Lowering Emissions, Conserving Ecosystems, or Cleaning Oceans?
We have downplayed the effect we are having on the environment for too long, so to which environmental problem should we dedicate our climate change efforts to?
by Pranav Arun
Humans are having a disastrous impact on the environment, the climate, and animals we share the earth with. Climate change, deforestation, extinctions, and pollution are all happening at high levels, calling for our immediate prioritization of saving the environment. That is clearly seen along with the fact that every one of the problems talked about in this article should be addressed and acted upon. The debate is whether we should prioritize the limited resources we have, to tackle climate change, lower carbon emissions, conserve ecosystems and prevent deforestation and extinction, or to clean the oceans and decrease plastic production. We have let carbon levels in the atmosphere and plastic levels in the ocean grow to an alarming level already, and we should be grateful that we still have time to act on these problems. The effect that we are having on wildlife and ecosystems on Earth is so terrible that some scientists are calling this the 6th Mass Extinction, and if you want to know what happened in the other mass extinctions, just look at what happened to the dinosaurs. So, let me just clarify again that all of these are important problems that should be acted on in many countries.
Here is where the Trilemma is presented, should we take our influence and prioritization to lowering emissions, conserving ecosystems, or cleaning oceans? Let’s take a look.
Prioritizing Carbon Emissions and Global Warming Problems
Many people argue that we should prioritize lowering carbon emissions and stopping global warming. Let us see the numbers behind climate change and carbon emissions. According to NASA, Earth’s average surface temperature has risen 2.12 degrees on average since the late 1800s, driven by increased carbon dioxide emissions. This means that the ocean is warming also, with changes of 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969, which may kill animals. These increasing temperatures contribute to glacial retreat, wildfires, rising sea levels, shrinking ice sheets, and extreme events, such as hurricanes. It is true that global warming affects us a lot, as it causes irregular weather patterns, such as what we see in Texas today. We can also observe this through hurricanes and wildfires, which contribute to the loss of forest and habitat. Global Warming is probably the problem that affects us most directly. If left unchecked, the glaciers would fully melt, the ice caps would disappear, and port cities such as Miami would go under the ocean as ocean levels rise. While countries such as the Republic of Maldives would shrink and go under the sea, contributing to relocation of humans and further habitat loss of animals. Global warming and carbon emissions cause problems in the ocean, to ecosystems, and to us, and getting this problem under control would mean a lot.
Prioritizing Conservation of Ecosystems and Forestation
People also argue that the animals, plants, and wildlife that are dying is our main problem and priority, and that can be argued. On the impact on wildlife, we have destroyed 2.3 MILLION square kilometers of forest to industrialization, and we have gained less than 1 million, according to Earth.org. On the impact on animals, the 2019 ISPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services hints that we have directly caused 1 million plant and animal species to face extinction, according to a citation of this report on Earth.org. Some animals and biodiversity are essential to keeping some ecosystems healthy, such as honeybees. Trees are also very important. The Amazon Rainforest provides us with 20% of the oxygen we breathe in, and it is rapidly decreasing in size from agricultural expansion and deforestation, which is bad. All ecosystems have a very delicate balance, and when this balance is upset, the ecosystem can collapse, having effects on us as well. We should have a good environmental value for all animals, and we should not let any more of them go the same way as the black rhino. This side consists of a variety of people, and their goal is conservation of the wildlife and important forests.
Prioritizing Ocean Cleanup and Plastic Reduction
The ocean has been filling up with plastic for decades now, and that plastic is focused on 2 main gyres. People on this side believe that ocean cleanup and plastic reduction is the way to go to help the environment. Let us talk about plastic in the ocean. Ocean Crusaders tells us that shoppers worldwide use about 500 billion single-use plastic bags every year, which is 150 bags a year for every person on the Earth. There are already 5.25 TRILLION pieces of plastic in the ocean. And these bags also kill sea creatures, killing 100,000 marine creatures a year, and 1 million sea birds. Plastic is a non-organic compound that takes thousands of years to fully degrade, so it has befouled our planet. Steps are being taken to produce bioplastics or plastic alternatives, but these have not been put into widespread use yet. Even if plastics stopped being used, we still would have the daunting task of cleaning up the ocean to save fishing industries and marine life. This can affect us, as microplastics can get into our food and our bodies, and cause health complications. Plastic on a whole has to decrease in production and usage if we want to help the ocean, and plastic manufacturers have to switch to other industries. Even though plastic may be cheap, this side believes that reduction is not only necessary, it is vital to decrease ocean acidification and save ocean ecosystems. People who support this understand the seriousness of all the plastic in the ocean, and strive to stop it.