Author Archives: Sirina Natarajan

So the Climate Is Changing…Now What?

The impact we have on the environment is not something we can overlook, but it is something we have chosen to ignore. If we are trying to look at the big picture of what climate change is and how it is affecting us, the most obvious thing to point out is global warming. While our group did discuss global warming, we decided to focus more on the smaller aspects of climate change and investigated how global warming affected other aspects of the environment. The clear impact of global warming is the rising temperatures, and we discussed the implications of the warmer weather in many different cities. Through investigation, we also stumbled across the impact our pollution has on animals, how it can stir up dormant diseases, or how it can damage our atmosphere. The real focus of our project, however, was the many ways we can mitigate the effects of climate change.

To generalize the numerous problems that are attached to climate change, it is not untrue to say “the end is near and society is essentially screwed.” Climate change is more than the planet getting a “little” hotter. A difference of a few degrees from the average range of the Earth’s temperature has greatly affected the weather, which in turn effects land, and ultimately where life is sustainable. Climate change has caused a domino effect of problems that is perpetuated by continued creation carbon emissions, as well as lack of addressing carbon emissions already present in the atmosphere. Moreover, there is no single solution to fix climate change. Carbon emission may arguably be what facilitate current and future climate change issues, but cutting back on carbon emissions will do virtually nothing to address the issue. Humans have been pumping carbon into the atmosphere for centuries and carbon takes thousands of year to dissipate. As a result, action, like that set by the Paris Accord, will not do much to solve climate change. Even if emissions were cut to zero, the emissions already created would continue to linger, thus perpetuate the effects of climate change. Instead of searching for a single solution to climate change, we need to address every issue individually before they arise.

One effect of global warming is the rise in sea level. Only concerning sea level rising, the increasing temperature of the Earth causes thermal expansion, melting of the ice caps, and ice loss in areas like Greenland and West Antarctica. Thermal expansion and the melting of the polar and glacial ice caps are direct results of global warming; however, unlike the melting ice caps, thermal expansion is reversible if carbon emissions were severally cut back. The melting ice caps are adding more water into the ocean and there is impossible to take that water back. Similarly, ice loss in Greenland and West Antarctica also means more water is flowing into the ocean. Compounding the issue of more water being added into the ocean and the “expansion” of water, the sea level is rising at an alarming rate.

Moreover, if the ice caps are melting then the ocean must be heating up to some extent. Heating of the ocean affects the weather, namely referring to the progression of tropical storms into hurricanes. Hurricanes form in warmer bodies of water. As areas of water heat up, water vapor rises into the air creating thunderstorms. Wind currents then begin to “push” around the storm, thus giving the storm more energy. At 39 mph winds, the thunderstorm is officially a tropical storm, when wind speeds exceed 75 mph the storm is a deemed a hurricane. It is important to understand how hurricanes form because as the ocean heats up, the rising temperature gives these storms more energy, thus become more dangerous. Climate change may not cause more hurricanes, but it may cause more dangerous hurricanes, such as category 4 and 5 hurricanes, to form more frequently. For example, four of the five costliest hurricanes to hit the U.S. have occurred since 2005; these hurricanes include Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Sandy, and Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Maria, while it did not hit the U.S., was so strong a new category of hurricanes may be needed to classify it. If more category 4, 5, and possibly 6 hurricanes form, then there could be more damage to coastal areas, infrastructure, and may put more people in danger. For example, Hurricane Maria, arguably a category 6 hurricane, has decimated the electrical grid in Puerto Rico; Puerto Rico may go months without power. It is somewhat bothersome to not have power to watch the news, but to not have power for hospitals is devastating.

The issues of rising sea level and stronger hurricanes combine to make flooding worse and more frequent. As sea level rises, water will consume more land. In addition, if there is an increase in more powerful storms that carry more water and energy, they will leave behind more water further inland. Damage of flooding becomes worse when the infrastructure meant to drain the water overflows, like in Florida. For example, the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey may take months to recede fully- thus having the potential to destroy whole communities. Moreover, the event of the flood receding may cause additional damage. For example, in Puerto Rico after some of the flood receded, it eroded chunks of land beneath houses. Flooding also perpetuates issues of fixing power lines and transportation.

