How Climate Change Affects Us All

Yesterday, the Times published a fantastic, interactive article on the growing frailty of Antarctica’s ice sheets stating that we are fast approaching a point of no return. Due to the rapid rate of climate change, many areas of Antarctica are turning green from developing vegetation as reported by the Washington Post. As alarming as this may seem, I would venture to guess that for most, the issue of climate change still feels extremely far removed. You might think “it’s happening in Antarctica, why should I care?” Or “Polar bears are cute and all but I can always find one in a zoo,” another might suggest.

Allow me to dissuade you from this illusion.

While it’s true that polar bears have become the poster children of climate change (and inspired an adorable yet heart-wrenching Coca-Cola campaign), their representation in the fight against climate change arguably falls on deaf ears. They’re only so cute.

A better poster child for climate change might actually be our own children.

Meet the children of the Marshall Islands:

Kids on the street in Majuro, Marshall Islands, in the remote Pacific, can tell you anything you want to know about climate change. They know the seas are rising. This basketball court is next to the foundation of a house destroyed in a recent flood.

A small island chain in the South Pacific, the Marshall Islands are some of the first to be wiped out as sea-level rise progresses at the hands of the industrialized world. The home to 70,000 Marshallese will cease to exist, displacing all those who survive the inevitable increase of storm surges, flooding, and stronger weather events. People of an island nation, who have contributed almost nothing to the human-driven impacts of climate change, will be the first to suffer from its effects.

Climate change deserves to be treated like the crisis that it is, yet we continue to fumble around in the dark.

Not to discount the thousands of other species that are already experiencing the effects of climate change (ocean species especially as oceanic oxygen levels are depleting), but the biggest face that should be put on climate change is our own. We are the ones sitting at the controls, we are the ones who have the capacity to mitigate its effects, we are the ones responsible. We are the ones who must act because we are the only ones who can.

This isn’t an attempt at saving the Earth–the Earth will be fine. This is an attempt at saving ourselves.

Climate change affects every aspect of of our lives from the environment that we live in to the food that we eat to the water we drink.

It’s too late to stop our climate from changing. There’s still time to decide the extent to which it changes but we are quickly running out of time.

So what do we do?

  1. Keep up with local politics.
    • I know that it can seem daunting, especially with our current political arena, but local politics are some of the few where political change is palpable. Federal politics is frustrating beyond belief and incredibly slow-moving because they’re far removed from the constituents they serve; but local governments are far better at remaining in tune with their communities because they’re directly involved with they’re communities.
  2. Stay informed
    • Hold your public officials accountable and stay informed about the issues.
  3. Speak up.

As I continue my own pursuit towards a career in medicine, I have learned so much already about how climate change affects every aspect of our lives, especially our health: air pollution, increase of vector borne illnesses, spread of new/worsening diseases, introduction of super bugs, worsening environmental risk factors, etc. This has helped me frame climate change in a context that makes easy to see why it must be addressed. A context that I would venture to guess most people are unable to see. 

It’s not just the polar bears who are at risk.

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