Ashley Evans | Staff Writer
The future is an often unpredictable place—one that is full of mystery and anticipation, where humankind strives to make it better and wishes for its hidden answers. Yet the future of the environment differs as it depends largely on the actions taken today. The Earth relies heavily on the hands of those who use it well or abuse it now.
Our current environment is feeling the repercussions of what has taken place in the past. The Industrial Revolution was a period filled with chemicals and factory fuels, depleting natural resources and extreme pollution. Unsurprisingly, the present condition of the environment is still being affected by events that took place over 100 years ago. Restoration of the environment––while daunting and overwhelming––is in the hands of humans, who will decide how to foster a sustainable planet.
Carbon Dioxide and Fossil Fuels
Dr. Charles Chen, an expert in global change biology, shared the impacts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and fossil fuels and where the environment could likely end up in the years to come.
“One thing I can say for sure is that when I first learned about the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, it was 362 parts per million,” Chen said. “By the time I got to graduate school and studied this again, it was 370 parts per million. I teach that now and the number is 400 parts per million and the CO2 concentration has been steadily increasing. We know it’s because of the way in which we have burned down and cut down forests and to a larger degree the burning of fossil fuels (coal, gasoline, etc). We estimate that by 2050, the concentration of CO2 will be perhaps somewhere between 500 to 700 parts per million.”
Looking even farther into the future, Dr. Chen estimates that by the year 2100, there could be somewhere between 400 parts per million to about as high as 1,100 parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere.
According to The National Academies for Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, “CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has risen about 43 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-eighteenth century—half of that since 1980.”
The emission of CO2 into our atmosphere is important to understand now because it ultimately affects the future of global warming. Dr. Chen explained the two causes for the release of carbon dioxide emissions: fossil fuels and deforestation.
“Deforestation is secondary, the primary driver of this is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas to some degree. We extract these resources from the earth and burn them for electricity. Essentially we are releasing carbon that was locked up deep below the ground, we mine it and then burn it, releasing CO2 in the atmosphere,” Chen said.
The pollutants that are contaminating the air and land are in the same way directly affecting water. According to the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, “The impacts of climate variability and change are increasing in coastal zones. Air and water temperatures are higher and we are seeing changes in the seasonality and amounts of precipitation, frequency and severity of storms, sea level rise, and the acidification of ocean waters.”
Although polluted oceans are extremely dangerous to our future, the lack of water is just as detrimental. The current California drought has been a monumental and recurring problem in our history for the past several years. Dr. Chen shared ways in which society can lessen their effect on the status of water.
“First, there needs to be awareness,” Chen said. “Then, the question becomes what can I do about it. Right now, California is in the midst of a historic drought. Current research has suggested that the current drought might have happened anyway because of the fossil fuel burning and global warming, but we believe that human activities made the drought 20% worse.”
Adapting to change is necessary in whatever environmental conditions communities are facing. Dr. Chen shared that learning to live within these drought tolerant parameters is important and the way that Azusa Pacific University has redesigned for a more water-wise landscape is especially commendable.
With CO2 emissions on the rise, oceans being polluted and droughts persisting, the future of the environment can seem as hopeless as doomsday. However, even the smallest, everyday changes can make lasting impacts both now and in years to come.
Some of the most practical ways to reduce humankind’s footprint on the Earth and to preserve our environment can be by ditching the car and walking or riding a bike, which helps reduce greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions. Using natural cleaners instead of chemically-poisoned products is a way to protect the environment of any unwanted pollutants. Lastly, continually striving to be water-conscious by adapting to drought-tolerant landscapes, only running the dishwasher when it is completely full, and taking short showers rather than baths are all ways to protect the Earth.
“There’s a growing concern for the environment and a desire to move towards sustainability and I would encourage students who are interested to look out for things from APU whether they are relevant clubs or classes,” Chen said. “As God has given us and entrusted us with the Earth, we need to be responsible for it.”
The future of the Earth and the environment is in the hands of those who choose to care for it, protect it, and treat it as the God-given and beautifully created gift that it is. May the careful actions taken today provide a healthy and clean environment in the future.