Breaking down climate change

December 12, 2015

In light of the recent disasters in Chennai, India and Desmond, England and the climate change talks in Paris, France, it is starting to become clear to the majority of the human population that changes in global climate and increased levels of carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuels, also known as climate change, is one of our challenges as a society today.

Although finally receiving attention now, climate change has been a problem for some time. According to NASA’s Global Climate Change Department, the average global temperature has been rising at least 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit or 1.5 degrees Celsius since 1880 as opposed to the expected one degree change. In fact, nine of the 10 warmest years to have been recorded have been from after 2000. The last 650,000 years has comprised of seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat with only the last 7,000 marking the start of human civilization.

Yet this ever increasing statistic is largely due to human-induced threats such as high usage of fuel run automobiles and natural resources. The over-usage of these can have serious implications on not only our planet’s climate but also on the greenhouse effect, a process that perpetually traps energy from the sun or the solar energy radiating back into space at Earth’s atmosphere levels. Carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, has now reached 401.58 parts by million.

As technology is rapidly improving, scientists have now been able to place Earth-orbiting satellites in the sky to catalogue all sorts of information regarding the planet and its overall climate. As our society runs off of the gases emitted from the automotive, industrial and agricultural businesses, the seriousness of the issue is becoming clearer. In fact, these changes in greenhouse gas levels are causing significant melting for the ice cores located in Greenland, the Arctic and Antarctica, which further proves how the advent of electric cars will be able to reduce the numbers of greenhouse gas emissions and help cool the planet.

Although officials say that climate change itself cannot be attributed to the causes of both the floods in India and England, it is true that these sudden peaks in climate will give room for more abnormal weather conditions around the world.

In efforts to improve these conditions and cap global warming at two degrees Celsius, over 150 heads of state representing 175 countries met in Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change starting on Nov. 30 and ending today. They hope to come up with a legislative plan that will be enforced to ensure a reduction in climate change.

21st U.N. COP Talks in Paris Aim to Lessen Carbon Emissions

The 21st United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Paris has been extended to Saturday, one day longer than its expected two-week run that began on Nov. 30.

The conference, which had more than 40,000 delegates attending, has been pushing for countries to submit plans, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), that, starting in 2020, will outline ways in which countries will limit their carbon emissions and impact on the environment. These commitments will form the foundation of the 2015 climate agreement.

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The aim of the negotiations between countries has been to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change, with the aim of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius.

Upper School students were given the chance to Skype with Dr. Max Holmes, a climate scientist attending the COP in Paris, in the Nichols auditorium from noon to 12:45 during long lunch on Wednesday.

“I think it went great,” Green Team advisor Dr. Schafer said. “I was really impressed with the questions students had and I was really pleased with the turnout of students.”

Presented by the Green Team, the talk with Holmes included a brief introduction about the COP and Holmes’ own research, which was followed by Holmes answering questions from the audience of about 20 students and faculty members about the science of climate change and the situation in Paris.

Holmes answered questions on topics ranging from his own research to situation of conference and stated that he was “the most optimistic [he has] been about this in a while.”

He was recently featured in a Washington Post article about permafrost, a state in which soil that is frozen throughout the entire year thaws, releasing harmful carbon dioxide and methane.

“I think the climate talk was informative because it gave students a chance to learn about how the conference works and what we should expect to see from it,” Alayna Richmond (11) said. “I was hoping to learn more specifics about the countries’ proposals on how to reduce greenhouse gases, but Holmes said that the plans for cutting down are rather nebulous at this point.”

Richard Nevle, deputy director of the Earth Systems Program at the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at Stanford University, just returned from Paris, where he was at COP21 with a group of students.

“Right now the estimates when you consider all the INDCs gets us to about 2.7 degrees Centigrade,” Nevle said of the progress being made at COP21. “Now that sounds awful, and it is, but compared to where we’ve been previously, so one of the things that really needs to come out of Paris to be what I would consider a success versus a failure is that you need a ratcheting mechanism and that is a part of the agreement that stipulates how, when and where the process will continue in order to catalyze and motivate continued increases in ambition, which is key.”

The 22nd COP to the UNFCCC is expected to take place in Morocco from Nov. 7 – 18 2016.

Massive rainfall causes devastating flood in India

With water levels rising above six feet and cars floating, flipped over, through the flooded roads, the city of Chennai, India has been devastated by the most rainfall they have received in a hundred years.

A downpour caused flooding throughout the state of Tamil Nadu during the month of November, with heavy rainfall starting in the first week of December. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s website, Chennai received 40.31 inches of rain in November alone, more than 300 percent of Chennai’s average monthly rainfall.

About one million people have been uprooted from their homes near Chennai. An estimated 347 people have died as a result of the floods since Oct. 1.

