Paris Agreement

We're Not Talking Nearly Enough About Climate Change And The Paris Agreement

Are we really still debating whether or not it's real?

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On December 15th, negotiators in Poland were finally able to secure agreement on various measures that would have a major impact on the functionality of the Paris Climate Pact in 2020. While last-minute carbon market disputes delayed the process of verification, delegates now believe that the current rules set in place will allow countries bound to the Climate Pact to reduce their carbon footprint in the hopes of limiting global temperature spikes to below 2 C, thereby impeding the effects of sustained global warming on the Earth's atmosphere.

While the past 650,000 years have been rife with constantly changing cycles of glacial advance and retreat due to variations in Earth's orbit that alter the amount of sunlight our planet receives as solar energy, the current warming trend present in today's era is significant because most of it is likely attributable to the massive impact of rising human industrialization of the 1950s.

An unprecedented rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (a heat-trapping gas) to 400 parts per million has led to an average temperature increase of 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 C) since the late 19th century, which has resulted in some of the warmest years on record in recent memory (with 2016 being the warmest), as well as an increase in oceanic temperatures by 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Such an unparalleled heat wave in so short a period of time has caused a massive reduction in the ice sheets bordering Greenland as well as the Antarctic (with Greenland having lost an average of 281 billion tons of ice per year between 1993-2016, and the Antarctic having lost 119 billion tons during the same time frame). These glacial retreats have resulted in the destruction of key habitats for animals such as polar bears, which build maternity dens on sea ice.

In addition, the consistent acidification of the ocean through increased carbon dioxide emissions and rising temperatures poses a major threat to coral reef ecosystems, which could potentially suffer from thermal stress that contributes to an increased risk of infectious disease spread as well as coral bleaching, a process in which coral expel the algae that live in their tissues due to increased water temperature.

Since that algae provides approximately 90% of the coral's energy, coral bleaching can cause starvation and eventual destruction of the entire reef ecosystem, which severely impacts oceanic life. A clear example of the dangers of coral bleaching caused by rising temperatures is the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 which resulted in approximately 29-50% of the reef's coral being destroyed.

Despite the clearly mounting evidence pointing to the dangers of an increased carbon footprint on the Earth's atmospheric environment, the United States (alongside Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait) objected to the meeting welcoming a UN report to keeping the global temperature rise to an approximate 1.5 C limit.

In a world where the impacts of consistent climate change will be felt for generations, it is imperative for world powers to adopt measures that allow for a reduction in carbon emissions in order to reduce global temperature spikes and thereby ensure that future populations will be able to enjoy the wonders of the natural world. While the current Paris accords have transparency to allow for qualified measurement of carbon reduction over time, as well as measures in place to financially aid poorer nations in order to help them reduce their own emissions, more must be done to counteract the environmental harm caused by human activity in the past century.

Businesses and environmentally-conscious investors should begin to put stock into alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, in order to ease the transition to more environmentally-friendly means of production that allow national economies to continue prospering whilst reducing the damage done to our planet. While it may be a long-term goal that will take several lifetimes to achieve, it is essential that nations worldwide band together to combat the dire consequences of global warming.

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Are Plastic Straws Really Killing Sea Turtles?

It's no secret that plastic isn't great for the environment, but how sensationalized is this topic actually becoming?

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When I first saw a video of a sea turtle getting a plastic drinking straw removed from its nostril, I was obviously upset like any other viewer would be. I care a lot about the environment and about animal life and it was upsetting to see that a product of human consumption and ignorant waste was destroying precious parts of our world. I wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon of "plastic straws kill sea turtles!!!" but only knew about the issue from this video and what I heard from people or saw on social media. The whole topic of plastic waste into the ocean remained in the back of my mind until the recent pledge of Starbucks to stop using plastic straws in stores by 2020 reminded me of the issue.

As the topic of plastics and their pollution of the environment (largely the oceans) has become so recently powerful I decided to do some research of my own. If I was going to tell people to stop using plastic straws because they were killing sea turtles, I wanted to be sure that I wasn't just repeating everything I heard from social media.

