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Is it too late?

NCSSM students at the Climate Strike in Durham on September 20, 2019. Photo credits: Tashroom Ahsan

Over the holidays, topics such as politics, inequalities, and dangers faced by our society were a prevailing subject of conversation. Discussions covered a large range of information, but one of the most common was environmental issues. This subject is one in which I am well-versed, and I eagerly jump in and describe the urgency for action from individuals, corporations, and policymakers. But more often than not, my elevator pitch is shot down with a simple “it’s too late.” And more often than not, I quietly agree and change the subject. Because, ultimately, it feels like it is too late. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Report from this past year, 2019 is the second or third warmest year on record. Each graph of temperature, CO2 concentration, and ocean level seems to have the same trend: a perfectly sloped line at a 45 degree angle pointing toward deadly numbers. So what do I say? What technology, which politician can I look to for hope? What example do we have for progress? Well, here it is. What to say when someone says it is too late:

  • Carbon capture

Engineers have been working tirelessly to produce technology centered around saving the environment: solar panels, hydroelectrics, etc.. One in particular caught my attention earlier this year as both feasible and efficient: Carbon capture. In essence, carbon capture involves collecting the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and transforming it into usable materials, such as fuel. If you are interested in reading a more detailed explanation of the ins and outs of this technology, here is a link with diagrams and explanations: https://www.c2es.org/content/carbon-capture/. To summarize it, carbon capture draws in air from the atmosphere and pushes it through a filter which separates the carbon dioxide from air. Clean air is released outside, while the carbon dioxide is used to produce fuel, plastics, and steel. Currently, this technology is relatively expensive (some models are about $600 to capture one cubic meter of carbon), but the price is expected to drop significantly over the next decade. So why aren’t we implementing carbon capture on a large scale? In short, we don’t have the funding. And as many strategies require, the government has to decide to invest in such businesses in order for success.

  • Politics are changing!

Many countries have governments filled with tension and polarization, hampering the chance of making much progress. But we have also seen politicians being elected who are dedicated to making the climate crisis a priority. Take, for example, Cologne, Germany. Just this past October, Cologne joined many other communities (Paris, New York City, and Constance, just to name a few) in declaring a climate emergency. While the phrase “climate emergency” doesn’t actually change regulations and legislation, it gives our crisis the urgency it deserves. As more and more communities sign on to this “climate emergency,” the problem will be faced more appropriately. And don’t forget, YOU CAN CHANGE POLITICS! Seriously, the more people who vote for someone dedicated to addressing the climate crisis, the more likely we are to see real change in places it can actually make a difference.

  • We want to be cool (no pun intended :) )

Humans love trends. If you see all of your friends getting the latest iPhone, you want one as well. If everyone is wearing scrunchies and drinking from Hydroflasks, chances are you will begin to adorn similar fashion (and water bottle) choices. If you see your neighbor installing solar panels, soon enough you will also want them. And in an era where we see more and more people carrying metal straws, eating with reusable silverware, driving electric vehicles, and turning off the lights, it is a given that, soon enough, sustainable practices will become the norm. Ultimately, actions such as these have little effect on the larger impact humans have on the environment (hold corporations accountable!). But as we begin to normalize these actions, people who once disregarded our changing climate will now have a mindset of prioritizing our environment. And that is so incredibly important if we want any chance of saving our Earth.

  • The climate is changing.

In short, we have little hope of stopping the earth from heating. Articles with headlines such as “Scratch 12 Years--We Only Have 18 More Months” do little to push people to be more sustainable. Because we give up; there is no way we are saving the planet in 18 months. But what comes after those 18 months is what is important: will it continue to get worse, past the point of a hospitable Mother Earth? Or will we slow it down enough to let our species adapt? Adaptation is one of the biggest, and most probable, solutions to our climate crisis. But in order to give us time and hope to adapt, we need to continue to do everything in our hands to mitigate our impact and save the environment. Ignore the deadlines, just continue to push for more action from a wider group of people.

I often read articles that discourage me from continuing my advocacy because they suggest that all hope is lost. We have reached the tipping point, and given the current political situation, sustainability is not high on the list of priorities for many countries. But we need to keep working diligently for our future, because doing nothing is, well, doing nothing.

Photography by Sahil Sethi, Lucy Grossmann, and others
©2020 by SEEC