The Overlooked Problems of an Oft-Overlooked Science – Catherine Hu

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

Yes, environmental catastrophes like climate change and pollution are problems—I know you know that.

But the breadth and severity of these issues are so often overlooked, and when they are covered by the news, it’s usually a brief report and nothing more.

In a recent study, scientists measured a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in Siberia. The average June temperature of the region is 20.5 degrees Celsius (69 degrees Fahrenheit).

According to the National Database on Ice and Snow, if the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets were to melt completely, sea levels would rise by approximately 67 meters (220 feet). In some ocean basins, sea level has risen by nearly a foot since the late 20th-century, and as these ice sheets continue to lose water at accelerating rates, the sea will only rise faster.

Researchers found that people consume tens of thousands of microplastic particles every year. Imagine what’s happening to the marine life near the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The Amazon is still on fire. Ocean heatwaves in 2016 and 2017 decimated half of the near 3,000 individual reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, and in April 2020 caused severe bleaching to another quarter of them. Melting permafrost in Russia has led to recent fuel spills that will take decades to clean up, and continues to release high levels of methane and carbon dioxide, both potent greenhouse gases.

These are just a few of the countless problems that climate change is contributing to. But why aren’t people more panicked about them?

In my own experiences, earth science has also been perceived as the ugly duckling of the STEM disciplines, the one that I’ve seen so many peers look down on because it looked “boring” and wasn’t as “difficult” as solving luminosity problems in astrophysics or working with zwitterions in organic chemistry.

However, looking back on my six years of Science Olympiad, the most fascinating events that I competed in were the geology and environmental science ones. Whether it was reading books about ice shelf buttressing or climate change leading to a slowdown of thermohaline circulation, I loved learning about the natural world. I had to discover these topics through self-guided research, because my personal education experience in these fields was particularly limited, and my initial background even more so, as these topics were rarely discussed in the media.

Now, it is more important than ever that we recognize and shed our preconceived notions about this richly complex field and educate ourselves—and others—about the endless environmental problems with anthropogenic causes.

We can only rely on our politicians and government leaders to do so much, especially when science is now treated as opinion instead of fact. Instead, you can find a specific issue and tackle it head-on. Make flyers, share information, reach out to your community, establish recycling programs, build carbon footprint trackers—the opportunities are endless.

Even though climate change is an immensely daunting challenge on a global scale, it can be broken into several smaller sub-problems. Find one and work hard to address it, and encourage other people to do the same. We as individuals owe it to ourselves, to each other and to this planet to take action.

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