Assessing the Future of Man-Made Climate Change

By Riana Buchman and Sarah Westergren, Staff Writers

// While Inauguration Day captured the attention of the world, some citizens found themselves more caught up in the news that broke just days before. On January 18, the New York Times identified 2016 as the third straight year that Earth has broken temperature increase records. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had also revealed a global temperature increase of 1.7 degrees Celsius since 1880. To those in the scientific community, the statistics were a frightening discovery that assured what many scientists had already concluded as the presence of climate change.   

   Global warming is the increase in Earth’s temperature spanning over several years. Climate change, meanwhile, takes into account a series of worldwide changes, including rising sea levels, varying weather patterns, and global warming.

   While some members of the Acalanes community hope to educate and spread awareness of climate change, others question its existence. A Blueprint-conducted survey of 215 students revealed that 67.3 percent believe that climate change is a tangible threat, while 30.8 percent do not, including junior Tyler Schenone.

   “There is no official definition in my book [of climate change], and if there is, it’s just arbitrary in my personal case,” Schenone said.

   Similarly, some disagree that humans are the primary cause of climate change.

   “I’m certainly somewhat skeptical about the weightiness of man-caused climate change. There’s just a whole raft of other stuff that’s involved that we can’t do very much about,” social studies teacher Bob Barter said. Barter backed his theory with evidence of deep sea ocean currents, claiming such currents naturally contribute to environmental changes.

   However, for students like Lindsay Cocotis, the president of the Acalanes Environmental Club, climate change is a human-caused enemy. Cocotis is part of the 13.5 percent of Acalanes students who believe that student efforts are significant enough to combat climate change.

   “The club’s goal is to spread awareness through the campus and just to get people to care about being eco-friendly, as well as show people little things they can do to be sustainable,” Cocotis said. “It’s a very friendly and supportive environment, so if you are confused about climate change, we can show you our views and educate you.”

   The Environmental Club, which is hosted every Monday in room 507, has sold water bottles to reduce the use of plastic, organized Earth Day festivities for younger children, and set up several ‘speaker series’ to educate students on the impact of climate change.

   Another club intent on educating Acalanes community members about the environment is the Acalanes chapter of the Global Student Embassy (GSE), meeting Tuesdays and Fridays in the school garden.

   “GSE is a nonprofit organization that exists to create youth leaders through environmental education, and our goal is to create sustainability on school campuses and throughout our communities. There’s also locations in Nicaragua and Ecuador, and we do cultural exchanges there,” the Acalanes GSE Director of Community Outreach Maya Canonizado said. Besides the school garden, GSE additionally engages in organic and sustainable farming in community farms.

   Alongside the Environmental Club and Leadership, Acalanes GSE met with school board members in hopes of reviving the recycling program on campus. Acalanes had earlier established a recycling program, though the lack of compost bins deemed the program insufficient in students’ eyes.

  “If you just walk through one of the hallways and look at the trash cans, it’s disturbing how much food and actual material that goes in there should not be in there,” Acalanes Global Student Embassy Co-President Delila Tesfai said.

   Leadership students Olivia Towery and Emily Carr have spearheaded the new waste system.

  “Instead of the regular trash and recycling cans that we have around campus now, we will have dozens of units that contain trash, recycling, and compost bins for students to properly sort their trash and food scraps,” Towery said.

   Both Cocotis and Tesfai aim to impact students and their surrounding environments, as does teacher Jada Paniagua.

   Paniagua teaches AP Environmental Science (APES), a course that enables students to educate themselves on climate change.

   “Environmental Science is the study of how humans interact with and impact their environment,” Paniagua said. “It isn’t just about saving polar bears and hugging trees; it’s a class about looking at how our economies depend on the natural resources that our world provides for us, and how if we don’t acknowledge that and protect that, then our resources go away.”

  The class aims to mimic a college entry level Environmental Science class and hits important topics such as agriculture, renewable energy sources, ecology, and human impact. Almost 120 students take the class, though Paniagua hopes, like any teacher, that number will rise as education on the environment becomes more and more pertinent.

   “There are so many reasons to educate ourselves. I have kids, and it’s terrifying to think about what the world could look like for them,” Paniagua said. “I also think education is important because I personally feel a moral obligation since we aren’t feeling these impacts, and the rest of the world is. We’re causing this– Americans, our way of life, everything around us– caused this. We caused this.”

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   University of California, Berkeley professor Allen Goldstein, who teaches Introduction to Environmental Science and the science behind air pollution, also hopes to educate people on the human impact.

   “Some people talk about [global warming] as if it’s something you either believe in or don’t believe in, and that’s sort of a religious connotation or approach to a problem that’s really a scientific problem,” Goldstein said. “A common misconception about global warming is that it’s a question of belief, and it’s certainly not a question of belief.”

