This Monday was Earth Day, and in the 49 years we’ve been celebrating the holiday, the basic message of those celebrating has stayed the same: Save the planet. However, with increasing evidence of global warming, almost everything surrounding that message has changed.
On Earth Day in 2016, 175 nations signed the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. Those nations agreed to make active efforts to work toward lessening the global temperature increase and help underdeveloped countries work toward sustainability. To date, 184 countries have signed it. In 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report covering the dangerous consequences of global temperatures rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
With all this information, I can’t understand why so many still choose to deny the effects of climate change. The biology student in me is desperate to shout about how it’s not about the literal weather warming up, that it’s about long-term weather patterns, ocean levels, circulation patterns and long-term temperature increase, but I won’t. Instead, if you’re stuck looking at climate change through an “it won’t cause problems until after I’m gone” lens, let me remind you that we are feeling its effects now, and the most vulnerable nations are the ones facing the brunt of the impact.
According to the IPCC’s report, “The most affected people live in low and middle income countries, some of which have experienced a decline in food security … ” These increases could lead to soils in areas closest to the equator running the risk of drying out. That could lead to starvation and famine for entire populations. About 75 percent of those individuals living in poverty rely on farming and agriculture as a source of food. Tropical climates, which are where many of the poorest nations are located, are also most likely to face more extreme variation in their climates — yet another poor sign for crops. The island nation of Kiribati had to go as far as to attempt to purchase land in order to relocate nearly half its population in the event the main island on which they live is submerged. With an average elevation below six feet, there will be a whole nation of refugees forced to find a new home.
The worst part is that these countries are not the ones contributing to climate issues. More developed and wealthy countries are those that have produced the most carbon dioxide emissions. Those countries with higher emissions will be the least affected should temperatures continue to rise.
Concerned? Me too. But there are ways you can help! Reduce your plastic waste and use reusable materials daily. Buy local vegetables (or grow your own), and if you can’t go entirely vegetarian (don’t worry, I can’t either), try it once or twice a week! Research renewable energy options near you and divest your money from fossil fuels. Know what companies you’re buying from and their green policies. Most importantly, vote and contact your representatives. Under the current administration, the United States is attempting to formally pull out of the Paris Agreement in 2020. As the country with the largest carbon dioxide emissions, we need to be the leaders in a green future, not ones creating issues for others to face alone.
Elizabeth Short is a sophomore double-majoring in English and biology.