Every young child grows up learning the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” to teach them the importance of saving the environment. And yet, the reducing, reusing, and the recycling – it’s simply not enough. In 2021, the world is experiencing the worst climate changes ever before seen. At this point, the question has been posed: is there anything that can actually be done?
In 2020, a conversation amongst leading politicians was set to take place, but was delayed as a result of the global pandemic. As of October 31st, the conference is underway. The UN’s 26th Climate Change Conference (known as COP26) is scheduled to extend well into November, and seeks to address the drastic changes that the planet has seen. This is only one step in a multi-stage process.
Climate change, first observed in the 20th century, is a result of fossil fuels getting released and trapped in the atmosphere, destroying the ozone layer and creating the “greenhouse effect, which NASA explains is the “warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space”(NASA, 2021). An increase in fossil fuels (such as the waste produced from vehicles and factories) results in more climate change.
Water vapor, Nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide contribute to this effect. In the United States, the average carbon footprint is around 16 tons, whereas the average global amount is approximately 4 tons (The Nature Conservancy, 2021). The less people do to limit their harmful impact, the greater their carbon footprint becomes, harming the environment.
To put this in perspective, overall, all human activity around the world created 43.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide, just in 2019 alone (The World Counts, 2021). Most of this comes from burning fossil fuels, which has drastically increased since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th to 19th century.
Why is this so important to understand?
According to NASA’s 2021 Global Climate Change, the global temperature “is on track to rise by 2.5 °C to 4.5 °C (4.5 °F to 8 °F) by 2100”(NASA, 2021). This might not seem like a very drastic change, but the current temperature is at a very particular level that allows for plants to grow and living things to survive. If that number reaches too high (or too low) plants start to die, and the natural environment begins to drastically change. If plants die and are unable to grow because of heavy radiation, then the ecosystem begins to die, and animals and humans lose a primary source of nutrition.
An article published to National Geographic in 2021 by Simon Ingram and Sarah Gibbens, “Photos Show a Climate Change Crisis Unfolding—and Hope for the Future,” addresses such issues and discussions. It opens with explaining the past, present, and future of COP26. However, the most impactful aspect of this story was less about the information included, and more about the visual inclusions.
The authors chose to include images from around the world demonstrating the severe impacts of climate change, as well as limited information about each photo. Images depict dying ecosystems, unsafe environments, and the impact of industrialization on certain environments.
Despite the photos meant to instill fear in the viewers, the authors’ message is that the environment can change if people are willing to change it. So, the images have two goals; to instill powerful emotion, and to prompt change from that emotion. Overall, the article is meant to make people aware of the severe devastation of our environment, and inspire them to do their part to help the planet.
But why is this issue being ignored by so many, despite the evidence?
According to Teodoro Linares III, an Advanced Placement Biology teacher at Leonia High School, people tend to ignore the climate crisis because of “convenience,” “inconsistent science,” “misinformation,” and “not understanding.”
“Convenience” is meant to be understood as the way that people live. This can involve household materials, such as napkins and certain plastic materials, as well as the prices of other materials. Linares believes that change has been so limited because people need to “develop alternatives” that can let people live with “the same conveniences” they are accustomed to, and until that happens, people will be “less inclined to care.”
“Inconsistent science” refers to the information of the natural world provided by scientists to the general public. Linares explains that as the information available to us grows, our understanding of the world around us “also evolves.” For example, he brought up the term “global warming,” which has been understood differently through history, even the last decade. Linares points out the fact that we tend to not use the term “global warming” anymore because of “new research” that has come to light that “conflict with or modifies that original understanding.” As a result, most people, who are “scientifically illiterate,” tend to “get frustrated” and as a result, “lose interest” in the subject altogether.
“Misinformation” refers to the idea that unrue facts about climate change continue to be spread, especially in today’s technical and digital age. According to Linares, things like the internet and Google AI “cause the spread of too much misinformation,” which eventually leads to people becoming overwhelmed, and becoming “confused, frustrated, and then disinterested.”
And perhaps one of the most upsetting reasons climate change is often ignored is because people don’t understand how they can impact the world around them. Linares explained that they don’t believe that “the little things they do or don’t do can impact the larger world around them.”
So what can the individual really do? What kind of change can they really create?
Options for an everyday person include walking to and from school/work (or carpooling, if walking isn’t an option), becoming vegetarian (or eating less meat if completely cutting it out of your diet is simply unthinkable), using reusable water bottles, avoiding fast-fashion, avoiding excessive plastic, and avoiding pollution.
But why does this matter? Why is it so important for the individual to act?
The simple answer is that change really and truly starts with the everyday person. If we want to protect the future of our planet, and make the world safer for future generations to come, change has to start with us. Otherwise, what will our legacy be; do we want to be remembered as the generation that killed the planet, or the generation that saved it? Ultimately, the decision is up to you.
Arechiga, Samantha. (2020, May 11). Tackling the climate crisis requires systemic change, not
just individual action. Green Queen. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from
Global CO2-Emissions . The world counts. (2021). Retrieved December 1, 2021, from
NASA. (2021, August 30). The causes of climate change. NASA. Retrieved November 30, 2021,
What is Your Carbon Footprint? The Nature Conservancy. (2021). Retrieved November 30,