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Climate change: fast approaching or already here?

November 20, 2017

Banner created by the SEA club hanging from the second floor of the Science Wing raises environmental awareness in the school community. PHOTO/Alina Hachigian

There’s No Plan(et) B. That’s what the banner designed by the Students for Environmental Action (SEA) club hanging in the WHS Science Wing reads. A reminder to students to be cognizant of the effects humans have on our only home. A personal reminder for me to consider the bigger picture of what goes on outside the walls of WHS.   

 

Although there are several different threats to the well-being of our planet Earth, one of the most contested is that of climate change. This issue has always been one of great debate where people often hold clear and strong opinions. Given the current political climate, pun intended, it has gained even more special attention and seems to be at the forefront of people’s minds. To this point, it is extremely valuable to understand where our country currently stands on this issue.  

 

This past June, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would be leaving the Paris Agreement, an accord focusing on greenhouse gas emission mitigation. Technically speaking, the U.S. never properly joined the Paris Agreement as President Barack Obama merely passed an executive order rather than ushering the decision through the Senate. Trump, nevertheless, is still actively working to undo orders such as these.  

 

Under the Trump administration, more action has been taken in this regard. On October 10th the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) repealed the Clean Power Plan, an order that Obama passed to help reduce states’ carbon dioxide emissions.

 

In order to better understand the implications of these repeals, it is necessary to first comprehend the current state of our climate and specifically its potential effects. The desire to obtain knowledge in this field is not limited to specialists. MIT-PhD candidate Amanda Vernon, although working to obtain her degree in Neuroscience, sees the benefits of understanding climate change.

 

Recently, Vernon has researched four governmental studies that focus on exploring the effects of climate change on human health.

 

Each of these reports specifically researches the predicted effects of climate change on public health,” she said. “This concern would be separate from things like effects on non-human organisms; effects on infrastructure; financial effects; etc.”   

 

All four of the documents cover everything from current to predicted future air quality levels, as well as extreme weather and food- and water-borne diseases. Although these topics may sound hopelessly tragic, Vernon says that in order to truly understand the actual potential for these events, it is necessary to look at the level of certainty the studies identified for these outcomes.

 

Most of the findings in these reports are judged to [have] high or very high confidence and [to be] likely or very likely,” Vernon said. “I thought it was really important that these metrics are explicitly defined and included – it helps us understand what we should pay attention to and what might need further research.”  

 

It is also interesting to note the difference in predicted fates of rural and urban locations as it pertains to climate change. People can better prepare for the future as certain potential environmental issues are location-specific.  

 

“There are several topics which are more applicable to urban areas than rural areas, and vice versa,” Vernon states. “For example, urban ‘heat islands’ will be more vulnerable to temperature extremes; ozone and other pollutants are generated from traffic. This will inform how different communities react to climate change.”

 

Although it may seem like these documents are pretty sobering, they touch upon the power of human intervention.

 

I was personally surprised by notes in the reports which demonstrate how much we can mitigate climate change effects on human health,” Vernon said.“It gave me hope for our ability to react to these changes, “ Vernon said. “For example, the reports state that although increased temperatures, if not addressed, will lead to increases in death and illness, we can prevent many of these health issues by expanding access to things like air conditioning.”

 

Messages such as these provide a comforting reminder that there are still things that can be done to counter the effects of climate change, regardless of the current President’s agenda. The repeal of orders such as the Clean Power Plan, although disheartening, should not, and do not, steer the actions of individuals.

 

To me, inaction is not an option and the timeliness of this issue leaves no room for hesitation. Warning signs are becoming omnipresent and harder to ignore. At this point, I believe it is our job as humans to step up and take charge of the future of our plant.     

 

We are already seeing the effects of climate change reflected in higher temperatures and generally shifted weather patterns,” Vernon said. “Furthermore, the [predicted changes] are not far away!  Some of them were predicted in 2008 to have occurred by 2020 – and now that we’re in 2017, 2020 is really not that far away.”  

 

So the next time you walk in the Science Wing, be sure to glance up and take note of the banner as a reminder that the time to act is not tomorrow, is not even today, but was yesterday.  

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