With rising temperatures, higher sea-levels, and an increase in natural disasters, it’s impossible to ignore the destructive effects of climate change in the world today. 2016 was our planet’s hottest year, reaching 1.69 degrees higher than the 20th century average. Unfortunately, this change shouldn’t have happened within a mere century; it is clear that humans are responsible for this recent temperature trend. Before we know it, earth will no longer be the flourishing planet we believe it to be.
In recent years, Seoul has joined the ranks amongst the world’s most polluted cities, including Beijing and Delhi. Due to yellow dust, protective face masks have become ordinary sightings in these cities. Asian dust, more commonly known as yellow dust, is the inhalable particles originating from the dry desert regions of China and Mongolia. Although yellow dust has been coming into Korea from these regions for generations, yellow dust storms have been occurring more frequently with worse effects. Due to deforestation, industrialization, and the resulting pollution in China, the dust storms often carry oxides and toxic waste, putting the health of individuals at risk. Particles smaller than 10 micrometers are of particular concern as they can damage the lungs, cause asthma, and even trigger heart attacks. For people who have existing heart or lung conditions, inhaling a sufficient amount may be fatal.
By March 2017, South Korean authorities have issued 85 ultrafine dust warnings just that year. This was more than double the number of warnings the previous year during the same time period. The fine particles can cause respiratory and cardiovascular complications and a range of illnesses, including cancer. Although many believe that China is the culprit when it comes to pollutants, experts say that China is only responsible for as low as 30% of the air pollution in Korea. Much of Korea’s pollutants come from vehicle emissions and construction or industrial sites. Furthermore, as Asia’s fourth largest economy, 45% of its electricity is currently generated from coal, which contributes greatly to the carbon levels in the atmosphere. Despite South Korea’s efforts to popularize renewable energy, the country’s power will still remain dominated by nuclear energy and coal, still making up around 60% of electricity by 2030.
While cutting down on fossil fuels is an definite way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so is a single alteration in food habit. Beef cattle is one of the most carbon-intensive food that is produced as cows release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Livestock production makes up 70% of agricultural land use, occupies 30% of the planet’s land surface, and is accountable for 18% of greenhouse gases. In addition, around five to seven kilograms of grain is used to produce one kilogram of beef, clearly demonstrating how inefficient growing animals for food is. There is no doubt that as the global meat consumption rises, so does its climate impact.
A recent study indicates that swapping beef for beans could significantly diminish the effects of climate change. It is possible for countries such as the US to achieve more than half of its greenhouse gas reduction goals without imposing any new restrictions on transportation or manufacturing. Substituting beef for beans could clear up 42% of US cropland. Additionally, legumes provide more calories and more protein than beef, and have a far smaller carbon footprint. Although most are not willing to give up their burgers and steaks, it is important to remember that food production has a considerable impact on climate change.
Eating beans not only benefits the environment, but is also cheaper and better for your health. However, food still takes energy to produce, process, and transport. Its transport makes up around 11% of the overall carbon footprint. Buying local and organic food may be better for the climate. Eating meat-free meals are also a way to limiting one’s negative impact on the environment.
When it comes to my own school, Seoul Foreign School, there should be work against climate change and towards a sustainable, viable planet. Encouraging students to take the school bus or public transportation to school is one way to take initiative. It is possible for an individual to save more than $9,738 per year by taking public transport instead of driving. Restrictions on how many cars are permitted for “drop-off” could be implemented, reducing the carbon emissions from transportation. Burning one gallon of gasoline creates about twenty pounds of carbon dioxide, meaning the average vehicle produces six to nine tons of it each year.
The food served in the Seoul Foreign School cafeteria is heavily meat based, with only a couple vegetarian options. Swapping half of the meat for legumes would decrease SFS’ impact on greenhouse gas emissions considerably. This small, single-food substitution can be the most significant change a person makes in their lifetime when it comes to environmental impact. It would be more effective than downsizing one’s car or quitting showering. Just by eating beans instead of beef, students can truly make a difference.
There is no one correct solution to solve this issue. Individuals should begin to realize that everything they do in this modern world will affect the environment and its temperature. Especially for those living in urban, industrialized cities, education is key, and just being aware of the impacts of certain actions can lead to better advancements.
Rachel Kahng, Grade 10
Seoul Foreign School