Pursuing Sustainable Development Under Climate Change

Climate Change

The word “climate” refers to the average weather of a particular region. For example, Florida is warm and sunny. Average the climates of all regions and you get Earth’s climate. The word “weather,” on the other hand, refers to hourly and daily conditions that are constantly changing.

The term “climate change” refers to a shift in “normal” weather including factors like temperature and annual rainfall. When most people say “climate change,” however, they are referring to a shift in the global climate. An example of global climate change would be an increase or decrease in the planet’s average temperature. These changes usually take place slowly over hundreds or thousands of years.

Real-life Effects & Potential Consequences

Earth’s climate is always changing; that’s a fact. But whether the current changes are the result of human behavior, a part of the Earth’s normal cycle, or both is yet to be proven. Scientists believe that Earth went through warm and cool periods lasting for thousands of years before the existence of mankind.

Many are concerned about “global warming,” a term that refers to the gradual increase of the planet’s average temperature. Data shows that the planet’s average temperature has increased by about one degree over the past one hundred years. This might not seem like a big deal, but even slight changes have large consequences.

Here’s an example: as the Earth’s average temperature increases, more ice and snow melt into the ocean. Sea levels rise and precipitation patterns change. These new patterns, combined with flooding, heat waves, and drought, can severely affect growing seasons. Not to mention seaside cities like New Orleans are in danger of disappearing beneath the waves. Whenever temperatures change, there is also a chance of stronger hurricanes.

A group of European scientists predict that instead of hotter temperatures, Earth is facing a “mini ice age” that will start sometime around the year 2030. They believe that a decrease in solar activity will bring about a cool period similar to the “Maunder Minimum,” a period of cool temperatures that lasted from 1645-1715. To give you an idea, the River Thames remained frozen solid for nearly two months.

Climate change causes a loss in biodiversity as species are forced to adapt to shifting conditions. Scientists predict that climate change will lead to a significant drop in biodiversity, up to the extinction of 25% of all Earth’s land species by 2050. Animals and plants evolved to live in specific conditions. When these conditions change, the species must adapt or perish.

We may experience an increase in the number and strength of natural disasters including:

  • Floods
  • Droughts
  • Storms
  • Hurricanes and tropical storms
  • Tornadoes
  • Earthquakes
  • Heat waves

These disasters not only endanger people and property, but have a negative effect on the economy. Natural disasters occur five times more frequently than in the 1970s. From air quality to the threat of disaster, all the potential effects of climate change will affect human health.

Anthropogenic Climate Change 

Many global warming advocates and scientists are convinced that climate change is anthropogenic, meaning that it was influenced or caused by humans. These individuals believe that burning fossil fuels and the resulting production of greenhouse gases are responsible for at least part of the Earth’s current warming trend. Indeed, the concentration of greenhouse gases locked in Earth’s atmosphere has skyrocketed during the past few hundred years.

Climate Change Skeptics & Deniers

Global warming has become a real controversy during the 21st century. The following questions have led to the formation of factions, groups, and extremists:

  • Is the planet actually increasing in temperature?
    • If so, is this change anthropogenic?
  • What will be the effects of global warming?
    • Do we need to prepare for these effects?

These are big questions that in order to be solved require public education, faith in scientists, and government money. While there is a general consensus among scientists that yes, our planet’s surface temperature has increased in modern times; and yes, that change is anthropogenic, the public remains suspicious.

Climate change skeptics argue over facts and data. They are generally uninformed and tend not to trust the government or scientists blindly. Skeptics are more likely to be republican than democrat. Skeptics generally need lots of proof before they will believe anything.

A few of their arguments:

  • The climate has changed before; what’s happening now is normal!
    • The Earth’s climate changes in response to forces; humankind is the current force.
  • Scientists can’t even agree on it; why should I believe it?
    • 97% of climate change experts agree.
  • Al Gore was wrong!
    • His book, An Inconvenient Truth, was surprisingly accurate.
  • How can you say the Earth is warming when this winter has been so cold?
    • Global warming has nothing to do with daily weather.

Climate change deniers, on the other hand, refuse to believe that humankind could have possibly changed the earth’s climate. They may think the whole thing a “conspiracy.” Again, deniers are more likely to be republican than democrat. While skeptics will listen and try to understand the facts – and even change their minds if given adequate proof – climate change deniers won’t even listen because they don’t want it to be true.


  • Are very uneducated on the topic
  • Present false, contradictory evidence
  • Believe there is no scientific consensus
  • Claim that climate-predication models don’t work
  • Believe that we can’t be sure
  • Argue that climate change is natural
  • Don’t understand why an increase in temperature would be bad

Earth has warmed during modern times as a result of humankind’s production of greenhouse gases. That is a fact. Even though we don’t know just how much of that warming was our fault and even though we aren’t 100% sure what will happen next, it is important to make preparations for the future.

Sustainable Development

The concept of sustainable development (SD) refers to development that meets current needs but does not endanger future generations’ ability to do the same. If achieved worldwide, sustainable development would theoretically eliminate poverty, create jobs, and save natural resources.

In order to understand the term, we must view Earth as a global system. For example, pollution in Asia affects air quality in France; pesticides in the U.S. harm fish in the Mediterranean.