The following is an image of a house after flooding caused by Hurricane Maria receded:

While there is no universal solution to issues of rising sea level, hurricanes, and flooding, potential solutions do have the characteristic of flexibility in common. For example, past and present solutions to hurricanes and rising sea level are mainly hard defenses. Hard defense are generally man made constructs, such as bulkheads, coastal barrages, and rock walls, used to as a “shield” to stop storms. However, such defenses erode over time, and there is no way of knowing if they will work until the storm arrives. Therefore once it is apparent a hard defense has failed, it is too late to take additional protective measures. On the other hand, soft defenses, such as marshes, and coral reefs, absorb the energy of storms, and move with storms and rising sea level. In addition, soft defenses grow over time and protect against land erosion. For example, marshes have protected the northern coastline of Florida for years. The downsides of soft defenses include the amount of time they take to grow and their inability to be effective on a large scale; marshes would have to extend mile off the coastline of NYC to be effective. However, instead of relying on only hard defenses or only soft defenses, an optimal solution is to use both together. Relying on one or the other is repeating the same mistake of waiting until existing defenses fail and not being able to take additional protective measures. Moreover, we cannot only rely on hard defenses and soft defenses to stop invading sea level and hurricanes because the issue of flooding if they were to fail still holds true. Like hard defenses, there are fixed systems to help mitigate flooding. For example, Tokyo, Japan has a massive canal system that diverts water from Tokyo called the G-Cans Project. The G-Cans Project is a series of underground tunnels that total 3.7 miles long, and vertical shafts that measure 580 feet long, 59 feet high, and 256 feet wide. This network is capable of channeling 12,500,000 L of water per minute. However, for cities like New York City where a major portion of underground real estate is used up, the scale of the G-Cans Project may not be possible. Nevertheless, the format of the system may still be useful because, similar to soft defenses, there is infrastructure that moves with flooding. For example, the POP-UP parking garage moves up and down with water from sewers, thus combing a parking garage and water reservoir. The technology used in the POP-UP garage can also be applied to other architecture that follows the Archimedes Principle. For example, vertical farms, extensive “tower” farms that raises and grows various foods in a controlled environment, using this technology would also be able to move with floods, thus protecting our food sources. However, “POP-UP technology” is still fixed to some extent. Carrying the ideas of flexibility further, Floating City App created floating schools using refurbished shipping containers. These floating schools are solar powered, and include a classroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. On the other end of the floating infrastructure spectrum, even floating airports have been created. In 2000, Mega Float created a floating airport in Tokyo Bay, Japan that measured 1000 meters long. The airport was so long that it rode multiple wave cycles at once that canceled each other out, and allowed the airport to remain stable. Since the airport was not viewed as necessary, it was dismantled in 2003. However, floating airports are not the limit of floating infrastructure- whole cities could be manufactured to float. Floating cities have the potential to solve the issue of rising sea level and flooding because there would no longer be a worry of losing land, the land would move with the storm.

The following describes the possibility of floating cities:

Stepping back from issues of rising sea level, hurricanes, and flooding, the cause of them is the increase in the temperature, which, alone, is also a threat. By 2100, the Persian Gulf could experience temperatures exceeding 170 degrees Fahrenheit causing the area to become uninhabitable. Areas within the Persian Gulf, such as Doha, Abu Dhabi, and Bander Abbas, some of the richest cities in the world, would have to be abandoned. By 2100, 3 out of 4 people could face deadly heatwaves. Rising temperature will be especially prevalent in cities as a result of the urban heating affect. The urban heating effect states that because of the large amount of human activity within in cities, cities become hotter than the surrounding rural areas. Moreover, the pavement used in cities and human activity does not allow urban areas to properly release the heat absorbed throughout the day at night, thus retaining a high temperature. Immediate solutions to impending dangerous heatwaves include green areas and cooling pavement, in addition to currently implemented cooling centers. Cooling centers are public areas, such as a public library, that offer A/C to the public; however, cooling centers only cool the one building and not necessarily a part of the city. Green areas, by using foliage, create more shade, and thus mitigate pavement heat absorption and lower the overall temperature of an area. An extreme version of green areas are forest cities. Forest cities make plant life an integral part of architecture by covering whole buildings in foliage. By implementing a “jungle,” cities are able to combat the urban heating effect. However, heatwaves are not a problem limited to urban areas. Rural areas, specifically farms, will have to deal with drought because of rising temperatures. In 2012 farmers in the West and Midwest, because of a drought, lost billions of dollars in crops. Additionally, as temperatures increase, vital amounts of food may be lost. If water becomes constrained, it will need to be used efficiently; “spongy” soil is a potential solution. “Spongy” soil retains more water and reduces run off, and therefore gets the most use out of water during drought and collects water during storms. The soil could also be used to cultivate the green areas in the urban areas discussed earlier. Moreover, the soil would complement the use of vertical farms by optimizing the use of water. The rise of global temperature will affect the entire world. People can move to escape rising sea level and floods, but there is no “escaping” rising temperature.

