What is Climate Change All About?
By: Cyril Cabral Jr
Riding a bicycle is a complex task, with many of our 600 human muscles needed to keep us balanced and moving forward. As we have all experienced, an untied shoe, a sandy patch of ground, an animal running in our path or a fly landing on our nose, is all it takes for an unbalanced situation that results in hard contact with the ground. We can think of the Earth like 7.7 billion human inhabitants on a bicycle; all systems are in balance, the systems work in harmony with one another. That is, until something creates an unbalanced situation.
Some of the most critical Earth systems in play are the:
- Atmosphere (gasses surrounding the Earth)
- Hydrosphere (surface water on the Earth)
- Cryosphere (surface frozen water, ice, and snow)
- Lithosphere (the crust of the Earth)
- Biosphere (the life supporting regions of Earth)
If we push these systems beyond a certain tipping point, the conditions conducive to life will be compromised since evolution has optimized life for the environment we currently live in. Climate change is all about drifting too far from the comfortable, life-sustaining harmony we currently enjoy in timeframes far quicker than evolutionary change can adapt to.
Perhaps the most significant threat to the equilibrium described above pertains to changes in atmospheric gasses, specifically greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane, amongst others. Too little of these gasses creates a frozen world; too much results in a hothouse. Either extreme is unable to sustain life as we know it. Humans are like Goldilocks – a “just right” equilibrium on Earth is needed to survive.
Since the advent of the steam engine and the Industrial Revolution that ensued, life has gotten much easier for us with energy in abundance. We now take for granted unlimited quantities and types of food at the local grocery store, cozy comfortable homes, easy travel to anywhere on the planet, and all types of conveniences made from plastic. This abundant energy stems from fossil fuels-coal, natural gas (methane), oil, gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. When these fuels are consumed to produce this energy, the byproduct is carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide builds up in our atmosphere over time and has to date increased 50% since the invention of the steam engine. This change alone has affected all the Earth’s systems listed above by way of increased surface temperatures, much like a conventional greenhouse that, if not properly ventilated (temperature regulated), starts to scorch the plants.
The tangible manifestations of the increased carbon dioxide (temperature rise) include flooding, severe storms, dramatic winter weather events, disease-carrying insects, drought, wildfires, and human conflict over essential and finite natural resources, making increasing portions of the planet uninhabitable. This leaves us with one of the greatest challenges we have ever had to face; How do humans continue to maintain our comfortable way of life without destroying the conditions on the planet which make that life possible?
Being the most innovative, resourceful, and creative creatures on the planet will enable us to find solutions to this dilemma. It will take modifications in behavior from us as individuals, communities, territories, and nations. That is the purpose behind organizations like:
- Yorktown100 (yorktown100.org)
- Cure100 (cure100.org)
- New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA – www.nyserda.ny.gov)
- US Climate Alliance (www.usclimatealliance.org)
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC – unfccc.int )
First, we must become educated on steps we can take as individuals using the resources available. For example, there are simple calculators we can utilize to determine our personal carbon footprint (https://yorktown100.org/carbon-tracker) and guidance on how to reduce that footprint. It is up to all of us to take steps, whether large or small, toward making the planet cleaner, safer and healthier, for us and for future generations. Our collective individual actions can and will make a difference in slowing the irreversible effects of climate change. Confidently, we (7.7 billion inhabitants) can ride this bicycle we call Earth, maintaining stability, into the future!
Cyril Cabral has worked as a researcher in Yorktown for over 30 years, at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center. He has lived in Yorktown for the past five years with his wife and daughter in a new energy efficient, net zero emission home.
Yorktown100 is a 100% volunteer group of neighbors working to reduce our carbon footprint by 5% a year through various programs. This article, as well as all other articles sharing understanding and practical tips, are filed on our website for future reference. Contact us if you would like to learn more about climate change or any other topics. We welcome new members! Visit us at https://yorktown100.org/ to learn more, view upcoming public events, and help make a difference.