Climate at a breaking point

Environmental issues pose a threat, yet few people understand their importance

By Haley M. Walker |

I have always been a worrier. Things that would normally never shake anyone can usually send me spinning. Even insignificant events like forgetting to pay a bill on time, being late to class, not finishing a book or having unorganized notes are all sources of an embarrassing amount of fret to me. While I recognize that these little things do not affect everyone, I have become aware of a much more significant and wide-reaching situation that might become a shared worry to us all.

I read Thomas Kostigen’s “You Are Here” in three days. From the time I began the first chapter and throughout the 200 pages, I often sat with wide eyes, a dropped jaw and an increased heartbeat. I felt as if I had just seen a car accident, been doused in cold water or jolted out of a deep sleep. The reason behind my panic came not from the mental image of a hair-raising monster from a science-fiction novel, an eerie ghost story or a menacing serial killer in a mystery. The fear Kostigen instills is derived from his experiences with true environmental issues. The author divides his story into 10 chapters, each covering a separate place around the world and its corresponding environmental problems. The frightening part came from the fact that many of them have not been widely recognized as the serious consequences of society’s actions.

For example, in Lifen City, China, the sun can rarely be seen. The city produces two-thirds of the coal energy used for the country’s entire manufacturing sector. The haze and smog hangs so thick throughout the town that approximately one in every 50 people of the 4 million strong population wear surgical masks every day. Scientists have said that breathing the air there is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. The machine feeding the pollution of this place is the constant demand for manufacturing.

Additionally, in Southeast Asia, the rampant expansion of deforestation across many areas has affected both climate and thousands of species. According to the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, deforestation in Borneo alone accounts for 715 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, which can be compared to what is emitted from 120 million automobiles. Experts expect many forests in this area to be completely gone by 2010.

In Jerusalem, when the rain falls, it washes away thousands of years of history. There, the rain has an extremely high level of acidity from the proximity of many middle eastern oil refineries. When it falls, the chemicals eat away at the many thousand-year-old religious and historical monuments. This has also been known to happen at the Pyramids and Stonehenge.

Finally, in Mumbai there are slums that live off of waste from foreign countries. For instance, approximately 80 percent of the electronic waste of the United States is exported to Third World countries, such as India. The waste transferred to these countries is not handled or disposed of properly and consequently affects the health of the citizens as well as the resources of these places.

Apart from the international occurrences, Kostigen also discusses many domestic issues. One of which includes the garbage patch twice the size of Texas off the coast of Hawaii, severely polluting the marine environment.

While I like to think of myself as an environmentally conscious individual, I can’t say that I ever knew the weight of what is truly occurring just past my view. I never understood the causes, details or effects of these specific issues. It is this lack of awareness that worries me the most and leaves me with a million questions.

How is anything to change with such a lack of information being distributed to society? How could these monumental developments be going on and there not be a worldwide alert scrolling across our television screens?

These events should be covered significantly in order to hopefully bring much needed progress and change, and I suppose that is what I am trying to do here. I am sharing what I have learned in hope of inspiring someone else to become knowledgeable on these critical issues. If society does not begin to realize what is causing them, the few events listed above may be indications of what is to come, and this is certainly a worry that is justified.

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