We examined the impact of rising temperatures in developed cities, but they also have an effect on animals in areas without a large human populace and our National Parks. The animals rely on the resources their environment is able to provide them. However, with the increased ocean temperatures and the melting of the ice caps, their ecosystems are being severely disrupted. For example, marine animals, like penguins, in the northern hemisphere are attuned to arctic temperatures and an abundance of krill in the water. The krill are also accustomed to the colder water, but when the temperature of the water rises, they elect to move to where there is cold water. The penguins in that region with a krill-based diet now need to alter their diet to something else. There are many dangers like the lack of nutrients in other shellfish or the potential risk of it being poisonous or otherwise detrimental to their health. Animals are innocent bystanders in our path to destroying the natural resources and we need to take the necessary measures to cut our impact in their environments. One way, albeit extreme, is to adopt a vegan lifestyle. It has many environmental benefits and cuts back on the suffering animals face. We can also take larger steps to cut back on emissions that are a leading factor of the temperature rise. The rise in temperature is also affects Glacier National Park, for the reasons stated in the paragraph above. Another park that is being affected is Grand Canyon National Park. The Colorado River flows through the whole park, but over the years, it is clear to see the decline of the water level. Some of this is due to the erosion, but a majority is the rising temperature causing evaporation. The water is disappearing before our eyes and we are turning a blind eye. What will happen when the water dries up and the ecosystems throughout the canyon are left to scramble for a new water source? We need to take action before we lose these national treasures.

The rise in temperature is also causing something that seems straight out of a sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie- zombie diseases. These are diseases that have been hidden in ice for years, encased in permafrost. We are not equipped or ready to deal with anthrax, small pox, or even a variation of the plague. It is not all that surprising that miners want to push aside the dangers of these diseases to access mineral and petroleum deposits. However, we need to acknowledge the dangers these diseases present and how they could affect our world. A recent outbreak of anthrax in Serbia illustrated the peril of allowing this issue to go unsolved. Many died because a deer encapsulated in ice thawed and, with it, a strain of anthrax. It contaminated the soil and the water, which led to poisoned crops. We also face the issue of refugees carrying local diseases, like dengue fever or malaria, into other countries where citizens’ immune systems are not accustomed to these new diseases. The warmer temperatures are the force behind some refugees leaving their homes, but it can also allow the diseases like Lyme disease and rat lungworm to survive in places they never could before. Therefore, any disease that can thrive in warmer temperature may soon have increased outbreaks- not just the ones already listed. If multiple outbreaks occurred at the same time, we would not be equipped to handle the aftermath.

Global warming is not the only causation we face. Another driving motion of climate change is pollution. While it is expected that we discuss the pollution of the ocean or streets, those types of pollutions are not destroying our atmosphere- space junk is. Space junk refers to the remains of objects that have entered space, and became trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Because of the increasing temperature in the lower atmosphere, the temperature of the upper atmosphere decreases, causing a contraction of that layer. When the atmosphere contracts, air is removed and less friction is in the upper atmosphere. Therefore, the space junk would not be able to re-enter the atmosphere and burn up, so they remain on the outer layer of our atmosphere. If this junk remains in the atmosphere, it can hit other satellites and create more debris, which can then hit another satellite and make more debris and so on. There is no long-term solution for the dealing with space junk, but there is a satellite created by CleanSpace One that can grab debris and bring it back down to Earth, so it can burn upon re-entry. The downside to using this satellite is that the satellite can only be used once, as it burns upon re-entry as well. Another, more lasting solution, would be the use of materials that break apart gradually after they are exposed to ultra-violet rays. Other satellites that are helping us combat climate change are cube satellites. These satellites were created to scan the Earth’s surface and collect data about which areas are more prone to hurricanes, how hurricanes form, and they are significantly cheaper than normal satellites. These satellites have a shorter shelf-life, which means we will have to replace them more often. However, that also means we can update the software regularly and modify design whenever necessary. If we used the data from these satellites to fuel a flood-predicting AI, it would be able to learn better with the extra information. Other types of AI can also be used to discover new and more efficient ways to combat climate change.

