Vicky, to my right, was in her 70s and has been an environmental advocate for over forty years. Antonia, to my left, was just beginning college and wasn’t quite sure how she could become a champion for the climate.
I was just settling in to Climate Reality Leadership Training in Atlanta, Georgia and meeting my peers – all of whom were here because of our shared interest to protect our planet and the people in it. The Climate Reality Leadership Training is a biannual conference, hosted by Al Gore’s nonprofit The Climate Reality Project, which equips its participants with the tools necessary to engage in civil discourse related to climate, environmental justice, and a multitude of topics intertwined with both.
The training is open to anyone and requires an application be submitted to justify attendance. Once accepted, it’s free to attend but attendees are responsible for securing their own transportation and accommodations. I attended the Leadership Training with my friend Alex, whom I’d met in Antarctica exactly two years prior while we were both on a quest to see the effects of climate change in the most remote place on Earth.
Here in Atlanta, we were in for three days of exceedingly exciting and engrossing education as provided by scientists, activists, community organizers, even a comedian (what up, Pete Davidson).
You know how steamy your bathroom can get when you take a hot shower? The mirrors fog up and the whole bathroom is humid even after you turn the water off. If you take a cold shower, none of that happens. Right now, our world’s oceans are that steamy bathroom. As the planet is getting warmer, the oceans are absorbing around 90% of the excess heat being trapped in our atmosphere. That excess heat becomes water vapor (the bathroom steam) and travels through the jet streams, which are the wind currents responsible for cycling weather across the globe. Any slight change in temperature can alter those currents, which is natural. However, with global temperatures steadily increasing, the oceans aren’t getting a chance to cool down.
The last five years were the hottest on record. In 2018, 224 locations around the globe broke all-time heat records.
Increased heat is directly affecting the United States in many ways, but let’s look at something we can all agree is important: food.
Climate change affects food supply…
…With higher temperatures, harvest season shortens and crop yield decreases. Shorter seasons, less crops, food prices go up and livelihoods are threatened.
…By inviting an increase in pests, like aphids, which are advantaged by longer heat cycles.
…In its nutrition. The plants we get our nutrition from today have been optimized for conditions we are familiar with. Increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air decreases the nutrients found in foods (like zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium, etc). These nutrients could decrease by 5-10% in staple crops across the US.
…By affecting water supply. Globally, 69% of water use goes to agriculture. Should water become scarce due to prolonged droughts, how will we determine best practice of water use agriculture or domestic use?
…By increasing risk of disease. Natural diseases to plants that thrive in humidity will increase as temperatures increase. Tick-borne diseases can also proliferate under hotter temperatures, affecting livestock.
While warmer temperatures are just one element to a changing global climate, it might be unclear why some regions have been experiencing colder-than-normal temperatures, like the American Midwest this past winter. The polar vortex that blew through the country was pushed from the Arctic because of the effect that those warming temperatures over the oceans are having on wind currents. What we are historically familiar with is moving and changing because of increased heat.
The good news is that there has been a lot of progress across the country. In the last ten years, the use of renewable energy has doubled, 90% of which has come from wind and solar development. If the US continue at this pace, it could get all of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2050.
In Congress, a bipartisan carbon bill could reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90% by 2050.
The US Climate Alliance, a voluntary group of states that committed to meeting the Paris Agreement goals irrespective of President Trump’s wishes to exit the agreement, has welcomed six new members to the alliance since January.
The list of efforts goes on and is not without the growing demands of civil society for increased action. We can all play a part in tackling climate change; the simplest action to take: talk about it. Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans hear someone they know talk about climate change. So whether you’re 70 years-old or still a young student, your voice matters and you can make a difference.