People around the world – especially the younger generations- gathered on September 20th to march for the sake of planet earth and its inhabitability now and every day forward. The climate of the earth has been changing for the past several decades in an unprecedented way, largely due to the burning of carbon-based fuels. We refer to these fuels – oil, gas, and coal-like fossil fuels since they took millions of years to form deep in the earth. When we burn carbon fuel, the best products of the combustion are carbon dioxide and water. That is the problem since the addition of carbon dioxide to the earth’s atmosphere creates a more concentrated layer of the gas, which traps more heat. The concentration of carbon dioxide in 1900 was 291 ppm, and as of August 2019, the concentration stands at 412 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels will continue to rise unless the world chooses to value all aspects of life.
Young people around the globe will continue to voice profound concern to force changes for the sake of the world, its health, and the security of nations. Their concerns are real and the adult population must respond. Last month in Iceland, scientists held a memorial service for the Okjokull (Ok) glacier and constructed a memorial plaque. It reads “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.” There are many other devastating consequences of climate change. Droughts, which introduce a myriad of agricultural problems, and other abnormal climate-related changes are forcing populations of people to other livable areas. It is important to recognize that the economic costs of destructive weather events exacerbated by climate change (i.e., hurricanes, severe storms, and wildfires) are far greater than the financial requirements to address climate change.
For the world’s youth who are paying attention to the rising carbon dioxide levels and the consequences, the future does not appear bright or fair. Mary Robinson, the former Ireland president, states that “Now, thanks to the recent marches, strikes, and protests by hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, we have begun to understand the intergenerational injustice of climate change.” Climate change, accelerated by the more advanced nations, has the greatest effect on the poorest nations. Pope Francis continues to be a voice for the youth, for the most vulnerable. “We are beloved creatures of God, who in his goodness calls us to love life and live it in communion with the rest of creation.” It is time to live in harmony with creation and enable the youth of the world to imagine a future where the health of the earth and its inhabitants are most valued.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.