Time is up. We need to start caring about the environment.

February 12, 2019 — by Connie Liang

A few weeks ago, I asked my dad, “Why are you just letting the faucet run like that? It’s wasting so much water ...”

He peered at me from beside the stove, where he was standing and cleaning some kitchen appliances. Clutching a dirty pan in one hand and a stained towel in the other, my dad replied with exasperation dripping from his voice.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

My father is one of many with doubts about how we are depleting our underground aquifers, how climate change is creating ripple effects on all continents and how human activity will soon cause irreversible changes to our biosphere.

This sentiment parallels generational differences concerning climate change. A 2018 Gallup poll concluded that only 56 percent of Americans aged 55 years and older are worried about climate change compared to 70 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34.

According to Business Insider, 10 percent of livable area in the cities of Miami Beach and Atlantic City will be underwater by 2060 due to rising sea levels. Worse still, 1.8 billion people will be living in water-scarce regions by the year 2025, according to National Geographic. That’s only five years after the current junior class graduates from high school.

We tend to think that environmental problems will only be pressing in the far-off future — in the time of our great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren and beyond. But even cursory examination of the problem reveals that this is simply not the case, and the world is already starting to see major effects.

The year 2030 is a turning point, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By 2030, if drastic measures aren’t taken to reverse the emissions of greenhouse gases, worldwide temperatures will rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

This amount sounds insignificant, but it appears to be the tipping point. On the current track, 2030 will mean a major loss in diversity for the world’s ecosystems, one of the most important being coral reefs, which are projected to be 90 percent dead by then. This increase in temperature also entails a greater risk of weather and heat extremes leading to the displacement of millions and a damage to key world crops.

So with all these looming threats why isn’t more being done to reverse the course our planet is headed?  

A common argument against environmental measures is that even if one person recycles an aluminum soda can, there will always be another person who doesn’t. Therefore, the efforts of that one environmentally conscious individual are essentially pointless. Also, as many like to argue, it’s not like the actions of even the largest organization can stand a chance in the face of all 7.5 billion people on Earth.

This point actually made me stop and think when I was writing this article (note: I stopped and thought more than once throughout writing and researching this article). Why bother if your actions are so small in comparison to the effects of an entire country or global population? However, as is applicable to so many other areas in life besides the environment, big steps start small.

Habitat restoration efforts around the world almost always begin with the well-meaning intentions of one or a few individuals. Yet despite small beginnings, such efforts still succeed in minimizing the positive feedback loops of desertification and deforestation.

Take the draining of Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshlands, for example. To retaliate against Shiite rebels who often took refuge in the area, former dictator Saddam Hussein ordered the draining of the ancient marshlands — an act that resulted in the image of sand and barren desert that the Middle East generally evokes.

Meanwhile, in California, Iraqi environmentalist Azzam Alwash knew he had to reverse the destruction of his childhood home somehow. In 2003, when Hussein’s reign ended  after the U.S.-led invasion and the marshlands were drained to 10 percent of their previous size, Alwash flew to Iraq to begin conservation efforts. He set up the nonprofit organization Nature Iraq, surveyed and planned restoration measures, and educated local officials.

By 2008, the marshlands were restored to 75 percent of their original size, reviving biodiversity and rich wildlife in the area.

Such efforts can be revolutionary, but it starts with education. Whether that means researching, watching documentaries, or erasing the stigma that AP Environmental Science is trite, understanding the Earth and its processes is the first step.

Second, stress the small things. Put a bucket under the showerhead while waiting for the water to turn hot. Reuse this water in a garden or vegetable bed. Switch the showerhead itself to a low-flow one and turn off the lights in an empty room. Choose reusable materials instead of plastic and see to it that all disposable wrappers end up in the correct bin.

Be conscious of the amount of waste you produce in a week and minimize it through methods such as composting. The Pacific Garbage Patch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, filled with plastics and other debris, is already two times the size of Texas; and it’s only growing. Our small actions may not seem much but they add up to have tremendous effects.

On a broader scale, governments and corporations alike must figure out how to cut worldwide greenhouse gas emissions practically in half by 2030, reaching a “net zero” in 2050. According to CNN, this maintains that the projected rise in temperature doesn’t surpass “the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Somehow, we will need to create, from scratch, an industry that focuses on withdrawing greenhouse gases from the air; implement new and improved industrial practices; and foster a more tangible urgency. All this leaves so much up to the the whim and responsibility of our future workforce — the high school and college students of now.

At the end of the day, the Earth can only withstand so much. It’s like a rubber band that’s been pulled on for far too long. If we’re not proactive soon, it’s bound to snap, regardless of whether or not you believe it will.

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