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World in our Hands: The Role of Human Behavior in Climate Change

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*Image Source: Pixabay

You’re probably aware of the expression, “To see is to believe.”

In antiquity, diverse point of views led to the division of people especially among philosophers, mathematicians, scientists and scholars. Some stood by the belief of a round Earth while some were convinced by the belief of a flat Earth. Doubts still surfaced despite some valid arguments supporting the roundness of the Earth like the curved reflected shadow of the Earth during a lunar eclipse and the varied angles of the shadow when moving from north to south.

The same thing is happening right now. Unfortunately, those in power, politicians, government officials, and other prominent leaders would only accept the fact that climate change exists if there is a strong scientific evidence to support it.

In the recent years, especially in 2017, natural disasters like hurricanes, typhoons, heat waves, wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic activities made people more conscious about the reality of climate shock and why we must take measures to mitigate (and adapt ) climate change. Its effects are quite visible: You see hundreds, thousands of homes and properties destroyed, not to mention, the number of lives lost.

According to the United Nations, if no one will act, people will continue to experiment significant impacts of climate change pointing to greenhouse gas emissions from human activities as the main culprit. The global average surface temperature is predicted to increase over the 21st century with the likability of surpassing 3 degrees Celsius, even more in some areas.

To address these major phenomena and its consequences on our planet, a group of over 190 countries adopted the Paris Agreement at the COP21 in Paris on December 12, 2015. Based on the agreement, all countries should work to limit the increase of global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and to strive for 1.5 degrees Celsius despite grave risks. The agreement’s implementation plays a crucial role in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs and provides a roadmap for climate actions which aims to decrease emissions and to build climate resilience.

International organizations and research centers are not the only ones who took notice.

Based on a new poll conducted by, about 7 in 10 American respondents believed that climate change is indeed happening. The results were released last February 21, 2018, from the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In fact, they are urging the government to make changes in climate policies. Just look at how dismayed they were when they heard about their president’s opposite view about climate change.

Another survey was conducted last year in the UK by Censuswide with 1,200 adult participants. According to this survey, the substantial majority of 70% agreed that temperature is rising and that greenhouse gas emissions are to blame for it.

People’s awareness of the effects of climate change gave way to zero waste lifestyle. Companies like Goal Zero, Package Free, Bulk Market and Zero Waste Daniel are on the rise advocating for sustainable, minimalist and reduced or zero waste lifestyle as a first step in achieving this goal.

Just think about it, the more we recycle, the lesser the need to produce new products. If everyone will adopt this lifestyle, there will be a lesser need for factories, which is one of the perpetrators of air and water pollution resulting to the greenhouse effect and in turn, climate change.

This only shows that, although human activities are the main reason for climate change, only human behavior can significantly mitigate this problem. How is that so?

For the longest time, we are focused on what we can only see or the physical climate system.

If a scientist gives a talk about the dangers of the continued rise of global temperature, some people will just ask for tangible evidence backing up the scientist’s claims.  We’re going back to believing by seeing. Some are skeptical, especially the some of the elite because they haven’t seen the effects yet.

Now, let’s go back 13 years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit the US. Hurricane Katrina is considered as costliest and deadliest in the US history, with damages estimated at $81 billion and deaths of over 1,800 people in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The storm’s devastation was so massive that cities are still recovering several years later.

Since there are some scientific studies that show how global warming could affect storm formation, people are now aware that to avoid intense storms like Hurricane Katrina, people have to think of long-term solutions to reduce greenhouse gasses like waste reduction and segregation apart from developing contingency plans.

The impacts of climate change are not limited to natural disasters. According to World Health Organization, the overall health of the human population is also at risk due to the fact that climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health in terms of clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

WHO also predicted additional deaths of 250,000 people annually between 2030 and 2050 from diseases such as malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress. In 3030, the direct damage costs to health (excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion per annum.

Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. In 2003, there were more than 70,000 excess deaths recorded in Europe. Allergen levels are likely to increase in extreme heat which triggers asthma affecting around 300 million people. In addition, climate change can also alter the pattern of infection. Climatic conditions will likely result in lengthened transmission seasons of vector-borne diseases and change of geographic range.

For instance, snail-borne disease schistosomiasis will affect a larger area in China due to the change in climate. Climate change can also increase the transmission of deadly mosquito-related diseases like Malaria and Dengue.

Although all population will experience the effects of climate change, WHO believes that some groups will be more vulnerable than others. Children and elderly people living in poor countries, coastal regions, large and over-populated cities including mountainous and Polar Regions are more exposed to its severe health effects.

As a response, WHO created many policies to potentially reduce greenhouse gas emission by advocating cleaner energy systems and safe use of public transportation and active movement (e.g. cycling or walking as opposed to driving fuel-powered vehicles).

Three years ago, WHO endorsed a new work plan on climate change which includes coordination with partner agencies, awareness raising, consolidation of scientific evidence and assistance to vulnerable countries.

These are some examples that illustrate how the effects of climate change influence people’s point of view and how it can be used to convince people to adopt a sustainable lifestyle that will greatly improve the global temperature.

Lead author, Brian Beckage, explains that to curb future climate change, people should understand the human perception of risk from climate change and the associated behavioral responses.

Based on his journal entitled, “Nature Climate Change”, Beckage emphasized the importance of factoring human behavior into models of climate change.

According to this study, the social and behavioral model is dynamically linked with the climate model. It means that the climate system influences the human behavior and the human behavior influences the climate system in return.

“We found out that depending on people’s behavior, productions of global temperature from the climate model alone, could be greatly reduced or greatly increased.” Backage explained.

In addition, he also said that people should shift the focus from the uncertainty in the physical climate system to the social components of the climate system which is the human behavior. We should start thinking about the best means to invest resources in the social component that are most likely to have the largest impacts on reducing future climate change.

Teaching eco-friendly practices such as turning off and unplugging appliances or recycling non-biodegradable materials to children is more effective than explaining preventive climate change measures to an adult. Children are more receptive to new information and once they learn something, it will be engraved in their personality or character. Adults, on the other hand, rely on personal experiences and convincing arguments before they change their perception. So it’s safe to say that raising awareness of the effects of climate change creates a positive ripple effect.

For example, we all know that unrecycled trashes are picked up by garbage trucks for open-air burning or for burying. We also know how smoke from burning materials or gases from spoilages causes greenhouse effect which will lead to climate change.

According to US EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency), an average American produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day. Let’s say that with its population of nearly 324 million, there is 700,000 tons of garbage produced daily which is enough to fit into 60,000 garbage trucks. In 2013, the EPA estimated that Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash. That is an insane amount of garbage produced by a country. Imagine how much trash the world produces every day.

Now, let’s take a look at Lauren Singer, owner of Package Free, a store that sells sustainable, green, eco-friendly, plastic-free products. She recently made headlines because of her sustainable living. She started from ditching packaging to making her own products. Surprisingly, she accumulated only a jar of trash in a span of 4 years! What she did sounds absurd. But she proved one thing: nothing is impossible once people set their minds to it.

If all the people in the world would follow her lead, we will have lesser trash. We will have lesser garbage to burn or to bury. We will produce lesser products. We will reduce pollution and our chances of mitigating climate change will significantly increase.

Moreover, countries are now transitioning from brown (the use of coal, oil or gas to produce energy) to green economy (the use of natural resources in a sustainable way) as one of the steps to adapt and mitigate climate change. The Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen is already working on positioning Denmark as a global leader in green growth. International organizations like GCF and GGGI partners with several governments and institutions to provide strategies or alternatives to typical industrial economic growth.

Climate change is a reality. A safer, greener and sustainable future is in our hands. Let’s this be a reminder that everything that we do now will have a lasting effect on the environment and for generations to come.

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