We are currently in an administration that refuses to acknowledge or believe in the scientific fact that climate change is occurring. Despite most of the country (and even world) knowing and accepting the truth that Earth’s climate is changing, Trump and many of his top appointees refuse to acknowledge it. This proves unpleasant and profound implications for the United States too, as not only do we risk physical damage like many of our coastal cities or even Puerto Rico with the numerous hurricanes we have had, our economy and leadership is also shaken, as our nation’s leader refuses to believe something so matter-of-fact as climate change. Earlier this month, at the Paris Accord, the agreement in which nations stand to acknowledge and deal with climate change, had even Syria sign, leaving the United States as the only country in the world that has not sign it, and will not sign it so long as Trump sticks by his ideals (or stays in office). The previous administration set several acts in motion in efforts of reducing greenhouse gases and our effect on the climate, all of which have been contested by Trump, in efforts to repeal those laws, to no avail as of yet. His idea that climate change is a “hoax” is baffling as his energy secretary Rick Perry, even notes that the “science is still out on whether or not human activity is the primary driver of climate change” (japantimes.co.jp). The EPA under Trump is rolling back on the climate change initiatives like noted earlier, including the Clean Power Plan or Clean Air Act, set forth by Obama and his administration. Scientists and federal agencies part of the National Climate Assessment in the US Global Change Research Program have published extensive research on the subject matter and are considered the most comprehensive and authoritative statements on climate science by the US Government. Even the US military is very cognizant of the existence of climate change and its potential to cause havoc to the world and also cost several hundreds of billions of dollars to deal with if something is not done to prevent or minimize the effects. It is embarrassing for a country so advanced and aware of world problems, to refuse to accept the existence of climate change, something that has extensive research on to prove.

An Unlikely Solution to Climate Change

Artificial Intelligence has been making waves in the past decade and the opportunities it unleashes are endless. AI is able to find, analyze, and understand millions of different articles, journals, and scientific reports. Because of this feature, AI would be able to analyze the data concerning climate change, the possible solutions or, at least, mitigation and it can suggest the best possible plans to implement. While AI has many stigmas and morality issues that come with its existence, it is obvious that it would be very beneficial to find a quick solution, which is especially important now. We do not have much time as people to still be waffling over the existence of climate change. We need to start thinking and acting on solutions that will help our planet in the long run, rather than just looking for short-term solutions.

Weather research and three types of climate change are the fields that are most affected by the introduction of AI. By using machine learning algorithms, the AI is able to analyze and sort data from extreme storms to identify early inklings of tropical storms and cyclones. By reviewing a wide set of data about past storms and their formations, the program is able to predict where future storms will form and can indicate which can help  people prepare for them better. The video below also shows a program that has the ability to predict when a flash flood would occur:

The AI can also prepare many different modules and scenarios for scientists in a short amount of time, so they do not need to waste time seeing if something would actually work and can spend their time creating something they know will work. The program would also have a smaller margin of error, so the calculations and predictions would be increasingly more accurate. Scientists can also use AI to produce a more accurate prediction of how long a storm will last and if it might produce a more dangerous type of precipitation, like hail. One downside to using AI to predict weather and climate phenomena is that the computer does not show the process it used to reach its conclusion, so a scientist is left to guess at how the program arrives at their prediction.

Another innovation being utilized in climate change research is cube satellites. Unlike the regular satellites we are used to seeing with cylindrical bases and large wing-like structures hanging out the side, cube satellites are much more compact. However, they are much more fragile and they have a much shorter shelf life once they are launched into space. This can also be beneficial. Because there is a need to change out the satellite more often, the software will be updated more often and the data can be updated. Additionally, we are able to change the course and objective of the satellite without the hindrance of delay. The satellite provide a live monitoring of climate change and its effects and can help gather more data to be studied.

