The world is both hotter and more overcrowded than ever before. Naturally, these things are intertwined.
World Population Day was established in 1989 by the United Nations Council in order to draw attention to population issues. Back then, the world's population stood at 5.198 billion. Thirty years later, there are 7.7 billion people in the world, with an estimated 360,000 more being born each day.
It's hard to think about overpopulation without thinking about climate change, which threatens the livelihoods of every single one of these new children.
Climate change's consequences have already begun to emerge, and needless to say, they will worsen exponentially if climate change continues at its current rate. Effects include rising sea levels, tens of thousands of heat-related deaths, polluted air, a spike in chronic illnesses, severe droughts, mass extinctions that ruin ecological systems and destroy agriculture, and many natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires that will devastate infrastructure and generate massive flows of refugees. We've already seen these things, in the devastating 2018 California wildfires, in hurricanes like Sandy and Maria, in the drought that was a root cause of the Syrian refugee crisis, and in so many other instances.
Image via Undark
These events are only the tip of the iceberg. A 2018 UN report announced that we have twelve years to reverse the worst effects of climate change; if we fail to essentially keep temperatures from rising above 1.5C, hundreds of millions of people will suffer the consequences.
Certainly, the vastness of our world's population is a root cause of this deadly warming. According to Business Today, "One of the greatest consequences of growing population, which is perhaps a great threat to our livelihood as well, is the quick depletion of natural resources." More people means more carbon burned, more resources consumed, more people falling through the cracks.
In a merely theoretical sense, it seems logical that humanity's population explosion would happen concurrently with exponential climate change and ecological disaster, because the way our population has grown is anything but natural.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, human society followed a particular law: As populations grow, food supplies decrease, and so the population decreases, and the food supply increases. This is the same rule that keeps animal populations in check. However, since the dawn of industry, human beings have been producing more and more food and resources to support our burgeoning population, effectively placing ourselves at the top of the food chain, subsequently displacing animal populations, and decimating our natural resources.
Now, we are reaching a breaking point.
Image via MarketWatch
However, it's too simplistic to say that the amount of people in the world is directly proportional to the rate of climate change. It's true that the locations where the largest percentages of children are being born are the places that will be most severely damaged by the rising tides and hurricanes that are stemming from warming. According to Time Magazine, rapid population growth will only lock these nations into cycles of poverty, making it extremely difficult for these places to rebound from climate change's effects. However, these places are not the ones producing the majority of carbon emissions: That honor is reserved for developed countries, like the US.
The real cause of climate change is not overpopulation alone. It's the mentality that has allowed oil companies to grow into the massive corporations they are; and that has allowed Americans, who comprise 5% of the global population, to consume 25% of the world's resources, and that has allowed many childless couples in the US to consume far more resources than couples with children. That mentality has led us to accumulate endlessly without paying any heed to natural balances or equity.
Therefore, reducing the population is actually not the most important step that needs to be taken in order to combat climate change. This is because, according to Vox, it's not that the resources we have can't support a larger population: the US could successfully feed 400 million people simply by consuming locally what we are currently exporting. The problem is that we can't maintain the kinds of resource-guzzling, carbon-based lifestyles that we—and particularly, the extremely wealthy—have become accustomed to living. Simply reducing the number of people but not addressing our society's problem with carbon and consumption will have a negligible effect on the climate. In actuality, lower fertility rates can lead to higher GDP, as childless folks can accumulate more resources that they in turn spend on flights and other energy-guzzling activities.
Image via RT.com
Though population control would help, it's far more important that we figure out how to re-distribute resources in a sustainable way, rather than wasting such a vast amount of resources like we do in America. In the end, slashing carbon emissions—and, concurrently, shifting our cultural obsession with accumulation and individualism to an emphasis on egalitarianism—is still by far the most important thing we can do for the climate.
Even so, having fewer children and making education and birth control more widely accessible would be hugely significant overall. Furthermore, deciding not to have a child is totally a viable, impactful way to combat climate change (and it's possibly even the ethical choice, given the ecological mess that new generations will find themselves involuntarily subjected to).
Because if we remain on the path we're on? The population will just continue to expand, hitting a projected 8 billion by 2050. Soon enough, natural disasters will result in the deaths of millions; more people will starve or die in refugee camps; and then, as water becomes undrinkable and the planet becomes too hot for any growing thing, that will be the end of this whole experiment called life.
In 1971, the year "The Lorax" was published, scientists were just beginning to sound the alarm about climate change.
