production of plastic, but misled the public to believe that it could be reused, when very little scientific evidence found economic potential for repurposing plastic.
Fast forward to today—many of us buy single-use plastic frequently and recycle it under the impression that we aren’t harming the environment, and if we don’t recycle, we blame ourselves for contributing to climate change. Not only has the plastic industry lied to us about the viability of plastic, but they’ve gotten us to believe that we’re the ones responsible for its effect on the environment, when in reality, they should have stopped producing it years ago. Producing plastic, attempting to repurpose it and incinerating plastic waste all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and tons of plastic waste find their way into ecosystems every year which can have devastating impacts on wildlife.
If changes aren’t made immediately, the catastrophic consequences will be realized, likely in our lifetimes. A warmer atmosphere means ice is melting and sea levels are rising, threatening low-lying coastal lands and islands and displacing those residents. Extreme weather events are increasing, from the record-breaking California fires to slower-moving hurricanes with intensified devastation in the areas they impact.
And, as is the case with most systemic or structural issues, impoverished communities and people of color are most affected by climate change. A glaring example comes from Flint, Michigan, where the city switched their water source to one being poisoned by local industries in 2014, causing corrosion in water pipes that contaminated water with lead on its way into resident’s homes. Despite complaints from residents, it took over a year for officials to address the problem, and only in 2020 was the entire city receiving clean running water again. Flint is a low-income community with a population made up of 57% Black residents—richer, whiter areas would not have had to wait six years for restoration of such a basic necessity.
As bleak as the future may seem, we can take steps on an individual level to combat the prospect of an uninhabitable planet. On a day-to-day level, making lifestyle choices like using reusable products, eating a more plant-based diet and shopping at eco-friendly and sustainable businesses can help create a culture that prioritizes protecting the environment. And as consumers, we can tell corporations what we want with our wallets—exclusively supporting environmentally-conscious businesses might be a wake-up call to those companies who haven’t committed to sustainability goals.
Beyond everyday life, electing leaders and politicians who care about reversing climate change is an imperative step in this process. Individually, we do not pull as much weight as the corporations, but collectively we can make our voices heard at polling stations by electing officials who prioritize the climate crisis and can enact environmentally-friendly policy.
But we need to be more than just friendly to our planet. It gives us life, and, unfortunately, through things like extreme weather and pollution, can take it away just as easily. We need to treat Earth like it’s the only chance we have at survival—because it is.
Written by: The Editorial Board