I am so incredibly proud of this student, author of “Plastic in Our Oceans” and “Factory Farming”. She has honed her writing skills and continues to produce powerful, well-written essays about important topics. She worked so hard on this essay and always accepted my edits and suggestions with a smile and willingness to learn. I can’t wait to see what she writes next!
You have probably heard of climate change before. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news or read about it somewhere. Some people deny climate change. But we have a serious problem that we can’t keep ignoring: our climate is changing. Temperatures are rising, storms are coming, floods are wiping out crops, forest fires are burning cities and towns, famine and diseases are killing hundreds of people at a time, droughts are preventing people from getting water, animals are being affected, and all this is climate change.
We have to get a few things straight. First, isn’t the climate supposed to change? Yes. It is supposed to change. Believe it or not the climate changes naturally. The temperatures go up and throw the planet into a hot hundred years, the oceans bubble and boil in the heat, volcanoes erupt into the ashy dark sky. Then the temperatures drop and the world freezes. Ice, snow, sleet, and hail pour from the sky and mold to the earth in the cold. Glaciers collapse and bury frozen plants, and the little life there is during the Ice age. So climate change is supposed to happen. Then why is this such a big deal? If this is all natural, then why are there storms and droughts all over the news? It’s because we caused the climate to change and our climate is changing way too fast. Because of the Industrial Revolution, which was when humans started to affect the climate, fossil fuels have caused the entire planet to have a massive problem. The climate is warming and the planet is creating lots of problems for humans. From droughts in South Africa to hurricanes and floods in Puerto Rico and the United States. From forest fires in California to melting ice in the North Pole. If we don’t do something soon the planet is going to get very, very, hot. And there is no Planet B.
What Causes the Climate to Change
The climate determines the weather patterns. Earth’s climate has storms; blizzards, thunder and lightning storms, hail, and sand storms. It can be sunny; warm, occasionally hot. There are droughts and dry seasons. All this is our climate: an even balance. It’s not supposed to change as fast as it is now. But everywhere it’s getting warmer. Snow and ice are melting and flowing into oceans, making sea levels rise eight inches in 100 years. In places that are already hot, the sand is drying up, cracking, and water sources like blue lakes and bubbling streams are disappearing. The earth, where water once was, turns dry and yellow. The reason for this starts with greenhouse gases.
Earth’s atmosphere reaches about 60 miles into space. Our atmosphere is made of gases. The primary ones are nitrogen and oxygen. They make up more than 99% of the atmosphere. The rest consists of greenhouse gases. These gases function just like their name says: like a greenhouse. Have you ever seen a greenhouse? Greenhouses are made of glass or plastic. The plastic or glass lets sunlight in to warm plants inside, but it doesn’t let it out, keeping the room inside at a good temperature, protecting the plants and allowing them to thrive at all times, even at night! Greenhouse gasses are a key component to our atmosphere and they work in the same way, keeping our earth’s temperatures reasonably steady. Without greenhouse gases the earth would be cold and frozen. For 10 thousand years the atmosphere’s greenhouse gases have been doing their job. But now all that is changing because recently, greenhouse gas levels have risen. They are trapping light in Earth’s atmosphere. Temperatures are steadily rising.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is everywhere; in oceans, rocks, soil, even in us! People and animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2. Gail Herman, author of ‘What is Climate Change’, described the atmosphere as a “delicate balancing act” because if there is too much CO2 or too much oxygen the balance tips and everything is destroyed. It’s called climate change. And it’s happening now.
