If someone were to head to the farthest visible galaxy, it would take 13.3 billion years traveling at the speed of light to get there. Obviously, there is not yet the means to accomplish such a trip, but this scenario gives us an idea of the vast scale of the universe.
We live within this unfathomable space on the outskirts of the Milky Way Galaxy in a solar system on a small lonely planet that is currently our only home. Earth is effectively an island, and, like all islands, it has limited resources.
Unfortunately, humans have been depleting these resources. In some ways, it is done directly, such as by razing entire forests and all the flora and fauna that exist within them.
Indirectly it is done by pulling out carbon-rich decomposed plants and animals in the form of coal, oil and gas from deep within the earth so they can be burned for energy, releasing greenhouse gases. This creates the insulating blanket that is causing the planet to rapidly heat up and is leading to detrimental and far-reaching consequences that affect many aspects of life.
When I was in college in the late 1980s, one of my biology professors discussed a relatively new and very concerning phenomenon, coral bleaching, which is what happens when coral-producing polyps expel the algae living inside them.
The problem with this is that algae provide 90% of the nutrition for coral. Without algae, coral dies, and when coral dies it can lead to the destruction of many ocean ecosystems. Coral polyps do so much. They provide habitat for over a million species, food and jobs for humans, potential medicines for life-threatening illnesses, and protection for coastal areas.
At the time I was taking the aforementioned class, no one knew what was causing the coral bleaching. Research had begun, however, and scientists have since learned that it is due to a rise in ocean temperatures caused by the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which is, again I add, the result of human activity.
Another very troubling matter is associated with too much carbon in the atmosphere: ocean acidification.
Oceans have been doing a decent job of absorbing carbon from the air — about 25% of it — but this makes water more acidic, and the way it affects shellfish is particularly worrisome because acid corrodes their protective calcium carbonate shells. This has been causing many mollusks and crustaceans to die.
Sometimes shells are unable to form at all, so these creatures do not even make it to adulthood. Entire populations of shellfish are suffering, and that is spilling over and detrimentally affecting the animals that eat them. The decimation of these creatures is also extremely problematic for people who rely on the shellfish industry for their livelihoods.
We’re in This Together
The examples I have mentioned are just two among many in which the use of fossil fuels is having far-reaching and negative consequences for the planet. It is like humans are playing a game of Jenga with nature. We are taking pieces out one by one, and at some point, the tower will come down.
No species lives in isolation. Any we can name is tethered in some way to at least one other species. When one is adversely affected, others are adversely affected as well. In 50 years some of us will not be here, but our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and that 6-year old down the street, hopefully, will be.
They will have to live with the horrible fallout from our actions if we are unwilling to change.
At the risk of facing critical responses from readers, I believe most of us can do better. I promise to do better, to buy less, reuse and recycle more, and use what I already have.
Additionally, we can all help in a very easy and practical way by writing a letter, emailing, or calling our politicians and voicing our concerns.
Specifically, we can contact Rep Katie Hill [or your own representative], asking her to co-sponsor HR 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This is a bill that will effectively help to combat climate change by rapidly reducing the excess greenhouse gas emissions warming the planet. It is also supported by many well-respected financial experts because it will be good for the economy.
If it is for the sake of future generations, I feel these are small things we must do.
Kim is a member of the Santa Clarita Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.