CHAPTER 6: FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
Climate change & YOU
Earth provides us with air, water, and life. Today, our planet is changing in ways we have never seen before and there is no planet B! We recognize that humans are a major force in the fate of our planet, and all the interconnections between nature and society. It is more important than ever that each of us step into the role of creating a healthy and sustainable earth that supports all of us.
We’ve learned a lot about climate change and why it’s happening. We’ve also investigated all the ways climate change has impacted our planet, including the air, water, plants, animals and ecosystems. We’ve heard stories about how climate change and extreme weather have impacted communities all around the world. All these stories are very important, but we’ve only heard about what has happened already. We are left asking: what can I do.
It turns out the youth are the greatest leaders in making our planet more sustainable. More than ever we hear inspiring voices and see actions for creating a sustainable future from youth groups from all around the globe. There are growing technological innovations using renewable energy, and businesses and governments implementing policies for a more stable and balanced climate. Making a big change in the world starts with making small daily choices to do something different. The human actions of the past have led up to where we are today, and what we choose to do every day will bring forth what our planet becomes in the future.
Step up & take action!
Use your voice & vote your choice!
The world needs leadership on climate change and young people are stepping up to the challenge! Speaking up, speaking out and voting are the most important actions you can take to address climate change.
The world today is home to the largest generation of young people in history, 1.8 billion! Studies show that young people are more likely to voice their concerns about climate change than any other age group. Connected to each other like never before, young people can amplify their voices.
To create a more sustainable world, young people can lead the way by becoming more vocal and become more engaged in society, politics and business—in order to secure their future. Organizations such as youth-led climate justice groups offer many ways to get connected to others who are organizing events, marches and movements.
Voting is a powerful way to implement and support policies that recognize the true value and importance of fair access to environmental resources, from clean air to safe drinking water. Your local, state and Federal elected officials are there to represent their citizens and they need to know your views. Send postcards and letters or make phone calls to let them know you care about your climate future, and ask them to act accordingly—and when they do, don’t forget to express your support as well.
You can find contact information for your Congressional Representatives, Senators and Governors here:
United States House of Representatives:
United States Senate:
National Governors Association:
Daily choices make a difference
Each and every day we make choices that impact our planet, from how we get to where we are going to what we eat and buy. Being mindful of the daily actions we take makes a huge difference in the amount of carbon emissions we emit. While it may not seem that one person can make a big enough difference, together, all of us shape the state of our planet.
Everyone has a right to clean air, water, and a balanced climate. One of our biggest challenges in the world today is that the Earth's population of over 7.6 billion people is growing, and along with that, our global need for food, water, and clothing. Each year, there are about 82 million more people on Earth, with an annual global population growth rate of about 1.1%. By 2050, the world’s population could reach 9.8 billion, and over 11 billion by 2100.
Many people don’t have access to their basic needs, while some use more than their fare share. Studies estimate that we would need 4 more planets to keep up with current consumption. This means that we need to be aware of how much water we use, what kind of food we grow, how and where we build, and what we buy. Limiting wasteful consumption and supporting local, sustainable production is the only way to guarantee there will be enough resources for everyone and for future generations. With a growing population, it is more important than ever to reconsider the ways that we can meet our own needs in a sustainable way.
The kinds of choices that make a big difference start right in your own home and community. One way to think about the impact you have on the planet is to consider your “carbon footprint”. Your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide pollution that is released into the air based on the amount of energy you use. Our biggest daily carbon footprint comes from what we eat, how we choose to get around, and how we heat and power our homes. There are lots of really simple choices that make a difference, including buying food that is local and organic, reducing how much electricity we use, only buying products that are sustainably made, and using public transportation.
REDUCING YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
Awareness of your carbon footprint can help you make choices to reduce your impact on the planet. Here are some quick tips for reducing your footprint in daily carbon emitting activities.
The aim is reduce your use of electricity, so be sure to turn off the lights when you leave the room and unplug all the electronic devices that you aren’t using. Another way is to switch out your lightbulbs for more energy efficient ones. Use solar powered devices when you can.
Take a walk!