   Goldstein argues that climate change is extremely well-documented and that records of fossil fuel and carbon dioxide atmospheric levels further prove climate change’s presence. In 2015, 81.5 percent of American energy consumption included fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

   “The Earth has a natural amount of greenhouse gases in it. Without these greenhouse gases, the Earth would be a big ball of ice,” Goldstein said. “While it’s important to have greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, human activity has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We’ve increased the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere already by more than a third, and that adds to the greenhouse effect, causing the Earth to get warmer.”

   Looking forward, Goldstein believes that climate change will have even more of a negative impact on the Earth.

   “In your lifetime, you’re likely to see an additional rise of something like one to five degrees Celsius on average. Climate change is going to change the frequency of storms, rainfall patterns, and it’s going to have major impacts on water availability and growing crops,” Goldstein said.

   Another factor involved is rising sea levels, creating what some assume another wave of conflict.

   “By the end of the century, we’re looking at one to two meters of sea level increase, so that’s like three to six feet. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but our three major airports are at sea level in the Bay Area,” Paniagua said.

   Goldstein also predicts human behavioral changes may accompany such shifting conditions. As natural resources deteriorate, Goldstein assumes many will turn towards green energy products such as electric cars. Production may also begin to focus largely on alternative energy sources like wind and solar power.

   “If we continue to depend on petroleum as our main source of energy for transportation, and we just stay on that route without really thinking of alternatives, we will run out of petroleum. [That] is projected to happen in the next 35 years which will have a devastating impact on our economy. Our agricultural system depends on petroleum, and unless we start to make those shifts now, it will be a very difficult transition,” Paniagua said, adding to Goldstein’s point.

   Most Americans depend upon fossil fuels for their cars and airplanes, as well as to power their homes. Fossil fuels are also used in the creation of plastic and other synthetic fabrics.

   “The way we get energy is by burning things. That was great when the Industrial Revolution kick-started because it meant we could build more industry and get more stuff out, but we didn’t see the amount of carbon dioxide and water that one reaction produces,” Acalanes Chemistry teacher Thomas McNamara said. According to McNamara, such products only add to carbon dioxide atmospheric levels.

   “People argue, ‘Well, we breathe out carbon dioxide, so what’s the big deal?,’ but we also have plants that absorb carbon dioxide. We’ve taken out a lot of plants because of industry, and we’re putting in way more carbon dioxide, so we don’t have that balance anymore,” McNamara said.

   While deforestation and the emission of carbon dioxide greatly contribute to climate change, the production of red meat, a necessity for many Americans, adds to the larger problem of greenhouse gases as well.

   “Consuming large amounts of beef has a very large impact on our climate, both through carbon dioxide emissions from production of meat and its transportation. Plus, the beef we currently eat is corn-fed, resulting in a great deal of methane emissions,” Paniagua said. In order to cut down emissions, many suggest that people reduce meat consumption.

   “I think students need to just do simple things, like change your diet and have a more sustainable lifestyle,” Cocotis said.

  Goldstein added that students can choose to be efficient, whether that means replacing light bulbs to lower-power bulbs or driving cars that reduce gas emissions.

   On a larger scale, cities like Lafayette have already taken steps towards more renewable energy usage.

   At the Lafayette Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station, fences surround the parking lots in preparation for solar panel installation, similar to those of Acalanes. As of September, Lafayette residents have the choice of which energy provider they use in their homes: Marin Clean Energy (MCE) or Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). MCE offers a 50 percent option and a 100 percent option through their Deep Green 100 percent renewable energy program, granting homes or businesses power completely from wind, solar, and biogas. Such choices pose an opportunity for community members and students to go green.

   Though boosting energy efficiency and reducing meat consumption are great ways to impact climate change, Goldstein claims that students must believe, above all, that they are significant enough to make a difference. This, he says, is most impactful. 

   “The only thing that will make a difference is people who care and take action. Don’t believe that you can’t make a difference, because you can,” Goldstein said. “One of the things you can do is plan ahead and think about how you’ll contribute in your lifetime. You may contribute by going into a field to work to improve the environment, but you may also go into business. You might go into law. You’re going to find lots of opportunities, no matter what career you choose, where you can make choices that are helpful for the environment.”

   Paniagua adds that students must begin to notice the changes occurring around them.

   “The only chance we have is your generation,” Paniagua said. “This is not an English class; this is not a book I have read the end of, and you haven’t.”

   As Paniagua points out, Earth is a book unfinished with an author unknown. She believes it is up to students to write its ending, wherever that may lead.

   “We do not have a backup planet. There is no ‘Earth 2.0’ waiting to save us if we destroy this one,” Towery said.

   And there certainly is no alternative ending.

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