By linking these cube satellites up with artificial intelligence, we would be able to gather present data and procure real-time solutions from the program. When we give the AI more data, it will be able to utilize machine learning to give a more educated and confident prediction. Additionally, we can give the AI data about the methods we have already tried that have failed and methods that have worked. As we give it more data, it is able to work around these failed methods and detect patterns in order to create a more successful method. By integrating Artificial Intelligence into climate change, humans will be able to slow the process and potentially reverse the effects of climate change in a more timely manner.

 

How Climate Change is Affecting Animals

Animals are more reliant on the Earth’s survival and are merely victims of the destruction humans have wrought on the environment. They do not contribute to global warming, but it is their homes being burnt or, in the case of the polar bear above, melted.  Because of global warming, this polar bear does not have the appropriate environment it needs to survive. The icebergs are not freezing until much later in the season and are melting much earlier in the spring. Humans are too worried about their homes to even think of helping or protecting defenseless animals and their ecosystems. Other animals threatened by climate change include orange-spotted file fish, a fish that lives in and depends on their coral reef habitats. The warmer temperature caused by global warming is causing the coral reefs to dry out and even bleach. This means the orange-spotted file fish, and many other marine animals, are not able to get their necessary nutrients from the coral and algae. This fish has gone extinct before as a result of warmer ocean temperatures in Japan in the late 1980’s. Another animal affected by the icebergs melting is the Adélie penguin. The krill the penguin is accustomed to eating only lives on the under side of icebergs near the algae it normally eats. However, since the icebergs are not forming as quickly or in the same areas, the krill are not where they should be. Thus, the penguins must spend more energy foraging for food instead of breeding or raising their young. This results in a decrease of Adélie penguins in the long-run. If something drastic is not done about climate change, these species could die off forever with no chance of coming back.

The animals stated above are not the only ones affected either; among others, sea turtles, moose, and even koalas are feeling the brunt of human mistreatment. The nesting site where sea turtles lay eggs are more vulnerable to flooding because of the rise in sea-level. The eggs laid could be swept away by the tide, by an especially crazy storm, or they could fry under the newly intense heat. Without a safe place to lay eggs, these sea turtles can one day become extinct. Furthermore, Australian koalas are feeling the effects of the rise in temperature. The video below highlights the struggles the koalas are going through because global warming that we caused is drying out their only source of hydration.

They are being forced to act out of character, like being awake in the day, which can expose them to predators, and it can have serious repercussions on their systems if they do not know what time they should be active. We have been too worried about what will happen to us if the world burns, that we have not even given a second thought to what may happen to these defenseless animals. If we cared half as much about saving them as we did ourselves, they may actually have a fighting chance.

How to Prevent Hurricanes Before We’re All Underwater

This past hurricane season has been one of the worst in history with more named storms in the first three and a half months than there have ever been in previous seasons. The tropical storms and hurricanes destroyed countless homes and displaced thousands of people, including the people of Puerto Rico and citizens of many islands in the Bahamas. We can not afford to have more storms and hurricanes of this caliber destroying these fragile communities again.

In the early ’90s a few scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO theorized possible ways to weaken and possibly destroy these tropical storms and hurricanes. A method they came up with was a process called marine cloud brightening (MCB). MCB mitigates one of the most dangerous parts of a hurricane- the warm water. Scientists are able to make clouds by infusing water vapor with sea salt and the water vapor would then be able to condense, creating a more white cloud that reflect sunlight more effectively. By creating clouds, we are able to place them over bodies of water in hurricane-prone areas so they can reflect the sunlight back up instead of letting it heat up the water. If these clouds were deployed prior to hurricane season, they could cause many of those category 5 hurricanes to lose their steam before they hit the shores of some poor island. Additionally, this method would not cause further damage to the environment or the aquatic ecosystem.