If you've somehow managed to successfully compartmentalize and ignore the fact that the earth is literally dying, perhaps this will jolt you out of your slumber: The tree that is believed to have inspired Dr. Seuss's iconic conservation-themed short story, "The Lorax," has fallen.
Image via ABC13
The tree in question was a Monterey Cypress, which grew without incident for 80 to 100 years in a La Jolla, California park until it keeled over suddenly on June 16. Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, could see the tree from the La Jolla apartment where he lived from 1948 until his death in 1991. It is believed that the cypress, with its curved trunk and abundant leaves, inspired the Truffala Trees that the Lorax in the story dedicates himself to defending—until a greedy factory owner cuts them all down, poisons the rivers, and fills the sky with smog. At the end of the story, the Lorax hangs his head and floats off into a tiny gap in the clouds, lamenting the death of his beloved forest and the creatures that called it home.
The Lorax- trailer www.youtube.com
In 1971, the year "The Lorax" was published, scientists were just beginning to sound the alarm about climate change. That year, a coalition of leading scientists reported significant risks from global climate change caused by human activity; by the end of the decade, scientific consensus identified global warming as the largest risk of the 21st century. Still, largely due to misleading reports from companies like Exxon, right-wing denialist think tanks, multi-million dollar denial campaigns, and bribes given to politicians by oil barons and investors such as the Koch Brothers, climate change was delegitimized, relegated to the back burner of public and political consciousness.
Flash forward to 2019, and the consequences of that corruption and ignorance are coming back to bite all of us. Wildfires, hurricanes, tsunamis, and droughts—each of which has catalyzed waves of refugees and deepened wounds of already existent economic disparity—are just a few of the visible consequences of climate change; and the worst is yet to come. Roughly 80,000 acres of forest disappear each day, with another 80,000 experiencing significant degradation. Plusm 1 million species are teetering on the brink of extinction.
If the loss of forests and biodiversity is not enough to chill you to the bone, the effects on humanity have been severe and will become unimaginably extreme if we continue at our current pace of unchecked destruction. Climate change threatens coastal cities with flooding, displaces millions, exacerbates health problems like infectious diseases, triggers asthma attacks, and destroys infrastructure and agriculture. It can cause mental illness and it disadvantages the most vulnerable, threatening communities and nations who lack the resources needed to bounce back from ecological disasters.
And even if you really don't give a shit about poor people, you're still not safe—for climate change will pose significant risks to financial markets, with food costs, insurance markets, and the mortgage industry all at risk. (For proof, just look at the millions of dollars in liability costs and subsequent bankruptcy faced by Pacific Gas and Electric after the 2018 California wildfires).
So in the shadow of all this horrifying information, it doesn't seem so far-fetched that the tree that inspired one of the greatest tales of environmental destruction has fallen. Sure, maybe there was something wrong with its roots, or maybe the excess of poison or smoke from the fires or the gas leaks or the plastic particles in the salt-choked rivers did it in. Or maybe the tree just gave up, realizing that the earth was no longer a place for growing things. Its death feels like the real-world embodiment of the Lorax floating away into the murky skies, looking sadly down on the scorched earth that used to hold thousands of trees.
Image via techwithkids.com
Of course, the Seussian tale doesn't end with the Lorax's departure. It begins when the kid in the story gets the Once-ler to tell him what happened to the Lorax, and it ends when the Once-ler drops him a tiny Truffala tree seed. "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not," says the old storyteller, imploring the kid (and by proxy, all readers) to try and do something, even if it starts with one seed.
In a world where Greta Thunberg—a sixteen-year-old playing hooky—is literally the most powerful voice in ecological activism, Dr. Seuss's message doesn't seem too starry-eyed. Small, improbable leaps of faith might be insignificant in themselves, but they can start waves of action that could be our best chance at launching the worldwide action needed to build a viable (and potentially more equitable) society.
image via weheartit
70% of Americans believe climate change is real and 97% of climate scientists agree it's caused by human activities.
As fall descends on the United States every year, it happens: reports spread across news feeds that something scary is brewing in the Atlantic.
A reported tropical storm becomes a categorized hurricane making landfall, leaving us with flooding, destruction, and rising death rolls. The Facebook donate buttons proliferate, coastal friends are marking themselves "Safe," and inevitably in our current political climate, op-eds bemoaning the death sentence of climate change or denying its existence are shared on your timeline.
"Climate change" has become a buzzword and political bludgeon, but the fact is 70% of Americans believe it's happening, and 97% of climate scientists agree that it's caused by human activities. It's enough to embolden your friend's incessant need to tag his sweaty Instagram selfies with "#climatechange" for every day over 80 degrees in New York City.
