Around the world, climate change is transforming the way millions of people live their lives. For example, in Indonesia, government officials are constructing a giant seawall to protect the 10 million residents of the sinking city of Jakarta from rising sea levels. In France and Germany, according to the New York Times, extreme heat waves forced nuclear reactors to “reduce output or shut down because the water used to cool them was too warm.” In South Sudan, UNICEF reports that an “estimated 6.96 million people will face acute levels of food insecurity or worse” due to drought. These events provide further evidence that our planet is changing in alarming ways. However, what does climate change mean for those of us living in the United States of America?
The first time I entered “global warming” into a search engine, images of polar bears straddling lily pads of ice, inundated my screen. These images were attached to complex scientific articles that discussed disappearing glaciers in Greenland, and the ramifications of melting polar ice caps. In addition to feeling a little overwhelmed, the plethora of crumbling icebergs, and waterlogged wildlife gave the illusion that the fight against climate change resided on far-flung battlefields.
I had to ask myself—how is climate change impacting my life and community? To answer that question, I needed to take a hard look at what is at stake when we ignore the climate change battlefield in our proverbial backyard.
1. Climate Change vs. Fresh Drinking Water:
Plants, animals, and humans all rely on freshwater to survive, but beyond that, freshwater is also essential for growing crops, operating sanitation systems, and maintaining infrastructure. The most common source of our daily freshwater consumption comes from groundwater. We depend on melting snow and rainfall to replenish that groundwater. If global temperatures continue to interfere with the planet’s natural rain and snow cycles, our ability to access clean, freshwater diminishes.
In addition to the changes in weather patterns, rising temperatures decimate glaciers including the ones in the United States. Glaciers store about 69 percent of the world’s freshwater supply. When a glacier melts, we not only lose that reserve, but rising sea levels, from glacier melt, contaminates our groundwater supply.
Again, I had to ask myself, how would I feel if I could no longer find life-sustaining water for my family, pets, or myself? What can I do to protect this vital resource?
2. Climate Change vs. Food Insecurity:
According to Feeding America (www.feedingamerica.org), “In 2017, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans were food insecure, equating to 40 million Americans including more than 12 million children.” Those are heartbreaking numbers considering an estimated 150,000 tons of food are wasted in the United States each day.
Food insecurity and poverty are often linked, but global warming is changing the way we talk about food. Climate change is interfering with agricultural yields around the world as droughts, extended winter storms, and record heat become the norm. History has taught us that when crop yields become leaner, consumer pricing skyrockets. There is current evidence of this trend in the United States and other parts of the world. According to the Los Angeles Times, a person living in Venezuela in 2016 had to pay $150 to buy a dozen eggs.
Here in the United States, climate change has caused the cost of avocados to spike 80 percent this season. Unchecked, global crop failures could become catastrophic.
How would I react if a loaf of bread cost as much as a week’s wage? How would my life change if the food my family enjoyed or depended on was no longer accessible, or was too exorbitantly priced to purchase? What can I do to pursue sustainability?
3. Climate Change vs. Natural Disasters:
Over the last decade, there has been an increase in record-breaking storms and devastating wildfires. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) website stated that, “California experienced the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in its history in 2017 and 2018. Fueled by drought, unprecedented buildup of dry vegetation, and extreme winds, the size, and intensity of these wildfires caused the loss of more than 100 lives, destroyed thousands of homes and exposed millions of urban and rural Californians to unhealthy air.”
California’s experience isn’t unique. Violent storms and wildfires have dominated recent headlines and destroyed countless lives. According to a 2019 news report by CBS News, “hail now costs the U.S. as much as $22 billion a year in damage to homes, crops, people and more.” The same report added that 23 people have already lost their lives as a direct result of tornadoes across the South.
Have you or someone you love experienced one of these events up close? How many keepsakes, places of employment, or lives can we afford to lose?
4. Climate Change vs. Land Erosion:
Every day, rising sea levels threaten wildlife habitats, destroy coastlines, damage buildings, and upset coastal economies. What does that mean for coastlines in the United States, or for those of us that live inland? The answer is unsettling.
As populations move away from eroding coastal communities, overpopulation taxes our already fragile infrastructure and further diminishes vital resources such as food and water. Without landmass to slow them down, storms that feed on warm water increase their destructive power, putting additional pressure on local economies and threaten the safety of thousands of people.
If land erosion still doesn’t feel like an immediate concern, consider what rising sea levels could do to our individual citizen rights. For example, electoral votes are assigned to each state based on the size of its population. How will individual rights change if a growing portion of a state’s population is forced to relocate as a result of land erosion? We may not live in a coastal community now, but are we willing to wait until sea levels reach our doorstep? If so, what will it cost us?
It’s okay if you feel a little overwhelmed when you read about the dangerous, self-sustaining items on this list. Our planet is in trouble, but we’re not powerless! Our success lies in answering the questions I want to tackle in my next post—Is there anything that I can do to combat a human-made adversary that has a significant head start? Can my small actions become a link in a chain for widespread change? I hope you’ll join me.