Pipeline companies are also throwing in their two cents about what could stop these hurricanes. They start on the same basis that the abnormally warm water is to blame for these particularly disastrous storms, so their solution is to bring cold water to the surface. They plan to build pipes that go to the lower levels of the sea, where the water is much colder than the water on the surface, and pump the warmer surface water down in an attempt to draw the cold water to the surface. An alternative use for the pipes is to array long vertical tubes from floating rings. As the waves lap against the rings, the water level in them rises to sea level which pushes the water in the pipe down and forces the cold water to the surface. One drawback of this plan is that there is no real way to anchor them securely during a storm, so they would drift around. Also, that displacement of water could be harmful to the creatures that reside in the cool depths as well as the ones that remain close to the surface. If these animals and plants are not used to the warmer temperature, then they could be harmed in this process.

This is what would happen to coral reefs if they were exposed to warmer water:

The final of cooling the oceans is also the most extreme. Some scientists believe that by pumping aerosols into the stratosphere, so they can reflect the sunlight back into space. The aerosols can weaken the development of hurricanes and wind speeds and, in some areas, can even cause them to fall apart. Studies have only been conducted in areas where there is a high aerosol concentration and the results have been promising. Typically, people have a negative connotation of “aerosols” because of the CFC’s that were banned in the ’70s. While other aerosols are not as dangerous as CFC’s, they are still harmful to our ozone layer and trap greenhouse gases, making this method a little circular. However, at this point, humans would need to make a drastic change to our lifestyle to make any real impact on global warming and other effects of climate change. We need to decide if this would be the right method to use for right now even if it may harm us in the future. Is the future of our planet more important than the lives of people on tropical islands or are we to hope the other methods may be more effective against the next extreme hurricane season?

Climate Change: The End of National Parks

Our national parks are dwindling and fading away and a majority of the damage has occurred in the last decade. The National Parks Service has declared 412 national parks and monuments threatened because of loss of glaciers, rising sea level, wildfires, and rising temperatures. Ecosystems are in danger and national icons like Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty may not make it the next time a hurricane hits the East Coast. National Parks we all grew up with like the Glacier National Park and Yellowstone are at risk of becoming memories if we do not take action in limiting the effects of climate change. We can see the demise of Glacier National Park in the following video:

The loss of Glacier National Parks has many different consequences and they are outlined by the National Park Service in their brief. One of the most important being the rise in sea level caused by the extra run-off, which I discussed in a previous update, and affecting the local environment and ecological systems. By producing more run-off than usual, rivers and streams will overflow, causing displacement of fish and other species that rely on them as water sources. In the past 50 years, the glaciers have lost 85% of their masses with some losing 30% in the last decade

The once great park with over 150 glaciers now has around 30 because of global warming. Of those remaining glaciers, only 26 can actually be considered glaciers as they exceed 25 acres, the standard. The glaciers themselves are only an effect that is easy for us to measure, but the surrounding environment in the park is being affected just as much. The warmer winters hitting Montana are certainly not helping matters, and a big cool-down is needed to have any chance of saving this national landmark.

Another park that may be gone by the end of the century is Yosemite. While the forest surrounding accounts for most of the park, the great geysers that once attracted tourists from around the world are only a fraction of what they once were. The geysers erupt less frequently when the climate is particularly dry, so with global warming lessening the amount of rainfall while also raising the temperature, it is the perfect storm to decrease the amount of eruptions occurring each day. Yosemite is also home to over 35 species of trees that are in danger from being burned by the raging fires that currently engulf northern California. There are 3 fires in Yosemite Park that are only 85% contained, but there are 9 other fires in smaller national forests that are still burning fiercely and give no indication of slowing down in the next few days. These fires give off smoke and carbon dioxide which then goes into the atmosphere and does not really help solve the issue of trying to cut down greenhouse gases. The fires are more prominent and dangerous now because the increase in temperature and lack of rainfall in the summer has dried out the brittle brush that covers much of California, allowing it to catch fire much more easily. The winds are pushing the fires into both Yosemite National Park and Glacier National Park, putting our preserved parks at risk.