That being said, is it possible to blame global warming as the reason behind Hurricane Florence being the second wettest storm behind Harvey? Or for Hurricane Michael's ranking as the third most powerful storm to ever hit the continental United States? There's also the question on everyone's mind—will we be seeing more destructive hurricanes every year?
The answers: Yes, yes, and it's complicated.
Category 4 Hurricane Michael makes landfall along the Florida panhandle.
Tropical cyclones, like hurricanes, are indeed affected by factors that climate change directly impacts like warmer air, warmer sea surface temperatures, and rising sea levels.
Warmer air contains more moisture than cooler air. Therefore, it makes sense that as the temperature of Earth's troposphere (the weather layer 5-10 miles above the ground) rises, the air can hold more water. This is happening across the globe. And when the air has more water… Yes, you guessed it: there's more rain. Average precipitation in the U.S. has been increasing, and heavier downpours are expected to increase across the country both in intensity and frequency (in the Northeast by a whopping 71%). This increased ability to hold onto moisture will affect hurricanes like Harvey and raise their ability to unleash massive loads of rain.
As for storm strength? Some scientific models project a 45-87% increase in the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes by 2100 if we continue along our rate of estimated global temperature increase. The warming of the ocean and higher sea levels are the main culprits here. By increasing the temperature of the sea surface, human activity can create hurricanes with 2-11% greater wind speeds that may deliver more damage when making landfall, and with sea levels expected to rise by 1-4 feet in the next 100 years, storm surges will only worsen intense coastal flooding. None of this is made better by reports that storms are slowing down, allowing them to inflict more damage for longer periods of time.
So, yes, the picture is bleak. But wait, there's more—what about the possibility of more storms in general, and more with greater ability to create massive damage? Take a breather, this is a nuanced question.
While there is evidence corroborating global warming causing wetter and stronger storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's research of storms over the past century and complex climate model projections for the future do not support the claim that climate change will lead to an increase in overall hurricane numbers in the Atlantic. In fact, there is some evidence that the number of hurricanes is actually decreasing.
Hurricane Harvey aftermathCNN
It also gets murky when trying to blame the global crisis on the dramatic increase of hurricane-related costs. The statistics are pretty sobering: three of the five costliest U.S. hurricanes on record occurred last year alone. 2017's Hurricane Harvey is tied for the top spot with Hurricane Katrina (2005) at $125 billion in damages, Hurricane Maria comes after them at $90 billion, and Hurricane Irma rounds out the list at $50 billion (Hurricane Sandy in 2012 is no. 4 at $65 billion).
From those numbers alone, it's easy to become despondent. However, a large reason for the heightened costs of natural disasters is an increase in development along U.S. coastal populations. Americans across the board, and probably your retired parents sick of Minnesotan winters, are flocking to the coasts, whose population grew by nearly 35 million people between 1970 and 2010. Coastal counties made up nearly 40% of the last U.S. census, and this is only estimated to increase. Where there are more people, there are more houses and businesses in harm's way when a hurricane descends on the area. Climate change notwithstanding, storm-related costs would only grow in these places.
I'll admit, it's a bit of a respite to be able to blame something other than global warming on one part of the gloomy picture that is our world's climate future. Climate scientists agree that it's not accurate or compelling to blame individual storms or other weather events on climate change. There are many factors that affect how a hurricane plays out, including planetary orbits, factors local to the creation and path of the storm, as well as year-to-year variances in global weather patterns. The 1900s saw many terrible storms, including the deadliest in our history (by far) at the turn of the century.
However, when looking at overall trends around the world, the case is clear: climate change is happening and it's not going away. It's likely to make hurricanes more severe, unleashing more powerful wind, rain, and flooding.
Perhaps it's best to quote Michael Wehner, a senior staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who says it perfectly. "It's not: climate change flooded my house," he explained. "It's: climate change changed the chances of flooding my house."
A U.N. panel recommends "rapid, far-reaching" overhauls to prevent global catastrophe by 2030.
When responding to a disaster, the last phase is containment. The latest report from the world's leading experts on global warming is urging world leaders and policy-makers that that time is now. In order to prevent the earth's temperature from rising any more than another .5 ˚Celsius over the next 12 years, "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" are necessary.
The report is the latest from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which draws from thousands of publications and reviews of data on climate changes to assess and measure "increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level." In the past five reports, the IPCC has gone from investigating if and to what degree global warming was taking place to finding it "unequivocal" that global warming was an ongoing disaster with a 5% chance of being caused by natural climate change and a 90% probability that society's emissions of greenhouse gases were perpetuating the damage.
