Emissions, melting ice caps and greenhouse gases: students talk climate change

Junior Civic Engagement assistants John Giammona Wilber, left, and Melissa Gutierrez, right, hosted a forum about climate change in Argyros Forum April 18. Photo by Melissa Zhuang

In light of Earth Day, Civic Engagement hosted an open forum discussion April 18 about climate change, reducing carbon emissions, protecting our community from the effects of climate change and accelerating innovations in clean energy.

The event, held in Argyros Forum, was led by Melissa Gutierrez and John Giammona, who are lead Civic Engagement assistants. Civic Engagement based the discussion on options presented by the National Issues Forums, an institute that encourages people to find solutions for complex issues.

Climate change is a change in local weather or in the Earth’s climate that can result from human activities like driving cars, according to NASA.

Global temperature rise, ocean acidification, melting ice sheets and rising sea levels are evidence of climate change, Gutierrez said. These issues can be caused by thebuildup of heat-trapping gases, also known as greenhouse gases, in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Reducing carbon emissions

In a survey of 24 students conducted by Civic Engagement prior to the discussion 46 percent believe that reducing carbon emissions is the most effective way to combat climate change. Everyday activities like driving, choosing not to recycle and leaving lights on are sources of carbon emissions, Gutierrez said.

“Almost one-third of greenhouse (gas) emissions in the atmosphere come from transportation alone,” she said, a statistic supported by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Participants offered solutions to combat carbon emissions. Making small changes to daily routines – such as carpooling and recycling, as well as electing environmentally friendly political officials – can help reduce emissions, they said.

Preparing and protecting the community

The second topic of the night dealt with preparing communities for environmental disasters that might arise from climate change, by strengthening national infrastructure – like roads, bridges and buildings.

“The environment is the community we live in,” said Giammona, a junior history and television production major. “Part of environmentalism is taking care of the community.”

This method would help communities better understand the severity of climate change, Giammona said. Communities with more knowledge about the issue, he said, would also understand how to react when  steadily increasing natural disasters – like floods, droughts and storm surges – come their way.

These disasters may not be entirely natural, Gutierrez said.

“Most of the time, we think it’s natural disasters, but oftentimes, these disasters are caused by (humans),” Gutierrez said. “The more the human population grows, the more these issues will intensify.”

Accelerating innovation

Finally, students discussed the creation of more eco-friendly technologies, like solar and hydrogen power. Investing in clean energy will produce jobs and boost the national economy while reducing carbon emissions, Gutierrez said.

“Cost-wise, (there will be an) increase, but in the long run, (clean energy) will be better for everyone because it will help reduce (carbon dioxide),” Gutierrez said. “Researchers expect climate change to intensify over the next 10 to 20 years (if nothing more is done).”

Investing in these methods would also ensure that the U.S. is competitive with countries like China, which has already invented tram able to run on hydrogen and only emits water vapor.

Potential drawbacks of environmental policies

Gutierrez and Giammona also addressed some of the negative consequences of eco-friendly policies, such as increased government involvement in the private sector. Others worry that a nationwide shift to environmentally friendly policies could cause household items to become more expensive. Despite this, both speakers agreed that protecting the planet is more important than worrying about hypotheticals.

“Oftentimes, we think of the convenience these tools give us rather than the (disastrous) effects (they create) in the long term,” Gutierrez said. “If we can’t take care of the planet we’re on now, how could we take care of a planet that has half the resources we do (now)?”