The Environmental Challenges Facing Us Today
Sometimes, it feels like no one wants to face the problems of the 21st century. One of the biggest problems we encounter today is that of the changing environment. The reasons people seem to avoid it are threefold. Firstly, people don’t want to talk about the changing environment because it is happening so gradually that it can’t really be seen. Secondly, it is largely third world countries that are being deforested and islands that are sinking into the ocean. Since those places aren’t where the consumers of these fuels and resources live, they tend to not worry about it too much. You could say they subscribe to an “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy. It’s very damaging to the world around us. Thirdly, the lifestyle that consuming resources and ruining the environment provide us is a pretty enjoyable one and people don’t want that to end. For example, you probably know that your car is contributing to air pollution; however, you don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to bike to work or find public transit. You’ll just keep on driving your car even though it might be hurting the environment.
Climate vs Weather
The scientific community generally agrees that the climate is changing and that human beings have an effect on that change. This phenomenon is called global warming or global climate change. Global climate change is actually the more accurate term, but global warming caught on in the 1970s and it has sort of stuck. Detractors like to call it global warming because they then can use any chilly temperatures as ‘proof’ that it’s not actually happening. These are people who are attached to the three reasons mentioned above. They don’t believe in climate change because they don’t want to believe in climate change. They’re making a classic mistake, though – they’re conflating weather and climate.
The weather is the day-to-day condition of the environment around us. Sunny days, rainy days, and so on are classified as weather. The climate, however, is the general condition of the environment around us over time. For example, a warm day in January is the odd weather. However, if the average temperature in January is two degrees Celsius where you live, you still have a chilly climate even if one day is uncharacteristically warm. The climate of the southeastern United States is different from the climate of Northern Ireland, no matter if they have a similar temperature or weather event on some random day. This is not difficult to understand, but it sometimes feels like human beings are the biggest environmental challenges we’re facing.
A Billion Tiny Cuts
A big problem with facing our environmental challenges is that nobody feels personally responsible for environmental problems. For example, you know that your car contributes to pollution, but it’s such a small contribution that it’s practically negligible. That’s true. Your car doesn’t pollute very much, in the grand scheme of things. Think about it this way – your car produces one hundredth of one percent (.01) of the pollution necessary to harm the environment. That doesn’t really seem like much. However, there are 214 million licensed
drivers in the United States. If they all are producing .01% of the necessary pollution to harm the environment, then the environment is being damaged at a pretty quick rate.
Harsher storms are another of our more significant environmental challenges. You might have heard that climate change is just about the weather getting warmer and sea levels rising, but it’s also about bigger extremes in weather. As the sea warms up and the levels rise, hurricanes will become stronger. That’s why hurricanes are common in the Gulf of Mexico, but uncommon in the North Atlantic – they need warm water to gather strength. If the seas are getting warmer, then the hurricanes will be stronger. Also, they gather strength the longer they’re over water. Islands in the oceans are some of the first land barriers that weaken hurricanes, so if those islands disappear, the hurricanes will be even fiercer when they finally hit land. Since most human beings live within about 200 km of a coastline, this threatens all humanity. Harsher storms aren’t our only environmental challenges, though. We also have to contend with declining resources.
All around the globe, the Western World has been consuming its resources. This goes back to the Industrial Revolution, or perhaps even before it. Developed nations have been consuming resources from developing nations that need the influx of capital to stay afloat. Well, these resources have been steadily dwindling for decades. In fact, some well-respected researchers say that if we are going to face any of our big environmental challenges, we have to stop drilling oil. That’s right. They say that pretty much all of the oil that’s currently in the ground needs to stay there if we plan to actually stop the changing climate. However, that’s just not something people want to do for a few reasons. Firstly, people like their planes and automobiles too much. They don’t want to have to fly or drive less, and they probably can’t afford one of the new electric vehicles. Also, there are too many people who are in the business of drilling for oil. Jobs would be lost, businesses would be thrown into flux, and there would be a scramble to get into the new market. Lastly, entire nations depend on their oil revenues to stay afloat. If you cut off that oil money, certain countries couldn’t balance their books anymore.
Rising Sea Levels
Rising sea levels is one of the most serious and most talked about environmental challenges. Essentially, it means that ice is melting at the poles and running into the ocean. This ice was in suspension in the poles, but now it’s in a liquid state and causing the sea levels to rise. Rising sea levels are threatening to drown entire island nations and major cities on every coast of the world. This is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.
These are just a few of our challenges and the reason for the inaction behind them.