Environment and Human Being
Now, the IPCC is no longer concerned with spreading awareness or recommending practices to prevent damage from global warming, but to contain the coming destruction. The latest report cites that global temperatures are already 1 ˚C higher than in pre-industrial times; if temperatures rise more than 1.5 ˚C, environmental damages will put hundreds of millions of human lives at risk.
Furthermore, Earth's temperatures are expected to rise to the catastrophic 1.5 ˚C as early as 2030, unless "unprecedented changes" in transportation, agriculture, and energy are implemented. The IPCC's report verifies that carbon dioxide emissions have not been hampered by existing environmental policies, or lack thereof, recommending "rapid and far-reaching transitions" in society that leave some doubtful of its feasibility.
Skeptics include Glen Peters, research director of the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, who stated, "Even if it is technically possible, without aligning the technical, political and social aspects of feasibility, it is not going to happen. To limit warming below 1.5 ˚C, or 2 ˚C for that matter, requires all countries and all sectors to act."
The rhetoric of environmentalism has been deemed alarmist and even fear-mongering in the past, but one reason skeptics remain unmoved could be due to a history of sanitized language. Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center, doubts not only the IPCC's radical changes but their words: "If you're expecting IPCC to jump up and down and wave red flags, you're going to be disappointed. They're going to do what they always do, which is to release very cautious reports in extremely dispassionate language."
Scientists involved in the IPCC hope that the newest report will counteract that history of apathetic fatalism, urging that the present risk should merit the global, united response it will take to scale back potential disaster. "It's a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now," affirmed Dr. Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC's working group on climate impacts. "This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilizes people and dents the mood of complacency."
But plan to enact environmentally destructive policies anyway.
Amid the media frenzy surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, you may have missed another recent development in the world of politics: the Trump administration's admission that climate change is real.
According to the Washington Post, "In public, President Trump and his deputies have downplayed or outright dismissed rising sea levels, more frequent droughts, and other effects of man-made global warming." Contrastingly, in a 500-page environmental impact statement released last week, the Trump administration projected that on its current course, the planet will warm seven degrees by 2100. According to scientists, that kind of increase in temperature would be disastrous; resulting in extreme heat waves, acidic oceans, and high sea levels.
But, shockingly, the report was not intended as evidence to support funding to combat climate change, but instead meant to defend President Trump's decision to freeze federal fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and cars built after 2020. The report asserts that though this policy would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the fate of the planet is already sealed and fuel efficiency standards make too small of an impact to be consequential.
Michael MacCracken, who was the senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002, said, "The amazing thing they're saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they're saying they're not going to do anything about it."
The report states that the world would have to make massive cuts in carbon emissions to avoid this warming and that, "would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today's levels and would require the economy and the vehicle fleet to move away from the use of fossil fuels, which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible."
A rise of seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, would exceed the goal set in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, from which Trump is withdrawing the United States. According to the Washington Post, "At those temperatures, scientists describe nothing short of catastrophe." The Guardian sums up the administration's argument well with, "You might as well argue that because you're going to die eventually, there's no reason not to smoke a carton of cigarettes a day."
What are some easy ways to help the environment?
As scientists argue about the best ways to preserve the environment and politicians disagree on climate change, you can take control by changing small habits. You don't have to make drastic or expensive changes to have a big impact on the environment. Consider the following five small things you can do to help save the planet.
The super-rich are hoping inequality is here to stay, even after the apocalypse.
With the Atlantic hurricane season already underway, tens of millions of people are preparing grab bags and emergency kits and hoping that the next storm isn't the one that will take away their lives, their homes, or their resources. Yet, in spite of researchers' warnings suggesting that global climate change is increasing the likelihood that the next big storm, or the one after that, will wreak unavoidable devastation on those same millions, a much smaller group have no such anxieties. These people are not members of a doomsday cult, climate change 'skeptic' Super-PAC, or owners of exceptionally-developed spleens. They are a part of a far more elite class of mammals –– the super-rich –– and, as the storms rage ever harder on the rest of us, they've prepared emergency kits that have far more than a flashlight and a radio in them.
What can we do to fix it?
As we thrust forward, full-throttle into a modern era defined by convenience and consumption, it's easy to blind ourselves to the effects our everyday lives have on the environment around us. Whether it's the choking yellow clouds that pour from our smokestacks or the heaps of refuse we leave behind us every trash day, one thing is clear: we're living with the garbage we create. We've only mapped about five percent of our oceans, but our garbage has reached seemingly every corner. 19 billion pounds of trash, a large portion of which is plastic, is dumped into the sea every year. This number is set to double by 2025.