A national park near and dear to my heart is the Grand Canyon National Park. A monumental aspect of this national treasure is the Colorado River, but even the seventh-largest river is not immune to the effects of climate change. When rowing down the river, it is hard to miss the white rings that make up the lower half of the rock walls. Those lines indicate that the river is now 130 feet lower than it was in 2000, and it will only decrease from there. Many factors are the cause of this: rising temperatures and decrease in rainfall resulting in higher evaporation rates. These lower levels are causing fish and other aquatic life to either die off or move to other actuaries that can sustain their life. Additionally, original settlers in the southern Arizona mountains built their homes into the mountains, but the excessive rainfall in that region is causing the historic structures to slide out of the mountain. The region is not accustomed to receiving that amount of rainfall and was never expected to receive that rainfall, but climate change had other plans. We could lose these pieces of ancient architecture if there is no drastic change.

These national parks are a part of history, but if we do not try to halt the effects of climate change, we will soon only be able to see them on postcards and in pictures. Preserves and national parks allow us to save a piece of the environment from industrialism, but they are now deteriorating because of the damage we have done to the environment. The fragile eco-systems will not be able to last if there is too great of damage and we could lose them forever. If we are not more careful with how we treat Earth, we will harm everything that is on our planet, including us. We need to ask ourselves if we want to be the cause of the end of national parks and how their end would affect the environment surrounding them.

Driving Towards a Greener Future

Unsurprisingly, human activities account for the majority of the increase in greenhouse gases over the last century. In 2015, the EPA did a study to see which activities accounted for the greater percent, hoping that those industries would turn toward greener alternatives. Transportation accounted for 27% of the emissions, the second largest source of greenhouse gases.

The largest portion of transportation is made up of emissions from combustion of petroleum-based products in internal combustion engines, like gasoline in an engine from cars and light-duty trucks. The other part of transportation is made up of trains, commercial aircraft, boats, and freight trucks. Since 1990, the total emissions from transportation increased dramatically due to an increase demand in travel. Due to this large increase, automobile and other transportation companies have been working to utilize alternative fuels and alternative sources of energy.

One automobile company that has been especially creative in alternative fuels is Honda. While Tesla has been paving the way for electric cars, Honda has turned towards hydrogen fuel cells to power their vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cell cars are zero emission, and run on hydrogen fed into a fuel cell that produces electricity, which then powers the vehicle. Honda chose to turn toward hydrogen rather than a traditional electric vehicle because they believed it to be a better long-term solution. The vehicle has a range of around 366 miles, which is the largest range of any zero emission vehicle, and fuels up in minutes at any hydrogen station. Unfortunately, Honda was not able to sell this vehicles nationwide because the only state with hydrogen stations in California. The current infrastructure of the United States is not equipped to handle releasing these vehicles at the moment. However, it is a great push towards the direction of alternative fuel we need to lower emissions drastically and in a few years, it is Honda’s hope to have more hydrogen stations around the country.

Another automobile company that has been thinking outside the box is Toyota. The company known for their fuel-efficient hybrid Prius vehicles is venturing out into other fuel options in order to cut emissions even further. The Toyota Research Institute was searching for new alternative fuel options when they figured it would take them a lot less time to have something much smarter then them searching for them. Therefore, they decided to fund an artificial intelligence software that worked towards finding new materials to use as batteries. Toyota, like Honda, has taken a step towards hydrogen-fueled cars, but believes machine learning will be able to determine a better source of fuel more quickly. By using artificial intelligence, Toyota will be able to reach a conclusion faster and will be able to produce a new vehicle that cuts down emissions. General Motors has also jumped in to create all-electric, zero emissions vehicles to reduce pollution. Following the rollbacks on fuel efficiency requirements in the U.S., General Motors hopes to pursue the electric age with the same ferocity as European governments. Since General Motors is the largest selling car manufacturer in the U.S., they hope that other automobile companies, if they have not already done so, will follow in their footsteps. They are not the most advanced in alternative fuel vehicles, but they will make the biggest impact on the industry.

Solar energy is also a very popular alternative fuel because it is relatively easy to set up and the source of energy is the sun, so it can re-charge whenever it needs.

A much talked about concept in the world of transportation is the idea of trains utilizing a fuel source other than diesel. In the UK and India, it is very much possible to implement solar powered trains with the existing infrastructure. Nothing about the voltage of the rails needs to be changed as they already fit between the voltage needed for solar energy of that magnitude. The only problem that arises when thinking of the logistics of making UK’s trains solar is the fact that they do not have the proper funding to change their trains and add power grids to the rural countrysides. India, on the other hand, has been steadily increasing the amount of electrified rails to make way for this type of innovation, but they too would need funding for power grids throughout the country. While trains do not make up the largest portion of transportation emissions, cutting back on fossil fuels in any aspect brings us one step closer to reducing our carbon footprint and slowing down the effects greenhouse gases have on our planet.

