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Is Climate Change preventable or unavoidable?

Balu Pushkas, Co-Editor in Chief

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Climate Change is a global issue that scientist and carbon-emitting companies have passed around like a hot potato for decades Now, through extensive research, the majority of scientists believe that climate change is indeed real, but a new debate rages about whether it is man-made or natural.

Dr. Audrey Depelteau is a Climate Change specialist that studied at Russell Sage College in New York and majored in Biology with an emphasis on Ecology. Later on, she spent time at Albany Medical College at the Center of Toxicology and Pathology studying the effects of different food additives.

Currently, Depelteau works as the Director of the Innovation Lab at East Tennessee State University and is a Climate Reality Leader and a member of the North Tennessee Citizens Climate Lobby.

“I am passionate about the environment and feel as though it is our spiritual and civic duty to protect this beautiful planet,” she said. “During the early 2000’s, I began noticing the weather patterns were changing. Please note that weather is not the same as climate, but it was the local weather that I noticed was so different from the years of my youth.”

In researching this further, she noticed that there seemed to be a correlation between the increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution with the increase in global temperatures. She’s been following and informally studying this topic ever since.

Luke Holt is a middle school history teacher who believes that humans are causing climate change.

“To think that 300 years of civilization numbering in the billions of people relying on an economy that operates on releasing the energy of carbon bonds which have lain dormant for millions of years does not affect our climate seems absolutely absurd,” he said. “Disagreeing with 99% of climate scientists around the world who say the same thing is naive and self-serving. Science and scientists are emphatically clear that climate change is real and it is in large part driven by humans.”

Seventh grader Zoey Niederwemmer believes that climate change is real, as well.

“Climate Change might be real, like the ice age,” she said. “A whole bunch of animals died because everything was melting.”

The current debate is over whether climate change is natural or manmade. Most scientists and researchers agree that climate change is a man-made product. Large fossil fuel companies and other industrial giants, along with some politicians, claim that climate change is a hoax.

Depelteau believes that climate change is most indubitably real and is, at the very least, partially man-made.

“There is a definitive correlation between increased greenhouse gases and global temperatures especially since the industrial revolution in about 1880,” she said. “In nature, we do have ice and heat cycles, but they occur over hundreds of thousands to millions of years; but the increase in mean global temperatures since 1880 is unprecedented. The science demonstrates that we humans are the main source of pollution and greenhouse gasses emitted into our atmosphere. With that said, yes there are natural causes.”

Not everybody is on board with this notion.

“I believe that it is natural,” Niederwemmer said. “If it were man-made, what could do that from mankind?”

One thing that causes confusion about the topic of climate change is the science behind it. The majority of people in the United States and across the globe just can’t understand how humans could cause the climate and the weather to change.

“Simply stated, solar radiation, in the form of light waves, pass through the atmosphere,” Depelteau said. “The Earth’s atmosphere is the very thin blanket of gasses, about 300 miles thick, with most of it within 10 miles from the earth’s surface.”

Most of this solar radiation is absorbed by the Earth and warms it. Some of the energy is radiated back into space in the form of infrared waves. Greenhouse gasses and other pollutants trap some of this outgoing radiation.

“This trapped radiation not only warms the earth, some of it is reflected back down to earth, warming it even more,” Depelteau said. “We humans are now spewing 110 million tons of manmade global warming pollution into this thin shell of the atmosphere every 24 hours, as if it were an open sewer.”

Venus is another good example of this scenario. Despite being only the second closest planet to the sun, it is by far the hottest planet in the solar system. The reason Venus is hotter than Mercury is due to Mercury’s lack of an atmosphere, so while Mercury cannot keep the heat it receives, Venus can both keep and amplify what it has already trapped, turning the planet into a desolate wasteland of heat.

While Earth might not be as extreme as Venus, some of the effects of climate change have already begun to show themselves. The plague of recent hurricanes smacking into American coasts, along with weather conditions that encourage wildfires, show the most destructive force of climate change. Many people have lost homes and lives in the recent California wildfires; just as many have lost their homes and lives on the coast due to hurricanes.

“All fossil fuels when burned release CO2 and other gases,” Holt said. “All animals produce gases as part of their respiration and digestion. Our energy and transportation industries rely on the former, while our meat-based food system relies on the latter. These gases, create a greenhouse effect which traps solar radiation,” Holt said.

Evidence that climate change is real includes increased CO2 and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, increased global temperature, increased sea surface temperature and acidity, rising sea levels, decreased polar ice caps and decreased glaciers.

