Why Nature Needs Us To Unite This November
The sunsets I watch each evening from my 7th-floor apartment building balcony looked eerily different in mid-September. Usually, as the sun slowly sinks down to the horizon and toward the brick steeple of a nearby church, it is too bright to look at for long until it reaches the tip of the steeple, glowing a magnificent pinkish-orange before sinking out of sight.
The for several September evenings, I could see the sun much higher in the sky through a strange, grey haze. I wondered if this could be from the fires out west burning millions of acres.
At first, I told myself that this had to be impossible. How could the smoke travel that far? It must simply be some sort of condensation from Lake Erie to the west of our apartment building. But now there are news reports confirming it is smoke from these fires (SFGate). We can literally see smoke from fires burning thousands of miles away.
Who would have ever thought this possible? I feel like that’s a question that I keep coming back to with climate change. And I think that’s the scariest aspect of the world we are currently living in.
I felt incredibly lucky knowing that in Western New York, the smoke was not impacting our air quality. However, folks out west were dealing with incredibly unhealthy air pollution from the raging fires. We’ve probably all seen the unbelievable photos by now on Facebook that look like the Apocalypse from the western states of Oregon, Washington, and California.
Honestly, these headlines coupled with reports of deadly hurricanes approaching and striking Florida and COVID-19 claiming more deaths have made me feel like I’m in a haze lately. I don’t know where to start with these disasters that are on such an unprecedented scale. I’ve been trying to distract myself by turning to social media and running...trying to escape these terrible facts. But I knew when I looked up at the hazy grey sky in September that I needed to be strong and accept that the world is in deep trouble.
I also wondered: If only we could see this as an opportunity to make the world better. To unite with the honorable goal of saving the planet. I think the presidential election next month is a wonderful opportunity to take action to help create a better future.
I often wonder how powerful we all could be if we put our political differences aside and worked toward trying to prevent climate change and preserve nature with all the brainpower and determination we have instead of allowing divisive politics to consume this country with the rage of the wildfires out west.
So I’ve felt compelled to write this post pleading unity, for those scared to lose their homes and everything they know to the wildfires ripping through communities, or to the hurricanes gaining strength out in the tropics—six as I wrote this in mid-September.
I think as we are on the cusp of the 2020 presidential election and our chance to elect a leader who can take decisive action to confront climate change, right now it's imperative that we come together to empower each other to mail in our ballots by state deadlines or to safely show up at the polls on Nov. 3 (check here for a guide to mail-in voting).
However, even after the election, I think it's also important we support each other in accepting the facts associated with climate change. I also hope that we can help each other feel less powerless even by the scariest facts and instead that we can encourage each other to work towards a more sustainable future by utilizing all of our unique interests, strengths, and abilities.
We’ve Always Had Hurricanes and Wildfires—Is Climate Change Really to Blame?
Yes, there is an abundance of scientific research to back this up. And 1,300 independent scientists from around the world that are part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded there is a 95 percent probability that humans are to blame (NASA). First, I hope we can all simply get on board with this fact and that we can see the severity of the crisis. Part of why this is tough is that our planet’s vast geography causes different impacts of climate change around the world, and some areas aren’t hit as hard as others (Climate.Gov).
A recent scientific study by UCLA Climate Scientist Daniel Swain among other experts is among the abundant research that backs up fall wildfire seasons out west getting more intense due to the hotter, dryer and windier conditions of climate change (IOP Science). The study states that the number of days with “extreme” fire weather days in California has more than doubled since the 1980s.
On the other end of the calamity spectrum, there are hurricanes. Climate change is causing them to become more powerful and destructive because the Earth’s oceans absorb around 90 percent of the extra heat people produce through burning fossil fuels, thus warming ocean waters and causing more fuel for hurricanes (NRDC).
These hurricanes are also dumping more rain that can cause further devastation, as was seen with Hurricane Harvey. A December 2017 scientific study concluded climate change is likely to blame for around 19 percent more rainfall than this storm would have normally produced (Advancing Earth and Space Science). For those who may not remember, Harvey slammed into Texas on August 25, 2017, as a Category 4 hurricane and set a name for itself as the wettest tropical cyclone in history, bringing with it a record 60 inches of rain (NOAA). The storm claimed at least 68 lives. Less importantly, it inflicted about $131.3 billion in damage.