Four point six billion years ago Earth had just formed and it was very hot. At times reaching more than 3,600° F. It was like a volcano! But the earth cooled, the planet shifted and seasons began. The climate changed and everything became cold. The reason for this climate change billions of years ago was the first life: a small bacteria living in the ocean. The bacteria gave off oxygen and volcanoes give off C02 when they erupt. Everything was in balance. It was the combination of a lapse in volcanic activity that tipped the balance between CO2 and oxygen and the new oxygen replaced the greenhouse gases that cooled the planet. The world was cold until more life was born, creatures that breathed in oxygen and released CO2. The world balanced out again. There would be two more freezes that followed the short time of balance. The temperature would rise and fall. Lands shifted and collided, oceans were formed, and volcanoes erupted. About 540 million years ago the temperature was in a temporary balanced time. The Dinosaur Age was here. Then 66 million years ago, another climate change happened. An asteroid hit Earth. It sprung up fires, buried plants and animals, and filled the sky with smoke and ash that blocked out the sun. The earth grew cold and dark again. The dinosaurs were extinct. Soon the air cleared and the sun warmed the earth again. The Age of Mammals arrived. Our ancestors came, hunting in the mountains and valleys. The planet steadied out again. Our planet goes through cycles;cold and hot times lasting around a hundred thousand years each. We call these stages ice ages. And believe it or not, now we are in a warm ice age. Around now the earth should be getting colder, not warmer.
Ninety seven percent of climate scientists agree that the cause of this is human beings. It all started 250 years ago, during the Industrial Revolution. Humans went from small wood spinning wheels to giant factories billowing smoke into the air. These factories used fossil fuels to power their machines. Coal, oil, and gas are all fossil fuels we use today. Fossil fuels are fossilized plants and animals. When these fuels are burned they release C02 into the air. Trains, cars, planes, factories, and buses all use a fossil fuel to power them. This is throwing the balance off. This is climate change.
How Climate Change Could Affect You
“To know what a wildfire might do next, researchers need to know how an inferno interacts with the atmosphere” said Craig Clements in an interview with Scientific America.
Wildfires are extremely hot, extremely dangerous incidents that can occur in droughts or even when lightning strikes the earth. In California, a wildfire recently ripped through the town of Paradise, and burned homes and schools to the ground. People died. Homes were destroyed. Scientists believe that to prevent more horrible fires we need to know more about how climate affects the fires. As the fire starts to ignite and grow larger and more powerful, it starts to create its own wind. This is a serious problem, because the more oxygen the fire consumes, the bigger and hotter it gets. If the wind is blowing around 10 miles per hour, the fire won’t be as big of a problem. But if the wind picks up to 20 mph, that starts to become a problem. When this happens, fires spread rapidly. And when they start to burn for real, spreading with immense heat, and fueled by the wind they create and the life they consume, they start burning more and more ferociously and there is almost no way of stopping them. This in turn creates even more wind and puts even more heat into the already sweltering and smoke filled air.
These fires hurt people. In Paradise, California the search is still going to find the people lost in the rubble. Hundreds of people lost their homes. Some people might ask how this could affect them. This is happening all the way across the country. It can’t affect us! But this is a misconception. Climate change is an unpredictable force of nature and it will affect all of us unless we do something.
Climate change is affecting everything, from wildfires in California to water in South Africa. In Senekal, South Africa, a little town on a river, with lots of sun, situated at the bottom of South Africa, a drought is ravaging through the town. It has caused farmers to stop planting the crops that feed the town and cattle have been sold early, the owners unable to watch their animals die of dehydration. The cause of the drought is something called El Nino. It is a weather pattern influenced by climate change. El Nino is not caused by climate change, but the effects of it are made worse by our changing climate. El Nino has started to cause extreme droughts in other parts of Africa, western United States, and in South Africa. Water storage is slowly depleting and recently, some people have had to resort to receiving water from emergency supplies. People don’t know where this water is coming from. Soon, they will have no water at all. This day is known as “Day Zero”. On Day Zero water supplies will be cut off and the people of South Africa will be without one of the main sources of life on this planet: water. Again, some people may be thinking, this crisis is across the world from me! I won’t be affected by El Nino and these droughts at all! And, again, this assumption is wrong. The United States is being affected too. Recently temperatures have been over 95 degrees in western United States. Droughts are becoming more prominent. Annual precipitation has increased by 20% and floods and hurricanes have never been worse. We all will be affected soon.