“The major industrial contributors to climate change are China, the United States, India, Russia, and Japan; however, there is a lot of inequity in that the countries that are contributing the least amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are most severely affected,” Depelteau said. These are the poor and undeveloped countries that don’t have the technology to mitigate the consequences.”

Man-made climate change has become a political hot-button issue that politicians pivot around despite overwhelming scientific evidence.

“I take the view that every person and animal breathe the same air and therefore we have a global problem,” Depelteau said. “It is my belief that when we have a global crisis, then the issue should not be political, and in the United States we should not be Republican or Democrat. We need to be bipartisan, reach across the isles of division, shake hands and listen, really listen, to what everyone has to say. The solution can only emerge when every idea has been put out on the table.”

Many Americans, however, don’t believe that climate change will affect them, so they don’t take action.

“We here, in northeast Tennessee, live in what I call a ‘sweet spot’,” Depelteau said. “We have not yet been subject to catastrophic weather events caused by climate change, but just look at some of these events that we have seen escalate in the United States: a plethora of severe hurricanes, fires, and droughts.”

Holt believes that science education is key to help people see the error of their ways.

“Too many Americans, and unfortunately their leaders, don’t have the quality of science instruction given here at Sevier and can be duped with pseudo-scientific logical fallacies which dismiss the problem to promote interests of carbon-intensive industries like energy, agriculture, and transportation,” he said.

In 2015, many prominent nations discussed the issue of climate change at a summit that ended with an agreement called the Paris Accords, which dealt with many environmental problems.

“The Paris Agreement is an ambitious effort for all countries to accept responsibility, to take appropriate measures to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and to work together to protect every country and person on this planet,” Depelteau said. “This is not an easy task, but it is my opinion that together we can do this.”

Holt is not quite as enthusiastic about the Paris climate agreement.

“The Paris Accords, according to the most recent UN reports, likely did not go far enough in their goal to reduce global carbon emissions,” he said.

Niederwemmer has also heard about the Paris Accords, “The Paris Accords is an agreement within the United Nations on Climate Change.” Niederwemmer says.

Soon after being elected, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Accords. Since the country is divided on how real climate change really is, this raised lots of controversy across the country.

“The United States is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gasses; as such, I would like to see us step up to the greatness we are and act responsibly,” Depelteau said. “With that said, it is important to remember that any greenhouse emissions do not necessarily impact the local community. For instance, through air currents, ash, from China’s industry, wafts across the Pacific Ocean. Mercury in this pollution drops into the ocean and because it is heavy, sinks. Deep sea fish such as tuna, consume this mercury, hence causing health issues when we consume it in high levels. We pollute almost as much as China does; our pollution does not stay within the confines of the U.S borders. We are polluting other countries and waterways.”

Holt believes the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement was nothing short of negligence.

“This puts the entire global community in danger and reduces our influence worldwide as other, more rational countries take the lead in combating this catastrophic potentiality,” he said.

Niederwemmer disagrees.

“It is neither a good nor bad thing, we are neither making it worse or better,” she said. “It is better than trying and making things worse.”

During the Thanksgiving season, the Trump Administration released a climate change report that declared that climate change was real and that it was likely caused by humans. The effects that climate change would have in the coming decades were listed in the report, describing the areas of the U.S that would be most affected. A group that sticks out in particular are the farmers, who according to the report will be hit the hardest.

Despite these facts, there are things people can do to help prevent climate change from worsening; simple tasks like walking to nearby locations instead of driving or using a bike to travel.

“We all have to be part of the solution and I encourage people to drive fuel efficient cars,” Depelteau said. “I would like to see Tennessee cars be subject to emission tests. When I first moved to Tennessee, I lived on a private street for several years; I was the only one that recycled. My motto is ‘if you use it, reuse it until you recycle it’. I also encourage people to eat more of a plant-based diet. Animal agriculture and meat eating are some of the biggest causes of climate change.”

While ordinary civilians can do things in order to combat climate change, world leaders can also take steps to prevent climate change, as well. Many politicians, however, only listen to “big money” and therefore openly oppose fighting climate change.

“I think a production-end carbon tax should be instituted,” Holt said. “This will incentivize industry and consumers to reduce their carbon footprint as much as possible. It will lead to higher energy and meat prices pretty early on, but the effect should be dispersed throughout the economy in a matter of years and will be far, far outweighed by climate stability.”

Climate Change is a phenomenon that will continue to hound humanity until it is either prevented or dealt with.

“I believe climate change is an existential threat to human existence and survival on Earth,” Holt said.

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Balu Pushkas, Student Life Editor

Balu Pushkas is a 7th grader at John Sevier Middle School. Pushkas is a fan of reading, science and history. Pushkas plays the baritone in the John Sevier...

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