Long distance effects of El Niño, a weather phenomenon that results in ocean temperatures rising in central and eastern parts of the tropical belt of the Pacific Ocean, caused heavy rainfall in southern India. The flooding was augmented due to faulty drainage systems throughout the cities.

The northeast monsoon season of October to December is the chief rainy season for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry,” states the World Meteorological Organization’s website. “It is also the chief cyclone season over the North Indian Ocean and hence, low pressure systems forming over the Bay of Bengal and moving westwards contribute significantly towards the rainfall.”

The rising water levels caused many residents to relocate to higher floors, if not depart the city.

“Some [friends and relatives], they had to move from the ground floor up to the first floor, and then up to the second floor,” Upper School physics and math teacher Dr. Anu Aiyer said. “Others had to move out of the city, they went to Bangalore.”

A major problem during the floods was dealing with sickness because people were not able to access hospital services.

“The water over there, because it’s mixed with sewage, is also really dirty and contaminated,” Kaushik Shivakumar (9) said.

Radhika Srinivas, who has relatives in Chennai, is currently working on participating in relief efforts for the victims of the flood.

“I know now they have a surplus of food so we are not giving them food, but we are trying to prevent them from getting diseases, like putting disinfectant, a blanket, and spreading the message of how you need to wash your hands and keep your surroundings clean,” Srinivas said. “So my friends and I have put together these care packages for all of them and there are about 300 packages being distributed to a slum.”

Various Indian actors, including Siddarth, Dhanush, Vijay and Rajinikanth, are involved in the relief efforts, and have donated money to the devastated areas.

Organizations throughout the Bay Area are also helping raise money through various causes. The Indian Community Center (ICC) in Milpitas is hosting a zumba event in which all proceeds will go to helping the victims of the floods in Chennai. Similarly, the Anjappar Chettinad restaurant in Santa Clara and Milpitas is helping fundraise by donating their sale proceeds for flood relief.

Chennai is expected to experience a week of sunny days with low chances of rain for the next week.

According to AccuWeather, moisture previously centralized in India will be pushed south; as a result, Chennai’s rains will stop, while storms will continue in Sri Lanka and other countries south of India.

“I think it’ll take at least about six months to a year for [Chennai] to really get back to where [it was],” Srinivas said. “Because lot of businesses and factories have been wiped out–there is a lot of loss, so it’s going to take a long time to get back to real normalcy.”

Electric cars diversify automotive industry

As the U.S. has grown increasingly informed of the effects of climate change, the automotive industry is being revolutionized by the increased popularity of zero emission electric vehicles.

Electric car company Tesla Motors has made strides the current electric vehicle (EV) market. Although their vehicles are only available to the affluent early-adopters of the electric car revolution, they plan to make their technology more affordable in coming years.

Bradley Buss, Tesla board member and Chief Financial Officer of SolarCity, a Tesla subsidiary that specializes in solar energy, shared his reasons for investing in the industry.

“Tesla has changed the way people use vehicles, along with getting off fossil fuels, and Elon Musk is convinced that these fuels are destroying the world and he did something about it,” Buss said. “Public adoption will increase as electric cars become more inexpensive, as you will see in the upcoming Tesla Model 3, a car that will be more affordable at around $35k.”

Tesla has not yet announced or confirmed the $35,000 Model 3 cost; the car will be officially unveiled next March.

The Electric Power Institute (EPRI) and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) created a joint study of the long-term effects of electric vehicle adoption across the country.

Their base simulation reported that starting in 2050, carbon emission could reduce by 430 million metric tons every year with the general adoption of electric cars, which equates to the removal of 80 million people from today’s roads.

The Department of Energy compared the traditional combustion engine with other eco-friendly vehicles. A conventional gas automobile produces 99 pounds of carbon dioxide at the cost of $11.60 for a 100 mile trip, while an all electric vehicle produces just 54 pounds of carbon dioxide and costs $3.56.

As of November 2015, there are more than 10 fully-electric models available in the automotive market. However, innovation in the EV sphere does not come entirely from traditional sources, as many Silicon Valley startups are becoming involved with the technology, and tech giants Apple and Google are also building electric cars. Microsoft and the ABB Group have partnered to work on faster electric car charging stations.

According to the Center of Sustainable Energy, California boasts 30% of all EVs driving on America’s roads, and Silicon Valley has the highest number of electric vehicles per capita in the country, at 0.007%. Several Harker students, faculty and parents own electric cars, which include the Nissan Leaf, the BMW i3 and Teslas.

Spanish teacher and Green Team advisor Diana Moss has driven an electric Nissan Leaf for the past three years.

“We have solar panels on our house and so we generate our own power, so this was a way of not only saving money, but also reducing our carbon footprint,” she said.