Sadly, the number of deaths does seem to almost pale in comparison to the deaths from COVID-19, which have reached an unfathomable 187,000 in the United States alone (UPI). This number could reach over 400,000 by the beginning of January according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (International Business Times).
How Can I Help the World Right Now?
I really hope that if you’ve read everything I’ve written so far and you’ve been paying even some attention to the news, you are asking yourself this question.
But honestly, I can see why you--like me at times--might be trying to hide from all of this, turning to social media as a distraction. Or even to buying into some less verified research that shows COVID-19 and climate change aren’t as bad as they are.
Let’s focus on this one. I feel like usually I jump right into causes you can support in this blog, but right now I feel like we need to be really careful about what we believe.
We live in a media-saturated world with hundreds of outlets constantly competing for our attention—and clicks.
Often educational institutions are a trustworthy place to turn if you might be unsure of the validity of a report you see online. Cornell University, for instance, has compiled the “Top 10 Current Conspiracy Theories” article to help put to rest some COVID-19 virus claims swirling around the internet. Snopes also offers great and trustworthy fact-checking.
Another great tool is this Conspiracy Theory handbook by Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol, School of Psychological Science. It includes ways to prevent the spread of conspiracy theories that have been proven to be effective, such as asking yourself the following questions before sharing a post on Facebook:
Do I recognize the news organization that posted the story?
Does the information in the post seem believable?
Is the post written in a style that I expect from a professional
Is the post politically motivated?
These are important because as the handbook states, social media has created a world where there aren’t information “gatekeepers” preventing the spread of misinformation as there has been with traditional forms of media—a post from anyone and boosted by robots could reach as many people as a post from a credible source or news outlet. Another way to stop the spread of conspiracy theories is to try and become aware of the flawed reasoning.
The handbook also offers some great ways to help debunk the spread of false information. It recommends sending links to websites that fact-check and use logical fallacies to show others how claims can be less believable, a method that I think might be the most effective because it empowers individuals. Instead of ridiculing someone or making them feel entirely unheard, I think right now it’s important to capitalize on people’s critical thinking skills.
In addition, empathy is something I think we all could use more of. The Conspiracy Theory Handbook recommends making sure those who believe in conspiracy theories are heard and leading by example to encourage more open-mindedness.
I say all of this because I believe to survive COVID and climate change, we need as many individuals and unique talents as possible—even those who right now may be turning to untrue facts packaged online in a believable way.
Let's Spread Empowerment: Here's How
I am studying for a standardized test to get into grad school right now called the GRE. One of the practice essay questions I encountered asked the test taker to respond to a question about whether it’s better to teach students to be more competitive or to be more cooperative to prepare them for the real world.
For some reason, I keep thinking about this question. And I truly believe although it can seem like competition can lead to more innovation, I think the opposite is true. Sure, maybe our iPhones and laptops wouldn’t be as fancy (and attention-sucking) as they would be without competition, but it’s cooperation that saves lives and truly propels humanity forward.
Just imagine if the U.S. space agency hadn’t cooperated with mathematician Katherine Johnson due to the racism issues of time documented in the excellent movie Hidden Figures (NPR). Johnson calculated the flight path for the first manned space mission to the moon.
Turning to an issue that relates more to climate change, many environmentalists are against the use of nuclear power for many good reasons, including that there is the risk of nuclear meltdown and that mining uranium burns fossil fuels and can lead to lung cancer among minders (Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation).
However, the International Energy Agency says doubling the use of nuclear energy will be needed by mid-century for the world to avoid warming the planet 2 degrees, which would lead to more significant and unalterable issues from climate change (Scientific American).
Notice I didn’t say that either side is wrong, that nuclear is or isn’t the answer. It simply is part of the puzzle that might help us ensure we have a more livable future. In France, widely-accepted nuclear power is allowing the country to hit its target to reduce fossil fuel emissions while implementing more forms of energy that run off of truly renewable resources like the sun and wind—it’s also allowed these forms of energy to be much cheaper than in other European countries making a similar push for renewables that rely less on nuclear, such as Germany (Medium).
