NASA’s site Climate Change: IMAGES OF CHANGE has some dramatic photos of Earth, past and present, showing the effects of climate change.
Pederson Glacier, 1917 and 2010.
Recycling … it’s more than just a cute symbol
Recycling. As the marketing people from that shoe company would say, “Just Do It.” Seems pretty straightforward, right? I mean, plastic, paper, metal, and glass. That’s what most folks think of when you say “recycling,” and by and large it’s true… but not always.
In fact, it turns out that there are all sorts of twists on what can and cannot be recycled, and the list of things that can be isn’t exactly set in stone. The Consumer Recycling Guide is a good resource for finding out what can and can’t be recycled (in general); you should check it out. If you don’t have the time to read the whole list, their “World’s Shortest Comprehensive Recycling Guide” can help give you advice.
Both guides are pretty sobering reads—who knew that plastic containers contained so many conflicting sources, or that a mixture of different types can ruin a plastic recycling effort? Think of all those unread newspapers, still in their plastic wraps, that get casually tossed in the recycling bins without thinking that some of the contents (not to mention the plastic wrap) might not be recyclable—and could just end up in the municipal dump? I know I’m as guilty of this as anyone.
But wait, it gets worse. In the U.S., at least, there is no central authority for recycling. This means that every municipality, county, and state has different rules and regulations about what gets recycled—if anything! Some recyclers take a broad spectrum of products; some take few. Some are well-managed and others are not. Government agencies that manage recycling are not terribly effective at making sure citizens know what can and cannot be recycled. In my town, for example, cardboard was explicitly not accepted when I moved here. I only found out that was no longer the case through pure chance. I hate to think of all the Spamazon.com boxes that got thrown in the bin over the years instead of being put into the recycling. If you’re confused about what your local recycling laws are, or if there are any, I recommend starting at your state’s Web site and searching for “recycling,” or just use the ever-handy Google.
Why should we recycle?
I remember a time I visited some acquaintances in New York City and had a can of soda in their apartment. After finishing it, I asked them where I should put the can for recycling. They looked at me with puzzled expressions and said, “oh, we don’t recycle. It’s too much work.” While I hope that sort of attitude has changed, I can see why some folks might not want to recycle. After all, doing it properly can take time and energy—especially if you live in an area (like where my mom lives) that has strict rules on separating and preparing recyclable materials. Sadly, there are many who simply cannot be bothered to take the time to recycle at all, or who use religious beliefs to argue that there’s no need to recycle, since the world will be destroyed anyway.
From a pragmatic position, recycling makes good sense. Many materials in heavy use in modern society—particularly hydrobarbon-based products like oil, plastic, and, well, just about everything else it seems—are made from substances that are not renewable. When they’re gone, they’re gone; while there may be trickles of stuff like oil for centuries, sooner or later it’s going to become astronomically expensive to get any of it out of the ground.
Materials that are renewable, such as trees (the primary source of paper today), may have lower overall costs of production, but the environmental devastation caused by logging “virgin” sources is still much higher than that of recycling facilities.
Putting my money where my mouth is…
Have I implemented the changes recommended above?
YES — I try very hard to recycle as much as I can, though I suffer from not always making sure that what goes in the bin is really the right stuff to recycle.
Although I’ve committed to posting one tip a week on how to reduce your impact on the earth and ameliorate the effects of climate change, I wanted to post a link now to the No Impact Project, which my friend Claudia brought up on Plurk recently. Check out the site and have a look around—will you accept the challenge?
Climate Change: Dun Dun Dunnnn!
Now, stop that. It’s true that climate change is scary and controversial (though generally only if your politics leans far to the right and/or you love sticking your head in the sand). It’s also true that it’s already here. Whether we like it or not—and whether human action is the prime causation or just a contributor—global climate change is happening now. How we act and react to it will determine how successful a species we end up being.
What is Climate Change?
Wikipedia’s definition is fairly succinct: “In recent usage, especially in the context of environmental policy, climate change usually refers to changes in modern climate (see global warming).” Indeed, “global warming” is a popular term for climate change, although climatologists seem uncertain whether the long term effects of climate change will result in global warming or global cooling.