Krishna Bheda (10) and her family converted a 1989 Volkswagen car into a fully electric vehicle several years ago.

“It was a family project, and we wanted to find ways to help the environment,” she said. “[In the future] I would get an electric car because it’s good for the environment, and with all the innovation and technology, I think it would be able to have more miles than the car that we built.”

Senior Raghav Jain’s parents own a Tesla, but he says he would prefer to buy a gas-powered vehicle in the future.

“When there’s more variety of types of cars, studio models and maybe bigger SUVs, it would be suitable for more [people],” he said.

Moss had recommendations for students who drive gasoline-powered cars.

“They can look for ways to carpool, so you can try to conserve in that way. They can drive to use public transportation when possible,” she said. “The campaign that we started last spring was to try to get everyone who’s waiting in line to get dropped off at Harker to turn off their engines because emissions contribute a lot.”

According to the International Energy Agency, as of 2012, only 0.02 percent of cars on the road were EVs, amounting to 180,000 cars total. Projections for sales in the United States in 2020 are 3 million electric vehicles on the road.

As events like the Paris Climate Talks bring more attention to climate change, the popularization of EVs in the greater automotive market will change the way transportation impacts the environment. It is only a matter of time before millions of electric vehicles hit the roads.

Virtual March capitalizes on power of the internet to spread awareness

While protests and conferences around the world attempt to resolve the issue of climate change, our own Green Team is trying to approach the issue using a different methodology: capitalize the power of the internet.

The Green Team, consisting of president Akshay Battu (12), vice president Karen Tu (12), secretary Annie Zhou (12) and public relations officer Kshithija Mulam (11), recently joined the Virtual March, an online climate change campaign that raises awareness and asks for support for the Paris conference that kicked off on Nov. 29 regarding this issue.

Supporters can upload an image and message which will then appear on the site’s feed of posts from around the world. The introductory paragraph for the march that the Green Team took part in states that “On November 29th, millions around the world will take the streets to demand bold action on climate change from world leaders at the climate negotiations in Paris. Thousands of us will join in solidarity with a virtual march.”
While protests and conferences around the world attempt to resolve the issue of climate change, our own Green Team is trying to approach the issue using a different methodology: capitalize the power of the internet.

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Annie stressed the importance of participating in the online movement towards resolving climate change issues.

“Any support is good support,” she said. “Social media is a very fast-paced way to get everyone to see [what’s going on].”

Apart from the virtual march that the Green Team participated in, multiple others also exist online in order to attempt to raise awareness and expand the impact of protests using the power of the internet by promoting that people should show strong support to those who are physically marching globally.

In addition to this, in an effort to educate the students more about global involvement, the Green Team hosted Robert Max Holmes, a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, who was attending the conference in Paris at the time, through Skype during long lunch on Wed. in the auditorium.

“I think online awareness is key since so many people around the world get much or even most of their information online,” Holmes said. “This is particularly true for young people, who soon will be running the show and hopefully will make better decisions with regard to energy and the environment than my generation.”

Dr. Schafer, an advisor for the Green Team who worked at the Massachusetts Woods Hole Research Center with scientist Dr. Holmes, commented on the attention they are bringing to climate change.

“What I do here in California affects what happens in the Marshall Islands, and we never had a problem that was that comprehensive and that needs unified effort all around the U.S.,” she said. “I realized that’s where the learning for young students like you can begin. Now, I’m teaching a climate change summer course in facing these online movements and problems.”

As California enters this winter, though it is expected to have some cooler weather due to El Niño, a prediction of California’s upcoming weather still forecasts a “warmer than average” month ahead. Students can raise awareness regarding the issue of climate change, whether it be taking Dr. Schafer’s summer class or simply signing on to a Virtual March.

Changing the climate around global warming

Most people know about climate change; at a young age, we’re taught to recycle, save gas by carpooling and not waste paper. We’ve had science teachers drill the process of greenhouse gasses escaping into the atmosphere into our heads until we could recite these facts in our sleep. Despite extensive education on the subject, climate change always seems to take a backseat to other, more “pressing” concerns in our day to day life.

The effects of climate change are not as apparent as other international issues. The statistics about keeping lowering carbon emissions to prevent the global temperature from rising 2°C seem negligible at first glance, and the vagaries of what could happen 30 years into the future as a consequence feels too far away to worry about seriously.

Even as the four-year California drought drags on, currently leaving 70.55 percent of the state in extreme or exceptional drought as of Dec. 1 according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, after one week of being at the forefront of the news, the drought slipped away from most minds, becoming an afterthought or something that we’re now “used to.”

