When visionaries imagine the future, breathtaking technological achievements first come to mind: A.I. personal assistants, Mars colonization, space tourism. I, however, can only manage a glimpse into smoggy air burning with sizzling heat, a bleak landscape brought upon by climate change.
L.A. smog, arising from vehicular air pollution, is worsening each year. Vividly witnessing the dirty fumes that automobiles release is part of daily life in the highly urbanized city of Los Angeles, where over seven million citizens drive their own vehicles, releasing more than 9,000 tons of CO2 emissions daily. The cumulative impact of smog from major cities like L.A. cannot be ignored. Vehicular air pollution contributes nearly 30% of greenhouse gases is one of the main factors that has put us on the highway to global warming.
Climate change models show that Earth’s temperature has risen by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1980. Scientists now estimate that if emission rates are not curtailed, temperatures will rise 3.0 degrees by 2050 and cause more than $54 trillion in damages worldwide. However, climate change’s irreversible damage on the environment and human lives go far beyond the economy. Environmental disasters have already been noticeably worsening. Each year, there are record breaking heat waves, fires, and hurricanes. The hottest temperature ever measured on Earth, 130 degrees, was recorded in California just this year. Scientists warn that the number and intensities of wildfires and hurricanes will only increase as global warming provides for an environment suited to fuel natural disasters.
Californians have especially felt the effects of climate change as the highest number of wildfires in nearly two decades ravaged across the state. This year, more than 8,800 fire incidents in California have burned over 4.2 million acres. The steady increase in global temperatures have resulted in prolonged “fire-weathers,” periods of time with a higher risk of fires due to a combination of low precipitation, high temperatures, and high winds. In 2020, the U.S. suffered $150 billion in losses from wildfire disasters. Entire towns like Berry Creek, C.A. were completely burned down, and over 240,000 Americans were forced to evacuate their homes just in October. “The smoke after the fire last month was really bad,” says Riley, a high school student.
Health, food access, and home security are threatened as climate change remains unmitigated. Approximately 250,000 additional deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to climate change, as the number of illnesses from heat stress increases. Asthma and pneumonia, which kill nearly 200,000 Americans annually, are on the rise with worsening air pollution. Global warming also disproportionately affects poor communities due to limited access to quality healthcare.
The Climate Clock in New York displays the time that remains until climate change becomes irreversible. There are less than seven years left, demonstrating the urgency of taking effective action. We, as a global community, must recognize that failing to curb emission levels will be disastrous. Fortunately, international partnership will circumvent a planetary existential crisis and pave a bright future filled with glittering innovations and exciting potential.