Hey! I’m a physical geography student. Pronouns: She/her.
This column will feature different environmental issues or facts. And the one I am most interested in exploring, is climate change. My first introduction to climate change was in year 8, in Geography class. I already knew from previous lessons that this was a scary topic, and the future is doomed. So, I never paid attention. If the future is already set in stone, why should I bother learning about it? But the teacher gave me a new way of thinking about it and showed me that even individuals can help to do something about it. They could reuse items or use disposable bags instead of plastic, as that, as we all are aware, is quite harmful for the environment. Or how cycling is a better mode of transport than cars. Although they do burn your thighs, so be prepared for that burn. He made it fun and less scary to think about.
We drew our own versions of what climate change looked like to us. I remember having a hard time drawing a circle for the Earth’s body. And then tried to make it look like it was sweating, but I was no art expert back then (still not today.) I remember how one kid who had really curly hair drew the sun with an evil smile and a speech bubble saying, “Burn Earth!” It was hilarious, causing everyone on his table to laugh. The commotion got the teacher to come over and ask why he drew that, he shrugged his tiny shoulders, widening his eyes as he muttered that it’s what Earth got for ruining the houses of the polar bears. Then he proceeded to laugh in an evil manner, as we all backed away from him, scared. The exercise got me interested in how other people perceive climate change. How does the media see it? What is their portrayal in films or TV shows? What behaviours do environmental hazards induce? And, as a university student, I am interested in how students or universities act on it.
The more I learnt about climate change throughout the year, the more I learnt about the geological timescale of the Earth. A geologic time scale had been created to differentiate time periods from one another. It is a hierarchical structure of smaller chunks of time that represent our planet’s history. In descending order of length, these divisions are referred to as eons, eras, periods, epochs, and ages. The current epoch we live in is officially called the Holocene, which began 11,700 years ago after the last ice age. This period saw a stable climate and people are debating to have this epoch officialised, since the climate has started to become unstable. A period in Earth’s history when human activity began to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems, is known as the Anthropocene Epoch, which is an unofficial unit of geological time. In 2000, chemist Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stormer popularized the term Anthropocene, which derives from the Greek words ‘anthropo’, meaning ‘man’, and ‘cene’, meaning ‘new’. The Anthropocene will mark the state of environmental instability including, rising sea levels, overly warm temperature, acceleration of carbon dioxide emissions, land use changes via deforestation, etc. If the Anthropocene does become official, it will be regarded as the period when humans dominated climate change and environmental changes.
History has suggested many origins for the Anthropocene, but the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in Britain during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, is the most widely accepted starting point. With the exploitation of Britain’s coal reserves, the Industrial Revolution saw the first fossil-fuel economy emerge, and a huge increase in the mechanization of work and transport, thanks to the development of a more efficient steam-engine in 1769 by James Watt and Matthew Boulton. Multiple factories being made to manufacture products released high concentrations of harmful emissions into the atmosphere. Civilian death was high during this period, with people breathing in polluted air, leading to several health issues. This has led to several issues that have worsened the environment.
Much research has shown that if no action is taken, the future would not look optimistic: increased acidity in oceans, sea levels rising, floods becoming common, temperatures increasing, etc. The common phrase to sum up the issues is climate change, which simply denotes increased anthropogenic emissions (i.e., pollution) being released into the atmosphere and creating a series of consequences (i.e., increased sea level leading to floods). Many scientists believe that temperatures will rise by 3‘C by 2050 (e.g. Holden, J’s ‘Introduction to Physical Geography’ 2005 book saved my entire first year). The Amazon Rainforest would be dying from drought and most ice sheets would have melted. Both of which are huge carbon storages. With them gone, less carbon will be absorbed from the atmosphere and stored. The globe would be living in a positive feedback loop where more carbon being released, causes hotter climate leading to even drier and in some cases deadlier conditions. And some scientists predict that more than half the global populations would be exposed to lethal heat conditions, which exceed the threshold for human survival.
These are all less than ideal circumstances, but the purpose of this column is to keep people informed! And who knows maybe finding a solution you can use to help. Depending on what people prefer, there are many solutions one can take to start helping. Common ones include recycling, walking or using a bike or a mode of transport that does not release fumes if the distance isn’t much. Recently, there has been an increase in charging ports for electric cars, and I have one next to where I live. Electric cars are certainly something to look into (it’s pretty expensive though). This would reduce the amount of fumes released by cars and other motor vehicles. Even taking the bus that also works on gas, is a better alternative as it reduces the usage of cars on the street. Cleaner air would be the result due to the low concentration of gas being released into the air. Rates of air pollution causing sickness (i.e., lung cancer, asthma) would decrease.
But as of right now, the death toll from pollution has surpassed malaria, tuberculosis, etc (It was shocking to learn this during A levels). A 2020 paper by Lewis et al, on increasing role for solvent emissions and implications for future measurements of volatile organic compounds, showed that the huge greenhouse gas emissions in the UK was seen in 1990 and they have fallen by around 37%. However, the paper also notes that emissions from transport have not decreased significantly but have increased. A government target is to reduce all types of harmful emissions by 80% by 2050. The slow speed of transport emissions falling reflects how the government target may not come to fruition by 2050 and Lewis et al note that either by 2030 or 2050, a small reduction in emissions will occur. It seems hard to cut down on emissions and one’s own carbon footprint as highlighted by the nation’s rate. And the solutions mentioned above seem insignificant on a global scale. Yet, that doesn’t make an individual’s action to cut their carbon footprint insignificant.