Until I reached high school, climate change probably never made the top ten most pressing issues on my mind each day. There were other things to worry about like a chemistry test I had next period or a track meet after school. With age, however, came a greater awareness of the world, and with a greater awareness of the world came a greater knowledge of the global issues we face. As I began to pay more attention to the news, I started to notice more and more about climate change, specifically statistics on rising sea levels and articles about changes in the global climate connecting to the increasing frequency of natural disasters such as forest fires and droughts.

Even though I sat at home, visibly unharmed by these disasters, I began to experience a feeling of guilt and concern. After all, climate change doesn’t discriminate, and it could easily be me facing these consequences whether it be now or in a few decades as an adult. I wasn’t planning to start a revolution, but if I could do the small everyday things such as being more aware and wasting less water, why shouldn’t I?

While I began to make small changes in my lifestyle such as joining the Green Team, reducing my shower times and paying more attention to my food waste, it became even more apparent to me how apathetic people seemed to be towards the issue of climate change. Although the problem existed, it took a backseat to more current, in-the-moment issues.

We can’t afford to have this attitude. By avoiding the issue or pushing it off as someone else’s problem, we lose any chance of fixing the problem before we even start. We should be doing everything that we can do as individuals in the hope that if everyone does their part, it’ll pay off as a whole. We can continue to advocate for decisions to be made at conferences such as COP21 so that we have definitive plans for the future. At least by accepting global warming as a legitimate issue by advocating change, we can ensure that we at least have the possibility of hampering its devastating effects.

For some people, a feeling of hopelessness makes climate change irrelevant: the fact that we cannot guarantee that our efforts will pay off, that we cannot say for sure whether we can actually have any effect on a problem that’s been festering for years. This attitude of questioning whether there is any point to our efforts is what got us here in the first place and will continue to exacerbate the problem in the future.
Although the odds are intimidating with no certainty of success, the fact remains that climate change is our generation’s problem to deal with now, and while 30 years into the future feels miles away, in the grand scheme of things, it’s right around the corner. Let’s not wait 30 years to see what happens; at this point, we can’t afford to wait any longer.

Just us against the world

When I was in first grade, I learned that the world was going to die.
I had just settled into my seat in a movie theater when the screen flickered to life and a rapid series of terrifying images flashed past my eyes. Fiery explosions flattened forests. Monstrous waves crashed into cities, crushing buildings as if they were dominos. People struggled to walk through thick clouds of gray smog. Then, the screen faded to black.

On the car ride home, my dad explained that what I had seen was a warning about global warming. Although I barely understood his explanation, I knew that I wanted to prevent what I had seen. For the next couple years, I nagged my family about recycling paper, turning lights off, and saving water. However, nobody ever responded with the same enthusiasm, and I was constantly told to focus on events that would impact me directly. Gradually, I realized that the people around me didn’t feel that global warming was an issue that deserved much attention.

At first, I refused to believe that climate change wasn’t an imminent problem. However, I soon began to doubt my faith in climate change’s disastrous impacts, since it didn’t seem to be threatening me or those around me. After listening to educational assemblies about rising temperatures, I lost the sense of urgency that I had felt during the movie. I also lost the feeling that anything I was doing could help. Every learning opportunity about climate change was about how we could only avert “future disasters” if all of us adopted healthy habits.

If nobody around me would change their ways because of a possible disaster, it seemed useless to do the same. What could I, one person out of the hundreds in my school, do to stop climate change if nobody else would try? Besides, I told myself, climate change wouldn’t happen anytime soon. Letting down my guard a little couldn’t change the course of nature. I started taking longer showers. I would leave lights on by accident. I stopped pestering my parents about recycling and composting.

Occasionally, I would read headlines about rising sea levels or pollution and feel a twinge of guilt. But then I would tell myself that my twenty minute showers, the extra minutes that the lights were on and those few pieces of paper that were accidentally shoved into the trash instead of the recycling couldn’t have caused any drastic changes. Although I never stopped believing that climate change was a problem, its importance dwindled over time. Climate change felt like something that could wait two years, or 10, or 20.

After a few years, my lifestyle was set. I had stopped consciously observing whether my actions would help or hurt the earth long ago, and climate change still seemed as distant as ever. According to a 2013 study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, most Americans see global warming as a distant threat as well. Only 17% of Americans believe that climate change will impact their families, while 47% believe that it will impact future generations.
Now, as a young Californian resident hearing news about forest fires and the recent drought, I realize that climate change has come much faster than I expected. However, my daily routine is fixed now. Changing my habits now would not help reverse the impacts of climate change, especially when everybody around me is still indifferent to its consequences.

I am only one person out of millions of Americans, many of whom believe that climate change will not impact them personally. Although I know that there are people who actively take action against climate change, everybody in my family and most people who live near me still go on with their lives without giving it much thought. Any action that I take against climate change seems useless, now that its effects are already upon us. After all, what can I do when the whole of nature is working against me?

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