Turns out, plastic straws are hurting sea turtles and other marine life, but a lot of what I thought about plastic waste was exaggerated (at least from what I had heard from others). Sea birds are the most impacted creature by plastic straws, not sea turtles. About 1 million or more seabirds die every year from ingesting plastic straws and choking on them. In research from recent scientific studies, 80-90% of seabirds have some kind of plastic inside of their stomachs. Also, the ecological footprint that plastic straws alone leave on the planet is actually pretty small compared to food waste or fossil fuels.

However, all the buzz about sea turtles may come from the fact that globally 86% of sea turtle species are known to be affected by plastic debris. Overwhelming amounts of plastic garbage in the ocean have caused a steady decline of the leatherback sea turtle over the past several years, so much that they have been placed on the endangered species list. Plastics can hinder eating and consumption, breathing abilities, and even reproductive capabilities of all kinds of sea turtles.

So while plastic straws may not be killing sea turtles in hordes, they are killing sea birds, and plastic overall have caused huge and deadly effects to many sealife species. We have known that plastic is bad for the environment and the oceans for quite a while, given the fact that the Great Garbage Patch was discovered almost 20 years ago, so it's more than time to start caring about the problem. If we can eliminate single-use plastic straws that aren't biodegradable, we can stop using other single-use plastics and make a better effort to reduce our harmful impacts on the oceans. Individually, we can move towards small changes, which can move our society to a more sustainable and healthy place. If you are more interested in this topic, I would suggest reading about how you can make a change or looking at this article and checking out this scientific journal.

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Vinicius Amano

@viniciusamano

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Being Sustainable Is Hard But It's Not Impossible

Although we've all heard of climate change and have witnessed the disastrous effects that humans have had on the environment, it still seems like most people are not subscribing to the ideals of sustainability.

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Sustainability is a tricky term. Most people that hear about it eventually put in the back of their minds, the same place they put "student loans" and "crippling depression." Most people know that to adhere to this ideal would mean to change how they live.

Sustainability is about adopting behaviors and systems that will ensure that the Earth is around for many generations after ours. Sustainability aims to preserve the Earth in terms of seven generations ahead. Seven generations after ours and societies on Earth will be using entirely different systems than what we do now, therefore, we should start this process now to ensure that they will be able to live comfortably and sustainably.

This is where most people tune out, understandably so. It's hard for us to think about the implications of our actions and how they will affect life on Earth much after our own deaths. It suddenly seems like an incomprehensible problem that no one person can ever solve.

"My actions won't make a difference," most people say, convinced that just because they stop eating meat or buying plastic or start drinking from paper straws, that nothing will change. However, what they fail to consider is how their actions will influence the minds of others around them, and one person who stops eating meat or using plastic sends a ripple effect through the people surrounding them. One person making lifestyle changes in the name of sustainability leads others to suddenly consider, "maybe I should eat less meat?" or "maybe I won't use single-use plastics anymore?"

The idea is not that any one person picking up plastic on the beach is going to save the planet, but rather that through education and awareness, we will all take small steps to preserve our home. Large groups of people all taking small steps leads to big changes, and politics and the economy will follow the demand of the people.

The most difficult thing for most people to do is to adopt those small behavioral changes. Not everyone can afford to stop eating meat, but everyone can afford to opt out of single-use plastics. Buying a personal water bottle is one easy way to do this. Stop buying plastic water bottles just to throw them away. If you need to buy them, make sure to recycle them. Instead of taking plastic silverware and straws from restaurants, bring your own reusable set.

Understandably, most of you are already cringing. It's hard to go against the grain and commit to living a plastic-free lifestyle for the sake of sustainability. And what about when you go to Chipotle with your zero-waste kit and somebody asks you a question about why you have that? Fear or convincing themselves that it's "inconvenient" will keep most of you from adopting these little changes that, over time, make a huge difference in the amount of plastic we put in our oceans.

Although we can't all be leaders of huge sustainability efforts to clean our oceans or buy an electric car, we can all make small changes to mitigate this tragic problem. On our current track, the last half of our lives will be starkly different from the first half, for the worse. Educate yourself and be part of the solution instead of the problem.

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