Climate change is something that happens naturally as our planet spins around in space; it’s a combination of changes in solar output, distribution of continental masses, and atmospheric makeup, among other things. Thing is, normally climate change operates on a scale of hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. That’s not the case today, as the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has been shooting up more or less ever since the Industrial Revolution.
Several gases that make up our atmosphere are used to monitor climate change and are called “greenhouse gases.” Carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor (H2O), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3) are the primary gases climatologists follow; Carbon dioxide is the one that gets the greatest press because it is easy to understand and has a strong effect—the atmosphere of Venus our “sister planet,” is made up largely of CO2 and as we all know, Venus is so hot that human life couldn’t survive for even a few seconds unprotected—lead melts rapidly on the surface, and it rains caustic sulphuric acid.
Carbon dioxide is also important because it’s a byproduct of burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels—oil, natural gas, and coal—are the bulk of modern society’s sources of energy. We burn them to power our cars, generate electricity, fly our planes, pilot our trains, and more; in fact, you might be astonished to know just how pervasive fossil oil is in our modern world!
Part of the controversial aspect of climate change is that greenhouse gases are also produced by other events, such as vulcanism and cow flatulence. The preponderance of data accumulated since climate change became a topic of study show that human activity is the number one cause of the drastic increase in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
What is Climate Change Doing to the World?
The effects of climate change are subtle and pervasive, but are likely to get much less subtle over time. As greenhouse gases trap more heat in the atmosphere, we’ll see things like Arctic and Antarctic ice diminishing faster and faster. All that water has to go somewhere, so ocean levels will rise. How much? Scientists aren’t certain, but a meter or more over the next century seems likely. That may not seem like much, but as much as 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 km of a coast—and that land will be the first to go. It’s not just that the land will disappear under the sea, either—as the ocean level rises, salt water will get into the water table and could poison the land for plants that aren’t used to saline environments.
As CO2 levels rise in the atmosphere and the planet warms, ocean dwellers—on which we increasingly rely for sources of protein—are being hurt. It’s not just the warmth, though; ocean acidity is rising and that makes it harder for coral to form, for one thing. In one sense, you could say that climate change is turning the ocean into a giant bottle of soda as it absorbs more and more carbon dioxide and generates more and more carbonic acid (the same stuff that makes your teeth feel funny if you drink too much Coca-Cola in one sitting). Some of the fundamental organisms in the ocean could have their numbers decimated, or worse, from this activity. Just as on land, there is a pyramid of predation and yanking the bottom-most layer out from underneath will have serious effects on those higher up—and eventually, us.
The above just scrapes the surface. We could see an increase in the number and severity of atmospheric storms. We could see increased desertification, a global reduction in plant diversity—which leads to an even greater reduction in animal diversity than our current efforts (deliberate or otherwise) to push many animal species to extinction. We could also see a mini-ice age, paradoxically; scientists aren’t absolutely sure what will happen, but whatever is coming down the pike is not going to be a walk in the park.
What Can I Do About Climate Change?
Lots! Start out by becoming more educated on the subject—don’t just listen to the news, but become a sleuth and read up on the subject. The Web is chock full of resources, some of which I’ve listed below. Just remember that the Web isn’t the same as a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and there are a lot of sites that are very cleverly designed to put forth a particular political view that are dressed up as science.
Reducing your impact on the planet is one of the most important things you can do, and I’ve committed to posting at least one article a week with tips on how you can do just that. Don’t wait for my posts, though; simply using and throwing away less is a great way to start reducing your impact on the planet and helping extend our ability to live here.
Resources on the Web
This is not a comprehensive list, but you can start learning more about climate change and things we can do to ameliorate its effects by visiting the Web sites below.
- U.S. EPA: Health and Environmental Effects of Climate Change
- U.S. Energy Information Administration: Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change, and Energy
- U.S. Energy Information Administration: Energy Kids – Oil
- The No Impact Project
- BBC Climate Change Project
I will! Climate change is a fact of life that even the most ardent naysayer has to agree is happening. Whether it’s wholly caused by our egregious excesses or only partially, the fact is that life on Earth is becoming more precarious year after year. We can’t just sit on our ever-fatter behinds and do nothing.
So to that end, I will blog on the 15th, and thereafter I commit to at least one post a week this year with tips on how you can take actions—small and large—to reduce the damaging effects of human activity on our planet. We only have the one, so let’s try and keep from trashing it, okay?