Time For Change
Climate change and global warming are topics that grab the attention of the news almost daily. People are often flooded with information, true and false, but there is still much out there that hasn't made it to the public conversation. Not only is climate change having a negative effect on the United States and other first world countries, but it is even worse for poorer countries. This hurts the development of these countries, as they suffer from consequences brought on by wealthier consumer-based societies. But it’s also highly inequitable, since “wealthier countries have historically generated the most greenhouse gas emissions”. According to a recent study by the United Nations, “nearly one million species risk becoming extinct within decades, while current efforts to conserve the earth’s resources will likely fail without radical action”. Although many people are talking about climate change, the issues at hand need more than social media attention.
Food systems are responsible for almost a third of all greenhouse gases. This widely ignored issue creates more greenhouse gases than the public would expect, even more than cars. Cows produce more methane than cars produce Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and methane is almost 23 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat. The only reason methane may be considered less harmful is because it only lasts about 12 years compared to CO2 which can take “20–200 years” when dissolved into the ocean but the rest of the CO2 “is removed by slower processes that take up to several hundreds of thousands of years”. This means that “100 kg Methane per year for each cow is equivalent to about 2'300 kg CO2 per year” which is the equivalent of a car that gets 30 mpg driving 7,800 miles a year. There are currently 1 billion cars in the world compared to 1.5 billion cows. One way of cutting down the amount of cows is by using more plant proteins. There are some companies that are trying to produce a ‘meatless meat’ such as Beyond Meat (BYND) and Impossible Foods which use plant-based proteins to provide something similar to meat. A study conducted found that ¼ pound of Beyond Meat uses “99 percent less water, 93 percent less land, generates 90 percent fewer Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGE), and requires 46 percent less energy than a beef burger.” After BYND had their IPO on May 2, the stock surged more than 150% from the IPO price of $25 on the first day of trading.
Although there are many movements out there with good intentions, they are not solving the problem. One idea that is gaining popularity in trendy restaurants is the idea of farm to table. While this is good for helping the local community and decreasing transportation, it actually does little to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. One of the biggest movements around the US and abroad is the banning of plastic straws. This is a good start but plastic straws are less than 1% of the total plastic in the ocean. Nearly half of all debris in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is comprised of fishing nets. If we measure by particles, 94% of the patch is microplastics. The banning of plastics bags is another movement which is actually harming the environment more than if we were to just use plastic bags. A paper bag, although it decomposes faster, requires more resources to create and must be used 3 times to be equal to plastic bags in terms of environmental impact. The trendy cotton bag must be used at least 131 times. Weather proofing houses is another way to cut down on energy consumption. To become even more efficient, people should consider moving to a smaller space and even better than that, an apartment building. 5 or more units use about 12% less energy on average. Banning straws is a good start to limiting our pollution but should not have as much of an emphasis as it does. To truly start making a difference, we need to start considering actions that can actually have a large impact to help the environment.
Governments are slowly starting to make progress towards environmentally friendly initiatives. The EU is banning single use plastics by 2021. By 2029, 90% of beverage bottles will have to be collected for recycling purposes, and cigarette companies will pay to clean up cigarette butts, as they are among the greatest sources of ocean pollution. Instagram is playing a role in the devastation of our natural areas. This is leading to parks protecting themselves through “geotag campaigns, new and improved signage, and updated infrastructure”. The Green New Deal proposed by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey was an outline for the US to make tremendous efforts in curbing climate change. It had many critics, but there were also many supporters who argued that it was not global enough. Perhaps one of the most important bans by a government so far is the United Kingdom’s ban on microbeads, which went into effect June of 2018. This is the first in the world and a necessary step as “one shower alone is thought to send 100,000 microbeads down the drain and into the ocean”. Countries are also starting to support the electric vehicle trend, with Sweden opening the first road capable of charging cars as they drive and other countries such as the UK following. Germany installed cables over a stretch of highway for semi trucks to charge on their hauls.
Environmental, social and governance investing is growing steadily more popular, as people demand ways to invest their money in companies aligned with their values. By looking at the environmental impact, social connections the company has, and the strength of corporate governance, people can assess whether the company aligns with their values and is worth their investment. This is a growing area as “investors held $11.6 trillion in assets chosen according to ESG criteria at the beginning of 2018, up from $8.1 trillion just two years earlier.”
This is not the only way people are making a difference. There are many initiatives around the world where people are standing up to fight climate change. To help places recover from wildfires and deforestation, drones are now being used to plant seeds in the ground. Jeff Bezos and others have given $127 million to General Fusion, a Microsoft-partnered company attempting to bring fusion energy to the market. Fusion is when two particles join together, the opposite of the nuclear fission commonly known today. By using an ingredient found in water, deuterium, “a gallon of seawater can produce as much energy as 300 gallons of gasoline”. Aside from being more efficient, “fusion produces no environmentally harmful gases, no nuclear waste, it can’t be made into a weapon, and it will never cause a power plant meltdown.” Electric vehicle companies, like Tesla, Rivian (Ford’s partner in electric commercial trucks), and others, are working towards the goal of emissions-free cars. Perhaps one of the most important efforts is by Boyan Slat, a Dutch entrepreneur, whose organization is Ocean Cleanup. Through this organization, he created a system described as: “a 600-meter-long floater that sits at the surface of the water and a tapered 3-meter-deep skirt attached below. The floater provides buoyancy to the system and prevents plastic from flowing over it, while the skirt stops debris from escaping underneath.” The goal is to clean up the 5 ocean garbage patches around the world. They are starting with the biggest one first, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. After a fairly successful first launch, the team has brought the plastic collector back to shore. Now, they are working on ways to improve it, and then deploy a fleet around the world.
The Earth is warming, the oceans are rising at an increasing rate, animals are going extinct at a rate where the damage done over the next 50 years may take millions of years to recover, air pollution is killing over 4 million humans year, and the list goes on. “The biological diversity of this planet has been really hammered, and this is really our last chance to address all of that,” says Thomas Lovejoy, who has been called the godfather of biodiversity. Until governments take a more aggressive role in combating climate change, it is up to everyday humans to start making a greater change to ensure our safety on this planet, as well as the millions of species with which we share it.