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GBHS reacts to climate change controversy

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On Jan. 20, when Donald J. Trump assumed the presidency, the White House website’s public policy statements and documents from the outgoing administration were archived and replaced with information from the new administration.

With this change, all reference to climate change was purged from the website, except for a vow to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

The Climate Action Plan was a main platform of the Obama administration aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions and increasing the study of climate change.

Climate change is defined as a large-scale, long-term shift in the planet’s weather patterns or average temperatures. According to Granite Bay High physiology and Advanced Placement biology teacher Lisa Goldsmith, it is a natural process that has been happening throughout Earth’s history.

Goldsmith said, though, that human actions have been instrumental in climate change escalation, although many are unaware of the role they personally play.

“Humans have been increasing the rate at which our climate is changing in a negative way,” Goldsmith said. “Most of the time when you hear about the consequences of our emissions on the climate, these consequences are not going to occur for many years. … So I think many people take an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to climate change.”    

The effects of climate change are well documented and can be seen globally in the rising sea levels, rising temperatures, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, ocean acidification, decreased snow cover and aberrant weather patterns.

According to NASA, the global sea level rose 17 centimeters in the last decade. Earth has witnessed 15 of its last 16 warmest years on record since 2001. Greenland has lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers of ice per year between 2002 and 2006. The upper layer of the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide is increasing by two billion tons per year.

Most scientists have come to a consensus that the Earth’s warming is caused by the “greenhouse effect.” These greenhouse gases –  such as water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane – block heat from escaping the atmosphere, ultimately leading to a rise in temperature.

“Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that absorbs infrared radiation which traps and holds that heat in our atmosphere,” Goldsmith said. “As more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, our atmosphere is trapping and holding more heat, which conversely heats up Earth.”

Not all emissions from the burning of fossil fuels rise up into the atmosphere, however.

“There are some (emissions) that get trapped lower in the troposphere, the air we breathe,” Goldsmith said. “This is adding to air pollution, which will have adverse effects on our health including asthma, respiratory diseases, damage to your immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems, and most air pollutants are carcinogens or cancer-causing agents.”

Climate change is a global concern, and GBHS junior Bella Matthews has witnessed first-hand its effects in her travels.

“I visit Korea, Thailand and India a lot, so when I go there you can tell by the smoke and the smog and all the pollution that’s going on,” Matthews said. “It’s really hard to breathe, and there are fewer animals than there used to be there.”

Matthews said she agrees that climate change is a human-induced reality which needs to be addressed – and she has a suggestion.

“We need to change from the old fossil fuels to energy sources that are more resourceful and valuable such as solar energy,” Matthews said. “I think we should change the resources we use so we can make a better Earth for the future.”  

Although much of the scientific data shows otherwise, many believe climate change is just a natural phenomenon, and human behavior contributes little to it. President Trump has even, in the past, questioned the validity behind climate change and global warming.

Junior Nico Maggio agrees – he questions the role of human impact as well.

“I think climate change isn’t completely human-caused like many of the scientists are saying because over the years it has been shown that the climate fluctuates quite a bit,” Maggio said. “I don’t think humans are the total cause. Over time it will balance itself out, and I don’t think (there) will be a huge change.”

Maggio does, though, advocate policies that attempt to curb human-generated emissions if they do, in fact, contribute to global warming.

“I like the idea of a carbon tax, which has been brought up a couple times, because people take for granted what they contribute to the atmosphere, and  I think if they put a tax on carbon they would use less of it,” Maggio said.

Science teacher Andrew Phillips said he believes humans not only contribute to climate change, but they also need to step up and take note of the long-term consequences.

“My first thought with climate change is that, to me, it strikes me as the most pressing global issue that exists right now,” Phillips said.

According to Phillips, making everyone aware and knowledgeable about the climate change issue is crucial to addressing the problem.  

“Education about it is really, really important, because you can’t start to develop ideas for change until you identify and recognize the problem,” Phillips said.

He believes the “conversation” around global warming has become mainstream and irrefutable from a science perspective.

“While there are still differing opinions among the public, the scientific perspective is fairly in consensus in that climate change is, in fact, a very significant and very real thing that is at least a large part the result of human action,” Phillips said.

Phillips cautions that the potential long-term repercussions of climate change can be extreme. With no change, he foresees the well-being of human populations possibly threatened  from food insecurity because of crop failure and from the loss of livable areas because they will either be under water or too hot to inhabit.

“The idea of climate refugees is going to be a real thing in the near future,” Phillips said.

As a science teacher, he has come to realize the important relationships among life processes.

“The more I learn about (climate change), the more interconnected everything becomes,” Phillips said. “And as one thing leads to the next, it starts this chain reaction that is potentially devastating.”

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GBHS reacts to climate change controversy