My point is that it doesn’t always have to be all or nothing—as I’ve come to find more and more as an adult, the real world works in shades of grey.
Trump has rolled back around 100 environmental protections that experts say will lead to thousands of additional deaths due to poor air quality and will accelerate the greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions fuel climate change and the catastrophes that come with it (New York Times).
However, Trump signed the Great Americans Outdoors Act into law in August which would give $900 million each year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)—money that comes from oil and gas revenues (The Hill). The LWCF will help protect endangered species, save forests in need of protection, and will set aside land for parks and recreation activities, The Hill reports.
What I hope we all can do, though, is put these shades of grey into perspective. The Hill also reported that Trump had wanted to get rid of the LWCF previously. He made the announcement to support it in August around when a new poll showed around 68% of Americans disapprove of and are even embarrassed by Trump’s response to COVID-19 (Forbes).
And Trump has time and time again stood against the scientific consensus of climate change, as credible news outlets have documented.
Just recently when he visited California to see the devastation caused by the raging wildfires, Trump called out California officials for the mismanagement of forests being the primary driver of the more intense wildfire season (Snopes). Trump wouldn’t even acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate change playing a major role in causing worse fire seasons, and instead said, “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch,” according to the New York Times. I’ll be honest that I do find this a bit frustrating, but more than anything else I think: If only this man with so much power could unite with the scientists and work towards preventing the root cause of the intensifying wildfires, flooding, and other natural disasters the country is facing: climate change.
It has been cooler here in Western New York the past few days with temperatures in the refreshing mid 60s (a runner’s dream). Yes, going outside today before fall has truly even begun and having to don a cozy, fall-appropriate sweater may make it seem like climate change could potentially be some made-up theory to support someone’s agenda...and boy, wouldn’t that be a lot less to worry about! But then I remember looking up at the sky in mid-September and I trust my own critical thinking that it’s simply not right for smoke from wildfires thousands of miles away to be seen from my balcony.
I also know it’s pretty strange that this past July was the hottest month in Buffalo’s history (WGRZ). On every one of those scorching, humid days, I felt enervated even after a short noon walk. I’ve also seen more toxic blue-green algae blooms become a problem in Lake Erie and other regional bodies of water due to the warmer weather. Oh, and there’s a 1,600 page report about the additional ways climate change could cause more tumultuous weather patterns and other hazards for the Western New York Region (Buffalo News).
Yes, all of these facts scare me. But I think I need to change my perspective from a place of fear to a place of empowerment. This can be difficult with thoughts of a climate-change fueled Doom’s Day swirling in my head, but I’m working to change my perspective by following a few recommended steps such as being open to the possibilities of ways things can improve, focusing on who I am in the face of these challenges instead of the challenges themselves, and networking with people who have similar thoughts about our ability to save our precious planet (Entrepreneur).
I feel compelled to share this because I’m hoping it can help others who may feel like they are in a similar place of paralyzation due to feeling overwhelmed by facts and alarming headlines. And so if you are like me, you turn to “safe” activities such as running or consulting your usual media sources.
The recent presidential and vice-presidential debates and ensuing social media conflicts I’ve been witnessing online seem to really show how polarized our world has become. If only we could focus on building each other up and helping each other believe we can create a better outcome for COVID-19 and climate change instead of tearing down each other’s views.
I don’t say this to sound “preachy,”—It’s something I certainly struggle with and know I need to improve. That is why I am writing it here to hopefully help hold myself accountable.
I think right now one of the most important ways we can empower others it to make sure they mail in their ballots by state deadlines and show up at the polls on November 3, ready to elect a U.S. president who will believe in the scientific facts about the harm climate change is causing and ways we can prevent it from ruining our future...a president who could once again set this example for the world.
Empowering even those with opposing views to help create a better tomorrow may cause more friction than staying in our safe social media echo chambers and turning to our usual distractions, but it might ultimately bring the peace—like that from escaping into a tranquil, in-tact forest or watching a smoke-free sunset—which we’ve all been yearning for.