Monday, August 3, 2009

Hope for Earth

(Winner of High School Group, Teen Essay Contest 2009)
by Leanne Wu

People need to focus on Earth's deterioration. The world we now live in will not exist in the future if we continue to neglect the crisis of global warming. With overpopulation and overconsumption, our planet is being stripped of its natural resources. Factories and modern technologies, such as gas fueled automobiles, emit carbon dioxide, causing consequential damage to the atmosphere and our environment. In director Ron Bowman's National Geographic documentary, “Six * Degrees Could Change the World”, Earth's many urgent problems are displayed and explained. Earth is warming from depletion of the ozone, causing major glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. The world's major cities will flood in a matter of a few decades. The rising temperatures also cause droughts. Just a 1 degree Celsius rise will turn the most fertile ranch land to desert, which affects food supply that is now in more demand than ever before. A 6*C cooling has caused the Ice Age. Imagine what a few degrees of warming will do. The future of every person on the planet is in danger, but the poor are the most vulnerable. As more people demand new technologies and products, the prosperous, large companies become richer as the poor become poorer. Big industrial nations are the major polluters of the world. The poorer countries will have to suffer the damage they did not cause.
The National Geographic documentary, “Six * Degrees Could Change the World”, reveals some of the underlying causes of the global issue. Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide emissions. Transportation is responsible for one third of the CO2 emissions. Heating homes, deforestation, agriculture, making cement and industry emits another third. Though electricity itself is not a carbon emitter, the power required to generate the electricity is responsible for the last third of CO2 emissions. The carbon dioxide is trapped in the atmosphere, absorbing solar radiation, heating the planet. This is the greenhouse effect. In director Michael Taylor's Global Warming : The Signs and the Science, the dangers of Earth's increased temperatures are explained. Increased temperatures melt large ice bodies. When masses of ice gets into the oceans, the natural patterns of the waters will change, causing more frequent and intense natural disasters. Melting ice also raises sea levels, putting coastlines and even some countries at potential risk of being flooded. Higher temperatures also cause droughts, destroying people's food and water supplies. Warmer temperatures bring about more, and larger insects that can transmit diseases. These diseases put animals and plants at risk of extinction. A problem of overpopulation adds to the issue because more people means higher demand for more of everything. Overpopulation also contributes to overconsumption. In One with Nineveh : Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future, Paul R. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies in the department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University, quotes the modern scientific community, “...growing numbers of people, together with rising levels of consumption, especially among the world's rich, are threatening to the natural underpinnings of human life.” (7) Earth's limited resources cannot fulfill constantly increasing demands. In modern times, demand for extravagant, mostly unnecessary and even environmentally damaging luxuries, are skyrocketing. Large amounts of money are spent on these luxuries and not even attention is payed to the crisis of global warming. The government is also barely doing anything helpful to the cause, especially with corporation-hired lobbyists who can manipulate the government into enforcing their preferences and whatever they need to make more profits for the companies and themselves.
Many suggest little things such as switching to hybrid cars, using fluorescent light bulbs, and recycling reusable materials. In the CosmoGirl article, “American Waste Land”, Jessica Strul says, “What if you were to recycle all of your cans? See? You do have the power to improve the world.” The truth is that doing these small things simply isn't enough to make the impact. Not everybody is going to want to make the initial investment on a hybrid car. Hybrid cars use up electricity as well. Recycling materials also take up energy to fix and transfer those materials around, which doesn't do as much in reducing carbon emission as people think. It will take too much for individuals alone to save our planet with these little things. People must unite to make a difference, especially with the government's support . But it will be nearly impossible for the government to focus more on solving the environmental crisis with corporations constantly bribing it with money, turning them the other way. Corporations will influence government policy to benefit themselves with raised profits, whether it be through advertisements or taking in taxes, and they will leave the rest of the population to experience unfortunate financial complications. Stabilizing the population has been suggested, but there is the problem with religion. Some religions prohibit birth control. Many also believe that this means genocide.
As individuals, we must learn to rid our undeniable greed. The desire for lavish amenities is costing us our planet. Many of the 'finer things in life' are simply unnecessary objects that people desire in order to seek a little attention and make some impression of themselves. People do not need luxury, gas guzzling cars that cost more than some homes. Capitalistic minds are keeping the poor poorer and making the rich richer. To survive as a whole, society must take care of those who are incapable of caring for themselves. With enough attention to raise awareness from the public with the aid of the media, people will realize their unfortunate realities.
Education is key, which emphasizes the idea of more equal and abundant funding toward education systems. Many people must first obtain information of our global crisis in order to take further steps to help improve current conditions, and the ones who do know of global warming and deny the issue are simply consumed by self interest.
The government is no exception to having selfish motives. Money and power is its objective, as it is for the rest of the human population. In One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future, Paul R. Ehrlich states, “...the spread of Western economic values has helped to produce a dog-eat-dog world in which immediate financial gains too often govern people's relation with the environment and with one another...” (279) So the government, as well as everybody else, must consider the interest of the population as a whole before individual desires. People must learn to resist and ignore propaganda, for wealth and possessions are not reliable solutions to every aspect of their lives. Laws must be enforced to prevent people from carelessly abusing Earth's resources. In One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future, Paul R. Ehrlich states that consumption taxes on items and travel that create CO2 emissions must be imposed. Despite expected disapproval of raised water and gas prices, these must also be enforced in order to prevent wasting and further stressing the environment. Oil companies, car companies, and other environmentally negligent corporations mustn't be further encouraged by high profits.
Suggestions such as recycling are simple things that people can easily do to feel as if they are actually contributing to the solution of global warming. These 'easy-fix' solutions are so popular because people do not want to admit to their realities. Humans are innately selfish and competitive. It is vital to individual survival. But when one's greed causes another's anguish and extreme misfortunes, humans take a step back from evolving into better beings, which is what we strive for everyday. We can actually understand the underpinnings of Earth's many crises and perhaps find its solutions if we recognize, admit, and eliminate our own greed.
We humans cannot easily tell others to rid their selfishness, when we ourselves are flawed with our own greed. Human nature cannot be denied, but we ourselves constantly deny our own inevitable imperfections. Our current economy has taken some time to build, and people will not be willing to easily give up their desire for wealth. Most people are also too comfortably accustomed to their current lifestyles and it will definitely be a hardship to convert their thinking into a less capitalistic state. We must all recognize and eliminate our own, individual selfishness. We, whether rich or poor, can do this by supporting each other as much as we do for ourselves. Communities can host gatherings and all residents can contribute ideas that can benefit each other as a whole. As a big, connected group, people will acquire a better understanding of themselves as well as others through those around them, and when this happens, our greedy self interests diminish.
There may be no guaranteed solution to our crisis, but the future of the planet we humans have put in much effort to 'build' and have adjusted to as our homes is worth the attempt. In One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future, Paul R. Ehrlich states, “Dealing with population, consumption, and power will not be easy. But each day we do nothing forecloses options for creating a better future...” (15) Our every action determines our futures and the lives of future generations, so why not give Earth the proper treatment required to sustain life? We must care for our fragile, delicate home, from first conceiving the idea of global warming, to taking action to make big scale changes.

*Bowman, Ron, dir. “Six * Degrees Could Change the World”. National Geographic, 2008
*Taylor, Michael, dir. “Global Warming : The Signs and the Science”. South Carolina Educational Television, 2005.
*Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich. One With Nineveh : Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2004.
*Strul, Jessica. “American Waste Land,” COSMOGIRL, December/January 2009.

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