The damage has been done

In light of the recent protests, strikes and public outcry regarding climate change, scientists say we still have a fighting chance, but even if we mitigate climate change tomorrow, the damage will last for generations to come.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is the largest its been in three million years, never previously measuring over 300 parts per million, now has reached 408. This effect of excess greenhouse gasses has caused our planet’s average surface temperature to rise by 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the latter half of the 19th century. This rising global heat impacts the temperature of the ocean, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of water rising at an average temperature of 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1969. 

Research from NASA has shown that the increase in global temperature has caused between the years 1993 and 2016 for Greenland to lose an average of 286 billion tons of ice per year and Antarctica to lose an average of 127 billion tons per year, respectively. The ocean levels have risen 19cm (7.48 inches) in approximately the last hundred years.

More water evaporates as the Earth gets hotter, creating larger and more frequent storms. The warm temperatures can increase wind speeds in tropical storms, while rising sea levels can subject new areas to erosion, such as water and weather erosion. 

Changes in temperature and climate affect animals and the ecosystems in which they live. Half of the animals in biodiverse areas such as the Amazon could go extinct by the turn of the century if human carbon emissions continue to rise unchecked. According to a paper published by the journal Science, 322 different animal species have gone extinct in the last 500 years because of human intervention, mainly population growth and carelessness, and many more will follow if we continue on our current, reckless path.

With facts like these, it’s hard to stay hopeful, but if we give up, then nothing will change. “When we’re faced with ‘oh, the oceans are dying’ and ‘climate change is out of control’ and ‘there’s nothing we can do’ I think many of our reaction is to shut down and be like ‘well, there’s nothing I can do about it,’” said Michael Rawlins, a SEA-DISC (upperclassmen environmental science academy) and psychology teacher at Drake.

If everyone allows themselves to be susceptible to this “shut down” phenomenon, then nothing will be done. Things that can help fight this impulse is to first make small changes such as turning off lights when not in use (or using natural light), choosing not to eat red meat when presented with the choice, and biking or walking to locations whenever possible. Little things like these add up and can help maintain a positive mindset. 

Rawlins, in response to this mindset, says that “we need positivity. And we need to bring the negativity to our elected officials and the people that are in charge that are doing this to us… We can bring the negativity to them but I think for ourselves, and our communities, what we all need to do for our mental health so that we don’t shut down… is to really focus on the positive.”