It’s here. It’s real. And it’s up to us to control it
Koror —Climate change is the definitive issue of this generation. Even the latest National Geographic Journal issue asserts that it is real, we caused it, and we can do something about it. Excess carbon dioxide since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution two hundred years ago has had two major effects.
First the Greenhouse Effect is trapping more of the sun’s rays, like a car parked in the sun with its windows rolled up, heating the atmosphere. Excess heat melts continental glaciers putting more water in the ocean and causing sea level rise. Excess energy in the air heats the water that is already in the ocean causing it to expand, a secondary cause of sea level rise. Excess heat in the air also provides more power for storms, making more typhoons and stronger typhoons.
So how can we get carbon dioxide out of the air? Plant trees! And quit cutting down the forests which have been doing a good job taking carbon dioxide out of the air. The good news is that there is another way carbon dioxide is taken out of the air. Carbon dioxide plus water vapor in the atmosphere makes carbonic acid. The bad news, and the second major effect of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is that this natural acid rain causes ocean acidification. Lowering the pH of the ocean means all those poor shellfish and corals have trouble building new shells and reefs. Many of the structures they do manage to build get dissolved away. Our tropical sandy beaches are made of tiny pieces of shells and pulverized coral. So not only is the acid threatening our beaches, the storms wash them away, and the rising sea level drowns them.
This seems like an insurmountable, bleak and devastating problem. But there are billions of people on Earth and our individual decisions are cumulative. Every time we go to the store we vote for or against climate change. If we buy eggs farmed on the other side of the ocean, we are individually responsible for the carbon dioxide emitted by the ship burning fuel to get it here. The same is true for any other imported goods. Buy local!
Wanna talk about plastic? Petroleum is a nonrenewable resource. It was refined petroleum that fueled that ship. More of this petroleum gets consumed in the production of plastics. Seen any plastic on the beach recently? Or polystyrene foam, more commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam? Or rather have you seen beaches without plastic? That’s harder to find in this “pristine paradise” we call home.
How does leaving the door open to an air conditioned room anywhere affect the local beach? Leaving the door open makes the air conditioner work harder. The power plant has to burn more fuel to make the electricity to run the air conditioner. And you already know what that extra carbon dioxide will do. But wait, there’s more! Worn out air conditioners leak chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) coolant, commonly known by the brand name Freon. Once upon a time CFCs attacked the ozone layer and created the ozone hole over Antarctica. Ozone down here on the surface of the Earth where we live is a pollutant but up in the ozone layer it protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Too much UV radiation causes sunburn and eventually skin cancer. Fortunately scientists figured this out and created Freon II which didn’t hurt the poor ozone layer. So the ozone hole was at its maximum size in the year 2000. It’s getting better. Unfortunately Freon II is also a greenhouse gas.
Let’s start listing things we can do. Walk or ride a bike instead of driving a car. Use a fan instead of an air conditioner. Plant a garden. Compost instead of burning leaves. Use reusable glass, ceramic, and metal kitchenware. Wrap your food in mengchongch or the inner sepal of the betel nut tree and tie it closed with natural string. Build a gravity-fed water tank to reduce fuel-consuming water pumping. Put solar panels on your house. Wash diapers instead of buying disposables. Dry laundry on clothes lines.
So there is hope. We can each do our part. Vote at the market. Jus’ Sayin’