However, if these types of technology have been around for years already, we have to wonder why they have not been inserted into our society. The answer is simple: automobile companies saw no reason to change from diesel and gasoline powered engines if no one really cared about the emissions they produced. While climate change has been a big issue for many years, it was not until lately that consumers have realized the effects climate change has on our everyday lives. Since the consumer became more eco-conscious, the companies had to start creating products that were better for the environment. It begs the question, yet, whether it is right for companies to limit themselves to what the consumer wants rather than what the world needs. If we have the ability to minimize the damage of climate change, are we really going to let a few dollars stand in the way of saving our planet?

Rising Sea Levels Will Soon Flood Our Coastal Cities

Our coastal cities and islands are under threat from the rising sea levels caused by climate change. By 2050, it is predicted that New York City will be flooded by six feet of water and some pacific islands, like Nuatambu, were swallowed by the rising sea level. There is no clear way to prevent the impacts a raised sea level will have on these cities or how to prepare for the consequences to come. However, there are some solutions scientists are trying to implement to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels. One of the methods they are hoping will help is the living shoreline. A living shoreline is a shore-protecting technique that utilizes mostly natural materials. There are different types of living shorelines to accommodate different types of coasts and an important quality of the living shoreline is that they are not too disruptive of the existing ecosystem.

The different types of living shorelines can be seen here:

However, issues do arise with this solution. Many large cities will not be able to build these types of shorelines into their existing infrastructure. For example, New York City could build a bulkhead around lower Manhattan, but they run the risk that the waves will either erode the wall and cause it to crumble or the sea level will rise over the wall, rendering it useless. Similarly, Florida already has marshes covering a majority of their northern coasts, but they are still at risk from flooding. Another issue that arises is islands would not benefit from a living shoreline. They simply do not have enough land to implement the living shoreline so another solution would have to be used. Living shorelines are not a long-term solution, but they will be able to protect our coastal cities until we are able to either halt or at least slow down the rise in sea level.

Another way cities and scientists are trying to protect coasts from rising sea level is by building canals throughout the city. This way, water would move throughout the city rather than being pushed up against a solid wall like a bulkhead. In Boston after Hurricane Sandy, a proposal was brought to the city to build canals throughout the city. The canals would move the water into low-lying back alleys and drain them throughout the city instead of letting it impact one place- more like a controlled flood. However, that kind of project comes with many questions like how they would build such a project, how deep the canals would need to be, and how effective this would all be if the canals proved to be too shallow in fifty or so years. A lot of the “solutions” people are coming up with are only going to temporarily fix the issue. While this is not effective for the long-term, it gives scientists more time to try to test out new ideas that could be more lasting.

The final and longstanding solution is artificial islands.

Artificial islands are man-made islands built to withstand waves, currents, high winds and can be built relatively easily. They are the best solution to rising sea levels because they are not affected by rising sea levels after they are finished. It solves the issue of where to put people displaced by hurricanes and flooding. They would include solar panels and wind farms to power them and make them completely self-sustainable. Some risks and issues that come with artificial islands are the risks of hurricanes, whether they can only be built in warmer climates and how they would manage waste. Nevertheless, these floating islands seem to be the best bet in the face of rising sea level.

The rise in sea levels is the effect of three primary causes: thermal expansion, melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, and ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica. Thermal expansion is direct result of global warming and the only way to combat it would be to lower the emissions we currently put out. The melting of glaciers and polar ice caps are also a direct result of global warming, but there is no way to reverse the effect. We will need to adjust our lives to the rising sea level and lower the temperature of the water to cut risk. The final cause is ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica which means the water from those two poles is streaming into the ocean at a faster rate than normal. Coupled with thermal expansion and the extra water from the glaciers means the sea level has risen substantially in the last decade. Additionally, we really need to think about what we are going to do about the rising sea levels and what would happen if we did not change a thing. Another issue is the many islands that do not have the means of mitigating the effects rising sea level brings.