Climate change: A hot topic

Early on in September, the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China both formally joined the Paris global climate agreement. This agreement is the first of its kind and will only take effect legally once 55 countries ratify it. In early October, it was announced that carbon dioxide crossed the 400 parts per million mark in our atmosphere. Right now, climate is a hot topic and humans, as a species, need to be aware of what the planet is going through.

Parts per million is a measure of concentration by volume of one part of a gas per million parts of air. Basically, for every million air molecules that you examine, on average you should find around 400 PPM carbon dioxide molecules. Jennifer Schmidt, assistant professor of natural resource management and policy at UAA, anticipates carbon dioxide emissions are more likely level off than decrease.

“It’s hard to see that it would actually go down. Hopefully, at some point it will start to level off,” Schmidt said.

Our atmosphere has reached this amount in the past, but never in September. September is usually the month with the least amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, carbon dioxide levels did not dip below 400 PPM as they were expected to. A lot of climate scientists are predicting that we won’t see carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere below 400 PPM for a very long time, or even at all again. Carmen Field, an environment and society student at UAA, also shares this view.

Photo credit: Jian Bautista

“Right now, carbon emissions aren’t really dialing back anymore. I don’t think human’s ways of life are ever going to change. We drive, we use electricity and all of that good stuff and that makes those greenhouse gasses… I believe that it won’t become less than 400 PPM within the next 100 years, even if we do stop right now. It takes time to change our climate and get our Earth systems back to the balance that we humans are used to,” Field said.

At this point, climate change is no longer up for debate. It is happening and humanity is the cause. Humans, as a species, are making their way to addressing the problem but it is slow going for society as a whole. The US joining with the Paris agreement is a step in the right direction. Field explains that on an individual level we can all chip in as well.

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“If we don’t make changes it’s going to keep increasing. Things like what is happening with our climate is a normal part of Earth’s system, but human activities are causing it to happen much faster,” Field said. “If you can walk places, walk don’t drive, carpool if you can, be very conscious of the heat you’re using in your house. When you leave your house, maybe turn the thermostat down a bit. Plus, that saves you money also.”

Even if we cannot completely reduce carbon dioxide emissions, humans can certainly try and level them off for the time being. Shannon Donovan, assistant professor and department chair of geography and environmental studies at UAA, explains that maybe someday we can reduce the carbon dioxide, but for now we have to try and level it off.

“Reducing is something that maybe could happen in the future. But right now we’re trying to maintain and not continue to rise at the levels that we have been rising… Most of the science says we are maybe at this tipping point or maybe even past the tipping point. In which case, it would still continue to increase over time, but hopefully that rate at the very least can be slowed down,” Donovan said.

This topic is often times depicted in a grim light and can shock people. This isn’t to say that humans should give up on our planet. In fact, this information is very valuable in attempting to reduce the damage being done to our air. Donovan suggests that we should be alarmed, but not give up on the problem.

“People should be afraid, not in the way where they just throw their hands up and say, ‘Well there’s nothing that can be done.’ But in a way that they are motivated and our policy makers put policies in place to make proactive change,” Donovan said.

Only through action can people band together and tackle this problem. World leaders are doing their part to address the issue, and while it is slow going, we are making progress. Locally, you can do your part as well by being eco-friendly and attempting to reduce your carbon footprint.