The internet is abuzz with talk about what needs to be done to address climate change following the UN Climate Change Summit held Sept. 21-23. But many nations, including the U.S., left the conference without any firm plans to decrease their contributions to climate change.
“I definitely think climate change is real,” BYU student Sabastian Chamberlain said. “I think that a lot of climate change is a natural process where the Earth just changes over time … but I do think that we as mankind are exacerbating it.”
As to what should be done to prevent climate change, students said they try to be environmentally conscious by recycling and riding the bus, but several held differing opinions on whether or not one person could make a difference.
“If we just made a few little steps to change just some of the things that we did, we would make the world a slightly more livable place,” Chamberlain said.
While many agreed with Chamberlain that one person can make a difference, others said that without government action climate change will continue to grow worse.
Isabelle Palmer, a BYU freshman, grew up in Alberta, Canada, where the mining and oil industries are a large part of the economy. She said there are large problems with mining and the oil industry because “it’s not a sustainable resource of energy.”
“It’s a very political thing because funding needs to be given to scientists to actually study methods for energy and energy improvement,” Palmer said. “I think it comes down to not necessarily telling the government to fight climate change; it’s telling the government to fund research to fight climate change.”
BYU ecosystem ecology assistant professor Ben Abbott agreed with much of what the interviewed students said about climate change, or as he refers to it: “global weirding.” This term, he said, helps people better understand that climate change refers to more than just the weather and that some areas will actually get colder rather than warmer.
“(Climate) is not the weather conditions today, tomorrow or even over a whole year,” Abbott said. “It’s the long term weather conditions over 30 years.”
Studying the climate, or the weather conditions over a longer period of time, shows the dramatic changes occurring because of human interactions with nature. While changes in climate have occurred in the past, Abbott said human activity has been scientifically proven to contribute to it.
“The pattern of life on Earth is set by climate — or these long term conditions in weather — and that, fundamentally, is what we are altering,” Abbott said.
The number one change humans have made to alter the climate on Earth so drastically is the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
“Those gases are critical for life on Earth,” Abbott said. “But if we are increasing the insulating power of those gases, it shifts the whole Earth’s climate.”
In regards to what should be done to stop climate change, Abbott argued there should be both “personal action” and “communal, systemic change.”
“The truth is, when you make a personal action, that action itself is a tiny portion of overall greenhouse emissions,” Abbott said, referring to choosing public transit over driving a car. “But that action gets magnified because you are more willing to support systemic change, and the state legislature gets the number of one more person (taking public transit).”
According to Abbott, the two most effective changes a person can make in order to combat climate change are to alter their diet and ride their bicycle or take public transit.
“Only eating meat when you have to is the number one personal action that you can take to not only combat climate change but to also improve biodiversity and to protect habitat,” Abbott said.
Recycling, the most common action students take to combat climate change, is actually one of the least effective things someone can do, he added.