Yes, in your backyard
Solutions to climate change must start on the individual level
Carl Sagan once said, in reference to the famous photograph taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft that shows the Earth as a pale blue dot, that humans have a responsibility to “preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” I urge you to read the transcript of this speech. It is a poignant reminder of the true nature of the problems this world faces, and at no time has it been more relevant.
The evidence is overbearing. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Isaac have become stronger and more frequent in recent years. The National Wildlife Federation reports that maximum hurricane wind speeds could increase between 2 and 13 percent this century. Moreover, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has stated that 2012 was the warmest year on record and second most “extreme” for the United States.
Yet we do little but maintain the same routine. Everyday, humans pollute the Earth’s atmosphere as they burn fossil fuels. Former Vice President Al Gore noted in a recent talk that the amount of energy sent into the atmosphere each day by burning fossil fuels is equal to 400,000 “Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.”
China is the most glaring example of how the excess burning of fossil fuels can create a large-scale struggle with pollution. Voice of America reported that pollution was so bad in the Zhejiang province that a factory fire blazed for three hours before anyone noticed it. What’s more, The Wall Street Journal reported that in late January the U.S. Embassy in eastern Beijing reported that pollution had reached hazardous levels. The same article cited China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection in reporting that the “hazardous” Beijing smog in late January was part of a cloud that covered much of eastern and central China — a span more than three times the size of California.
Pollution and climate change are global issues and need to be confronted as such. To this end, efforts have already been made and continue to gain traction. The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement between members of the United Nations and part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is one example. The protocol, adopted in 1997 and implemented in 2005, sets goals for nations in lowering greenhouse gas emission rates. The Doha amendment, added to the protocol in December 2012, created a second commitment period for industrialized nations to reduce emissions through Dec. 31, 2020.
While these changes are an excellent start to approaching pollution on a global scale, they are nowhere near enough. Even if the problem is addressed internationally, such mobilization will prove insufficient without change on the national and local levels. The protocol sets minimum requirements for nations to reach, but it does not affect individual communities. For this reason, all humans must exceed these requirements, go beyond what is asked of them and push forward to a more earth-conscious future.
But our collective ideology stunts the initiative such goals require. The way we, as humans, treat our planet suggests we presume, as Sagan said, that we have “some privileged position in the universe.” And for most, this seems to be the case. One fact, though, seems to be left out of the conversation: there is nowhere else to go. We treat our earth as if we can simply move somewhere else once we have drained all its resources.
It is not raising awareness but rather getting people to care and to mobilize that seems to be the problem in confronting environmental problems. Perhaps news of nations coming together in efforts such as the Kyoto Protocol will spur global citizens to take greater action on all levels. The truth is, it is impossible to know what exactly such mobilization will require. After all, not everybody has the perspective of a Carl Sagan. It is the individual perspective, however, that is critical in finding a real solution to pollution and climate change. I leave it to you to decide the best course of action to achieve such a perspective for yourself. Now get to work.
Andrew Wells is a viewpoint writer.