Famine and Disease
With all the damage that floods and storms bring and all the lives the fires destroy combined with the droughts that devastate farm fields, food has become scarce in some places. The threat of famine is on the edge of throwing hundreds of people into starvation. Famine is the lack of food. When storms rip through towns and farm fields, they destroy food sources which many people need to survive. Many effects on agriculture in the Midwest are becoming harder to navigate around for farmers. Flood damage to drainage systems are creating a problem of less drinking water in some places. Climate change is going to make growing food harder. Disease is another problem climate change is affecting. Air quality is decreasing, causing more heat-related illnesses, in the Midwest.
How Climate Change Affects Animals
In the 1980’s polar bears roamed the icy cold shores of the North Pole. They played along the ice and ran in the snowy mountains. In winter when the ice was still solid and thick the bears hunted, catching seals and swimming. They were strong and healthy, preparing for the summer when the ice wasn’t strong enough to hold them up. When the summer did come, they waited for winter, playing and running. But in 2016, polar bears were thin and weak. The bears’ hunting season is melting away, just like the ice. The ice is strong for only a couple months and temperatures are rising because of climate change. Therefore the ice the polar bears need to survive is disappearing. The polar bears can’t catch enough seals to keep themselves alive for the summer. The animals of our planet need our help. They are being affected by climate change just as much as humans are.
Other animals are being hurt as well. Rising temperatures are forcing moose to move north, seeking the colder areas of Canada and the United States. Salmon need to find the cool waters of rivers to spawn and climate change is not making that easy. Turtles are being tangled in plastic and fishing nets and they drown in the waters (Plastic in the Oceans). Whales and dolphins are being poisoned by the changing climate and the warming waters. People in droughts are finding it harder and harder to find water to give their livestock so cows and horses, ducks and chickens, even dogs and cats, are dying of dehydration. Animals in the deserts are running out of the little water they have. Climate Change is destroying our planet, killing the animals and plants that used to thrive here. This is our job to fix.
How to Delay Climate Change
On top of all this some people think climate change is a hoax! But it is real. Think of the baby polar bears starving in the cold, waiting for their parents to return with food that will never come. Or flooded houses and towns that were once someone’s home, washed away by flooding oceans. Or the dry deserts that were once lakes and rivers. If this isn’t proof enough, then look at the rising temperatures, the educated scientists telling us we have to act! The climate is changing. Snow and ice is melting. Oceans are flooding. Rivers and lakes are drying up. People’s homes are being burned or flooded.
We can not stop climate change, but we can delay climate change. The climate is supposed to change. It’s natural, but the climate can’t change this fast. We have to help slow it down to normal. One way is to carpool, so less cars are driven and less fossil fuels are burned. Other ways are to ride your bike, use less hot water, eat more local vegetables so trucks don’t have to use so much fossil fuel shipping it here, and/or eat less meat. Believe it or not, factory farms that have a lot of cows in one place all crowded together is really bad for the environment, but not exactly in the way you would think. Cow farts contain massive amounts of methane, which is a big contributor to this problem with our climate. Funny right? Not really. Climate change is not funny. People get killed. Entire cities are burned to the ground. And everyone is going to be affected by this. Including you. Unless we do something about this. There are a lot of ways to help, from volunteering to educating others about this serious problem. There are lots of different ways to get involved in the projects to help people, animals, and habitats from being destroyed by fires, floods, and storms, including: reading different articles and books that educate people about climate change, consider buying hybrid or electric cars, donating to different organizations (Sea Turtle Conservancy, Earth Day Network, Climate Project), and many others.
Climate change is real. The climate is changing and we are doing almost nothing to delay it. But we can change that. Unless we do something, we are going to be our own destruction. Unless we find an alternative to fossil fuels – ride our bikes, volunteer, march on Earth Day, decide to educate ourselves and others – we are going to be the ones ruining our planet. And there is no planet B.
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“South Africa city braces for strict water limits as the well runs dry.” Newsela, February 8, 2018, https://newsela.com/read/cape-town-water-crisis/id/40154
“Climate change in the U.S. Midwest.” Newsela, April 6, 2017, https://newsela.com/read/govt-EPA-climate-midwest/id/28476/
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