If you can go somewhere by walking or riding your bike, that’s a lot better than asking your parents for a ride. If it’s too far to walk, then consider taking the bus or getting a ride with someone else. When you do travel by vehicle, choosing energy efficient and hybrid cars is better for the environment.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
Reduce the amount of stuff you buy, reuse or recycle what you can. Reduce the amount of paper you use by printing or writing on both sides. Recycling just one bottle saves enough energy to power a light bulb for three hours. Bring your own bag when you shop to help reduce unnecessary plastic and save our trees.
Plant trees and gardens. Planting trees helps to keep our air clean. They also provide shade, provide habitat for birds and other animals, and help to keep you cool. Gardening is fun and great for the environment. You can grow fruits and vegetables in your own backyard or community garden plot.
If you can’t plant your own garden, be sure to buy local produce. Because there is less transportation involved in getting the produce to your table, this means fewer carbon emissions—reducing your carbon footprint! Visiting local farms or farmers’ markets is fun and a great way to see what is grown in your own area.
The Plastic Problem
Plastic is a part of our everyday lives, yet it’s becoming a global trash problem. Plastic has its name because it is a material that can easily mold into different shapes. The problem is that plastic doesn’t break down like organic, or natural, materials. If plastic isn’t recycled, then it piles up in landfills or becomes waste that ends up littering nature. A plastic bottle can easily end up floating in the ocean, or broken down to tiny plastic particles that never go away. Birds, fish, and other marine animals sometimes mistake these plastic particles for food and try to eat them. Marine animals can get tangled up in common six-pack rings from soda cans or ingesting too much plastic, with sometimes fatal results. Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme and the Global Ocean Commission, an estimated 10 to 20 million tons of plastic find its way into the ocean each year! Plastic makes up over 90% of the litter found in our oceans and on shorelines. Here are five simple choices we can make to help keep plastic out of our ocean. First, avoid use of single-use plastics and any products with microplastics. Second, recycle all plastic. Third, volunteer in a beach or river clean up. Fourth, support policies that ban plastic bag use. Fifth, get involved with organizations addressing plastic pollution and reducing plastic production.
What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
The North Pacific Ocean is home to a huge collection of floating trash. This collection of marine litter is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex. The patch is mostly made of plastics, chemicals, and sludge that are trapped in the currents of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. This ocean gyre is a slow-moving clockwise ocean current formed by the Earth’s strong wind patterns and high air pressure created by the rotation of the planet. While the center is calm and stable, the outer circular motion draws in debris and traps it. This is the largest ocean landfill there is, collecting trash from all over the world that’s ended up in the ocean. It’s not just one floating island of trash, but rather is made up of many swirling patches of tiny broken down plastics, called microplastics. Eventually some of the litter sinks into the ocean, but a lot of it damages marine life that eats it or gets tangled in the trashy ocean mess. Make sure your trash doesn’t end up there too!
Using renewable energy sources
In order be a sustainable planet, we must turn to renewable energies. This means taking advantage of our natural resources, like sunlight, wind, water, and geothermal resources, to make energy, instead of burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, unlike renewable energies, are finite, meaning that eventually they start to run out. We also know that fossil fuels are quickly becoming too expensive and too environmentally damaging to retrieve. Renewable energies are ideal for growing industries and businesses because their power needs can be easily replenished into the long-term future and used daily without a high environmental cost.
Solar power is using the energy from the sun for something we need. This can include really easy acts, like drying your clothes in the sun, instead of using the dryer. Other ways to use solar energy include using technologies such as solar cell panels that harness sunlight and convert it to electricity. These panels are called photovoltaic panels (photo means light and voltaic means electricity). A solar panelis made of silicon electrons that begin moving when the sun hits them and flow through wires that produce electricity. Even the International Space Station has solar panels that use the sun’s energy to generate power. For industrial power needs, solar arrays and reflectors are used to concentrate the capture of the sun’s rays on a much larger scale.
Wind power uses the air in motion. Wind energy is mostly used to generate electricity, but of course humans have long used the wind for other things too– even recreation, like sailing or flying a kite. You may have seen huge wind turbines spinning. These work kind of like a fan, but in the opposite direction: instead of using electricity to make wind, they use wind to make electricity. As each blade turns, it spins an inner shaft that is connected to a generator that then produces electricity. Take a look at this video to learn more about wind turbines and how they work.
