Germany: the Fight With Global Warming

Ignorance is bliss; there are some people on this planet that refuse to believe that global warming exists. But unfortunately, to the rest of the world, ignorance is not a luxury we can afford because the majority of the world’s population is staring right in the face of climate change. As more and more countries from the periphery industrialize, more pollutants occupy the planet. Carrying over 7 billion people, the Earth’s natural resources are slowly stripped away by humans. As more and more humans inhabit the planet, the earth can no longer sustain us and stay healthy at the same time and as people become wealthier, the resources they consume per capita increases as well (Pearce). According to director of the Princeton Environment Institute, Stephen Pacala, fifty percent of the world’s richest people or seven percent of the world’s population, are the cause of half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. On the other hand, fifty percent of the poorest people of the world merely emit seven percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions (Pearce).

An image of Greenland's disturbing lack of ice.

An image of Greenland’s decreasing ice.

The idea that humans could play a role in changing the earth’s climate used to be a somewhat distant and unachievable idea, but evidence of exactly that has been piling up in recent years.  In fact, in the past decade, global temperatures have reached all time highs with temperatures that are 0.85 degrees Celsius higher than the 20th century temperature average (UCAR). Because of this, the earth is losing 13.3 percent of its arctic ice per year and is losing 258 billion metric tons of land ice per year (NASA). This then causes an increase of  sea level at a rate of 3.19 millimeters per year (NASA). Above all, as forest cover is decreasing at a rate of 1.5 million square kilometers per year, carbon dioxide emissions have reached 400.57 parts per million people (NASA). Global warming is no longer something we can ignore because the evidence of it is overwhelming.

An image of a polar bear; one of the most endangered animals on the planet.

An image of a polar bear; one of the most endangered animals on the planet.

Without a healthy planet, having healthy humans is also hard because global warming is bringing a whole array of new problems and threats for the human species. Unfortunately not many people know just how much global warming is affecting them (Global Warming Affects on Health). Climate change is the main cause of natural disasters like droughts, the wider spread of diseases such as malaria, poor air quality in many places, and a rise in conditions such as asthma, allergies, and other respiratory diseases (Global Warming Affects on Health). Not just humans, animals are also victims of climate change (Smith). Many migratory animals have started staying in places longer or altering their paths due to rising global temperatures (Species Threatened by Climate Change). Ecosystems are being destroyed which endangers a lot of earth’s animal and plant species. In the polar regions especially, animals that make their homes on ice are at the risk of losing their homelands (Species Threatened by Climate Change).

A picture of a modern feedlot. Cows are huge contributors to global methane emissions.

A picture of a modern feedlot. Cows are huge contributors to global methane emissions.

There are three levels at which we can decrease global warming: the government at the national level, private companies at the corporate level, and individuals at the individual level. Tackling the problem of climate change doesn’t just take one organisation; it takes every individual person to get involved in helping our planet.  At the individual level, we can help our planet by leading a greener life style (How to Fight Global Warming). This includes using green technology in your home, biking or walking instead of driving, saving water and electricity, and eating less meat (Eat Less Meat). Examples of green technology in your home are things such as using heat insulation in your walls so you don’t need heaters, and having lots of windows so the house is cooler. Biking or walking instead of driving is a good way to help decrease the amount of pollutants going into the atmosphere. If biking or walking is not possible, hybrid cars are gaining popularity and save a lot of fossil fuel (How to Fight Global Warming). Not only do you use less fuel if you walk or bike, but you also get exercise (Environmental Benefits). Saving water and electricity is also a good way of helping the planet. The lack of water in many parts of the world is a problem, because it causes droughts and decertification. Saving water is necessary to decrease the rate at which these things are happening. An example of a drought happening is the California drought. People in richer countries are so used to using so much water that it’s hard to have a lack of it. Food production is responsible for two thirds of the global water footprint (The Water Footprint of Food). The main reason for this is the huge amounts used in meat production. We feed water to animals we eat later on so that uses a lot of water compared to if we just eat vegetables. Also, if we eat less meat, we would raise less livestock which would decrease the amount of green house gases those animals emit (Eat Less Meat).

At the corporate level, companies around the world can also invest in green technology and lower their carbon footprint. Big companies now have started to develop, as well as implement, green technology and renewable energy (Why Big Tech Companies Are Investing in Renewable Energy). One example is Google which is right now investing in green technology to increase the efficiency of their company while also using renewable energy at the same time (Google Green). Factories and companies can also implement green tech such as solar cells or the use of wind energy. Not only are these efficient but they also do not release any carbon dioxide (Clean Energy).

Perhaps the most powerful way to decrease the speed of climate change are laws, regulations, and investment by the government. There are four countries in the world that are investing heavily in green energy and technology; they are Germany, Denmark, China, and Brazil (Mayer). Today, I will take Germany as an example.

Germany is known for its beer, castles, and sausages, but it is also known for something entirely different — being green and eco friendly. The German Energiewende or energy transition is Germany’s transition from using traditional fossil fuel or nuclear power plants to renewable energy producing plants such as solar, wind, water, thermal, or ocean currents (Energiewende). The Energiewende was first thought of in the 1970s and 80s when people first started doubting if nuclear energy was good for the planet and people’s health. The plan was then implemented when the nuclear explosion happened in Chernobyl (Energiewende). The German public quickly realised that nuclear energy was not a long term solution for energy and that it would definitely not be beneficial to the earth (Navigation und Service). However, the public started to doubt the energy transition when they started noticing an increasing trend in the use of coal power and also nuclear power plants (Wilson). In 2011, Germany and the world once again awoke to the dangers of nuclear power when the nuclear plant in Fukushima exploded (Bowen). The key policy document was then passed setting the goals of replacing most of the fossil fuel energy and nuclear energy with renewable energy. The energy transition is predicting that by the year of 2020, Germany will only have forty three percent of its energy coming from fossil fuel and fifty seven percent of its energy coming from renewable (Germany’s Plan to Phase Out Nuclear Jeopardizes Emission Goals).

Feldheim. a small village in Germany that showed the world how we can depend entirely on renewable energy.

Feldheim. a small village in Germany that showed the world how we can depend entirely on renewable energy.

We can already see Germany’s plan in action by looking at some of its real life examples. The village of Feldheim, located near Berlin, may seem like a very normal village from the outside. Beneath its surface however lies its secret, the entire village is supplied entirely by renewable energy (Bowen). It started in 1995 when an engineer student proposed a plan to erect two wind turbines on the flat and windy terrain. It then slowly expanded to what is now a giant wind farm of forty seven wind turbines. Since the village also built its own electrical grid, the entire village has become entirely self sufficient on energy (Bowen). Energy prices have also dropped by about a third of the original. This village has gained international attention and serves as a role model for many countries. Japanese people especially take interest in this after what happened after the Fukushima explosion (Bowen). Lyn Hovey and Australian sustainability activist says that “Climate change is something this generation has got to solve, and in Australia we cannot rely on government, it’s up to the people. And so you’ve got to go and learn from where it’s happened before.”(Bowen).

In the United Nations Climate Change Summit president Obama begins his speech with “That so many of us are here today is a recognition that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing. Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it – boldly, swiftly, and together – we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe (The White House).” And yes indeed, if we do not face climate change immediately our planet will face great dangers. Evidence of our planet deteriorating is piling up; we can no longer waste time because these matters affect everyone. It is in our best interests to make our planet healthy for our future generations. The most effective way to solve this problem is not to do it alone but as a community. Just as the people of Feldheim, Germany taught us, it is necessary to work together. The earth depends on us and we need to save it.

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