At the exact time the Paris agreement was being adopted, I was in a plane flying over Greenland, which I was able to see from above. Greenland is home to the second largest ice sheet in the world, trailing only Antarctica. The ice is over two miles thick in some places, and averages over a mile thick. It is 1,500 miles from north to south (the distance from Minnesota to Florida), and if all the ice were to melt from Greenland the ocean would rise 24 feet. As the sun was setting, I was blown away by the size and scale of the ice sheets I saw below.
That moment wasn’t lost on me, and now, back in the states, I recognize the size of the battle that lies ahead of us. At COP21, the term “tipping point” was used a lot. It was used to describe the moment after which we couldn’t go back, when we would be unable to reverse the effects of global warming. As a country, I think we are also at a “tipping point” when it comes to the public consensus on whether or not we need to take decisive actions in limiting our greenhouse gases. I believe our country is not aware of the true size and scale of current and future climate impacts, and am worried that our tipping point may come too late to avoid the planet’s tipping point.
This needs to be addressed with education. In my school, we have probes that can show students how much carbon dioxide comes out of a tail pipe. In a lab, I can show that adding carbon dioxide to a closed system causes the temperature to increase slightly; I can show students that carbon dioxide dissolves in water and increases the acidity of water. I can easily show that adding ice from land would increase water levels. But I am not allowed to do so, because it does not fit anywhere in our current curriculum. I need to help change that.
My experience at COP21 allowed me to have my own tipping point. I can’t go back. I can’t let apathy rule the day on climate change and climate change education. Since returning Saturday night, I have contacted a local climate change advocacy group (Citizens Climate Lobby); I have asked about – and will pursue – solar panels for our high school’s new addition; I will give a presentation on our next work day to curious staff; and I am trying to insert fresh ideas and energy into a student-led ecology group. I know there will be defeats and frustrating moments ahead. I know our society hasn’t quite fully reached its tipping point. I am hopeful that I can do whatever I can to bring us over the top and spur decisive climate action.