Geothermal energy uses the heat from the Earth. You may have seen a geyser or a hot spring, where the heat from the Earth escapes naturally. Not only is geothermal activity great for enjoying a soak in a hot spring, but it’s also a very clean and sustainable energy resource. Geothermal heat from inside the Earth can be tapped to heat and cool buildings, or to generate electricity. Geothermal energy is common in Iceland, California, Hawaii, and Alaska where there is a high amount of volcanism and hydrothermal activity close to the surface. During the 20th century, Iceland went from a country dependent on coal for power, to one that uses renewable geothermal energy to power a majority of its energy needs.
Hydropower uses flowing water to make power. Since ancient times, people have taken advantage of water to power watermills and sawmills. Hydropower is a sustainable resource, because it harnesses the use of the ever replenishing water cycle, and the power of flowing river water. In a hydropower plant, energy is produced from falling or running water, which is channelized and pushes blades in a turbine used to spin a generator that produces electricity. Today, hydropower is the largest renewable energy source used in the United States. While hydropower is nonpolluting, it can still have major impacts on river ecosystems, and it takes a lot of land and water to maintain. Large hydropower plants can also emit methane, so it’s not necessarily the best choice for renewable energy.
Wind flow patterns and speeds vary across the globe. However, everywhere, on a daily basis, the air above land heats up faster than air over water. As air warms, it expands and rises, and cold air rushes in to take its place. This movement of warm and cool air creates wind. At night, the air cools faster over land than over water, and the winds reverse.
The Sun is the star that dominates our solar system. Solar energy is the light and heat that reaches Earth from deep inside the Sun. The Sun is 5 billion years old and has produced energy for all that time. Even though it is 93 million miles away, the Earth receives about 174 petawatts of incoming solar radiation. This is about 1,360 watts per square meter of solar energy. Only about 340 watts per square meter of solar energy makes it to the upper atmosphere, but some of that energy is reflected by bright surfaces and clouds (29%), and another part absorbed by atmospheric gases and particles (23%), while the rest (48%) is absorbed at the surface. The land, ocean, and atmosphere all absorb solar energy, which in turn raises their temperature. One hour of incoming solar power is enough energy to power every light, appliance and television on the planet for an entire year! If we all had solar panels, we would never have to burn another lump of coal.
- Our planet provides us with life, and everyone has a right to clean air, clean water, healthy food, and a stable climate.
- Each of us can do something to help keep our planet healthy and find ways to combat climate change from our daily choices to our collective actions.
- Youth are leading the way in redirecting climate change towards a healthy balance and there are many opportunities to get involved.
- Renewable energy is the only way to a create a sustainable planet.
We are the human element.
You’ve probably heard the term “force of nature.” As we’ve learned, human activity is a major “force of nature” in climate change that is impacting our atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and our very own communities. We are altering the four basic elements of life: earth, air, water, and fire. Humans are the fifth element; as we change the elements, they also change us.
In James Balog’s first film, Chasing Ice, we saw undeniable evidence of climate change through his photographs and time-lapse sequences of melting glaciers. In his latest film, The Human Element, we see how human activity has created imbalances in the four basic elements—and how those imbalances are affecting human life. We see through his photographs and films that nature and society are interconnected.
The good news is that because humans are a force of nature, we can also make a difference in climate change for the better. Each of us has unique talents, skills, interests, and above all a choice every day to do something for our planet. James Balog chose to use his skills in photography and filmmaking to raise awareness of environmental change. He has dedicated himself to be a spokesperson for our planet, sharing the stories of those most impacted by climate change through combining art and science.
Humans are the one element on Earth that can make a choice! Our global challenge is to create a healthy planet that provides clean air, water, and a balanced climate for all of life. It’s up to us to make the choice to do so.
What can you do? Every one of us can do something. Follow your passion and apply it in a way that can help restore balance and have a positive impact on the planet.
To learn more about Chasing Ice, visit https://chasingice.com
To learn more about The Human Element, visit https://thehumanelementmovie.com