People are largely aware of the concept of climate change and it is an issue that is often talked about in the news and political arena. But not everyone necessarily understands why it's a big deal, why you should care, and what you can do about it.
Well, duh, it's bad because it's going to get too hot here for us to survive
That's not really the issue. In a billion years or so, the sun will increase in brightness by 10% and our oceans will evaporate. We need water and will not be able to live on Earth anymore as it will truly be too hot to survive and we'll be screwed. That's in a billion years though. That's not what is happening now.
The global warming that is happening now is on the order of a few degrees. It's not enough to cause us to melt.
Cool, I'm sick of the cold. I could use a few extra degrees of heat.
You might think so sitting in Chicago or some other city with notoriously bad winters, but you might be singing a different tune if you live near the Equator.
Ok, well then who cares. I don't live by the equator.
Well you won't be making friends at certain latitudes with that kind of attitude. But there are a lot of reasons you should care. Especially if you live on any ocean coastline in the world. Or, if you hate if any group of humans has to suffer through war, suffering, famine, yada yada yada. Or if you don't want to end up being one of those affected humans.
Are you threatening me?
Ok, if you are going to threaten me...explain how this all works
Ok buckle up. The first thing you need to know is that there is something called the Greenhouse Effect. This is effectively what warms our planet. Ever wonder why it's still warm at night and our planet doesn't devolve into an Ice Age when the sun goes down? It's because the Earth absorbs the heat that comes from the sun all day and gives off heat from the ground back into the air.
That heat doesn't just disappear off into space though. The reason our planet stays warm is because the heat the Earth puts off gets trapped in our atmosphere by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and some others.
Oh, greenhouse gases. I've heard of those, everyone says they are bad.
Not totally. Greenhouse gases are naturally occurring and are totally necessary in order to keep Earth warm enough to live on through the day and night.
Then...they are good?
They are good as part of a natural ecosystem. There is a lot of give and take in the world. For instance, trees and plants essentially breathe using carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Humans breathe carbon dioxide out. Ultimately, there is a good natural balance that allows the heating of the atmosphere to happen but not by too much.
The problem we are facing is that carbon dioxide is being introduced into the atmosphere at levels never seen before in human history. Our planet isn't equipped to pull enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere so what is happening is that more heat is being captured and the earth is warming. So, greenhouse gases themselves are not bad, but having too much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is a bad thing.
Where is this carbon dioxide coming from?
Well, not humans directly but from day-to-day activities of humans and all the industry we have built. Cars, planes, power plants...you name it. At the root of it, the burning of fossil fuels causes a ton of carbon to be released. This is something that has only really been happening in the last 150 years since the Industrial Revolution started. (Spoiler alert: humans didn't always have factories and cars)
Wait, I thought the problem was with the ozone layer?
A common misconception is that greenhouse gases are bad because they are creating a hole in the ozone layer which makes the sun's rays more powerful and causes it to be hotter. That's not what is happening though.
In the 1980s there was a hole discovered in the ozone layer that had been caused by chloroflurocarbons (CFCs). The world reacted quickly like a bunch of badasses and, because of the efforts in banning things like aerosols and certain refrigerants and solvents, the ozone layer has regenerated and has largely been fixed.
Ok, so I get the Earth is warming but how do we know it's our fault?
This chart shows how carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have skyrocketed to levels never seen before in over 500 thousand years. It's completely correlated with the rise of industry and our temperature change has risen with our carbon dioxide levels.
Well, if this is true then why are there people out there saying climate change is a myth or that it isn't because of us?
Because they are idiots.
Whoa, slow your roll there Joe. There are scientists who don't believe humans have caused climate change.
No there aren't. Not reputable ones who deserve to be called scientists at least.
Well then why do I hear differently in the news?
You might be watching Fox News. You might be listening to a conservative candidate. The Republican agenda in the United States is focused on reducing government and helping making corporations and rich people as rich as possible. Having to adhere to environmental regulations costs money and thus it's better for them to cast science into doubt than confront the reality that we need to change our ways. They prey upon fear that regulation for environmental policies is going to ruin the economy and lose American jobs. This could happen if we start enforcing overly strong measures but we are far behind many countries in terms of how we regulate.
Another huge driving force is the lobbyists for giant industries like oil, energy companies, auto companies, etc. Don't believe the commercials they put out there about how they are committed to making the world a better place. They are the ones fighting against these regulations and heavily lobbying in Washington to ensure they don't have to change as quickly as they should (or at all in some cases).
Ok stop beating a dead horse. I'm convinced that climate change is real and we are causing it? But if we aren't going to instantaneously combust or melt, then who gives a shit?
The reason you should care is because global warming is going to make places that are currently habitable to be less habitable or uninhabitable. The world as we know it will start to change.
Temperature increases in places that are already hot will lead to drought which means farmers won't be able to grow crops. Have you ever known someone to get angry when they are hungry? Well now, multiply that by an entire country of people. This kind of situation can lead to political unrest within a country (like what happened in Syria) or can cause people to leave en masse. Where do they go?
As our oceans get warmer, this increases the probability of extreme storms like hurricanes. Extreme weather has a tremendous life and economic impact on wherever is hit and we should expect these major storms to continue to increase.
These sound like problems but then why do people care about the polar ice caps? Is it just because of those polar bear commercials Coca-Cola ran a few years ago?
The polar ice caps are unfathomably big and as they melt, the levels of our oceans rise. Even a couple of feet increase in ocean level could be catastrophic for coastal cities and would effectively change the shape of our borders and the borders of any country that touches an ocean because those areas would be completely submerged under water.
Is there any way to stop us from drowning?
If we're going to be building walls along our borders, it should be along our ocean borders and not Mexico. We face more of a threat from water than we do from illegal immigrants.
That's semi-serious and some communities are already building seawalls because of this probable issue. But another response is that people have to relocate and this is the biggest inherent danger global warming poses. Cities getting displaced, large areas of countries being displaced, regions experiencing drought, famine, and lack of water are all things that lead to unrest and instability.
Humans can survive the heat increase and can move to areas that are experiencing lesser impacts from global warming, but the areas of Earth that are most habitable will change. The amount of habitable land and resources will likely decrease. Meanwhile, the world population continues to grow exponentially. As we decrease space and increase people taking up that space, humans will likely start to fight even more than we do today which is hard to believe. But it's a real possibility and is scary.
Is there anything we can do?
Global warming is happening and we can't stop it but we can hope to contain it. It's important for us to band together across the world by conserving resources, using less electricity, driving less and walking more, buying carbon offsets, voting for environmentally conscious leaders who actually push legislation to force industry to change and to increase environmental standards.
What else can I do in my day-to-day to help?
Eat less beef because cows put methane, another greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere through their abundance of manure. But, a really key thing you can do to help is to buy from brands that are doing the right thing. There are certifications to ensure that products are producing in a way that is minimizing pollution. The problem is that it's really hard to keep track of all of them across all products.
So how can we figure it out?
That's where we can help out at Klerify. We tell you what kinds of products are the most dangerous to the environment in order to help you prioritize which ones to spend your hard-earned dough on and then we tell you which brands are doing a good job and which ones aren't.
We can go beyond the environment and also indicate whether there are human rights issues or animal welfare issues too.
I'm sold! How, how do I do this?
The links to our iPhone and Android apps are below but the coolest thing you can do is apply to be part of our Beta program. Snap a picture of your shopping receipts and send them to us and we'll give you a report on what you can buy next time to improve. We'll even give you a score so you can track your effectiveness over time. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org - it's FREE