The system involves not only space, but also time. The decisions our ancestors made regarding farming affect practices today. The policies we follow today impact the future of our children.

This big-picture way of thinking is the same way one must view climate change. The two concepts go hand in hand. Many look to sustainable development as the answer to global warming because it involves many opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint. Others view climate change as the biggest challenge impeding the world from achieving sustainable development because it’s hard to put systems into place when we are uncertain of future climate.

The big focus of SD falls on countries. A World Summit was held in 2002 to discuss sustainable development strategies. The group asked that every country “make progress in the formulation and elaboration of national strategies for sustainable development.” Implementation was supposed to start by 2005.

According to a Yale/Columbia University study, Iceland is the most sustainable country in the world. Here’s why: Iceland’s climate change policy, enforced by the Ministry for the Environment and the Environment Agency of Iceland, results in excellent environmental management. The country enjoys a low rate of disease, high water quality, and low air pollution. Iceland effectively manages its timber resources while enjoying pristine forests.

Policies that have made Iceland such a leader is SD include the Nature Conservation Act of 1999 and the Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Act of 2007.

Sustainable development isn’t limited to communities and countries. There are steps you can take as an individual to facilitate SD, some of which you can start today:

  • The “Enough Concept:” don’t be greedy. Eat and drink enough but not too much.
  • Parents and teachers can teach kids about SD, conservation, and recycling
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle
  • Ride your bike instead of driving your car
  • Use public transportation
  • Cultivate a personal garden
  • For more ideas, check out Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise, and Sustainable Development by Alan Irwin.

Sustainable Energy

Sustainable energy, a huge part of SD, is any form of energy that comes from non-exhaustible resources. Examples include solar energy, hydroelectricity, wind energy, geothermal energy, wave power, tidal power, and bioenergy. Most of these are economically competitive.

The move to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy is likely the world’s biggest challenge in regards to sustainable energy. Fossil fuels are combustible organic materials found underground. Natural processes like anaerobic decomposition turn dead plants and animals into coal, crude oil and natural gas. The process takes millions of years and the resulting materials contain lots of carbon. Not only will this source of energy eventually run dry, but burning fossil fuels releases loads of greenhouse gases into the environment, which contributes to global warming.

The term “carbon footprint” refers to the amount of greenhouse gas emitted by one person, event, or organization – but is now generally used to describe how much waste a person contributes to the environment. It’s fairly easy for businesses, communities, and individuals to reduce their carbon footprints. Here are a few examples:

  • Carpool
  • Have a separate trash can for recycling
  • Use less paper by printing on both sides
  • Use less paper through services like online banking
  • Drive a low carbon vehicle
  • Make sure your house is properly insulted/sealed
  • Turn off the lights when you leave the house
  • Utilize solar panels
  • Open the windows instead of using the A/C
  • Eat local food

Sustainable Farming

Sustainable farming is not only one of the biggest ways mankind can reduce its carbon footprint, but also benefits public health, the environment, animal welfare, and communities. Sustainable agriculture allows us to produce food that is healthier and does not compromise the ability of future generations to do the same.

Sustainable farming preserves the environment because it does not rely on synthetic fertilizers, toxic pesticides, GMOs, nontherapeutic antibiotics (for livestock), or techniques that degrade natural resources. These techniques include crop rotation, conservation tillage, soil enrichment, and biointensive integrated pest management. In addition, sustainable farms foster biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.

There are negative consequences to growing the same crop in the same field year after year. Switching to a different crop each season avoids these consequences and is one of the most powerful practices of sustainable farming. The technique is called crop rotation. Switching crops is beneficial to pest control because most bugs have crop preferences. Rotating plants like legumes and soybeans helps to replenish nutrients, reducing the need for fertilizer. For example, corn growing in a field that was previously used to grow soybeans will need less nitrogen to produce a successful harvest.

Sustainable agriculture promotes healthier communities because all products of those farms are safe and healthy for consumers. In addition, sustainable farms protect us from exposure to toxins, pathogens, and pollutants. In addition to boosting the economy, sustainable farms create jobs that are safe and fair.

Animal welfare is another big aspect of sustainability. Sustainable ranchers and farmers treat their livestock with care and raise them on pasture, which enables them to move about freely and instinctively. These animals eat a natural diet and therefore are healthier and less-stressed than animals in confinement.

United States agriculture started to industrialize during the 1900s. Since then, we have become dependent on synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides. Over the years, small farms were driven out of business and large farms got even bigger. Although this system does produce a large amount of food at a low price, it does so by employing practices that threaten human health, the environment, animal welfare, and rural communities.

Most of today’s crops come from large, monocrop farms. These farms not only rely on pesticides and GMOs, but also degrade natural resources ad reduce biodiversity. They generate pollutants that threaten neighbors, farmworkers, and consumers.

As public awareness of these issues grows, the demand for sustainable farming increases. Energy is one of the biggest concerns. Modern farming depends on non-renewable sources of energy like petroleum. We cannot abruptly abandon petroleum, but we know the resource will eventually run dry. A gradual shift to sustainable agriculture will protect the economy, create more jobs, and significantly decrease our use of non-renewable energy.

While we are still worlds away from global sustainable development, YOU can make a difference now. Whether that means educating others about climate change, visiting your local farmer’s market, or carpooling to work, I encourage you to start today.


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