People rally at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate for the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20.(Markus Schreiber / Associated Press)
Brentwood School

Climate Change today

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words…We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth, how dare you,” said Sweedish climate and environmental activist Greta Thurnberg at the 2019 United Nations (U.N.) climate action summit in New York.

Thunberg, at only 16 years old, has acquired global recognition for her work in raising awareness for the current climate crisis. She has given speeches at venues such as The World Economic Parliament, TEDxStockholm, and The EU Parliament, among many others. Thurnberg is urging officials to act with immediacy. If not, future generations will be forced to live with our depleting environment.

Thunberg inspired the Global Climate Strike that occurred on Sept. 20 and took place in over 185 countries with nearly 8 million participants. There was a strike in Downtown Los Angeles in Pershing Square. People of all ages came from around the county to participate.

The streets were filled with protesters and their vibrant holding signs, including messages such as “The Wrong Amazon is Burning” and “We Have no Planet B.” 

In 2018, Thurnberg founded “School strike for climate,” where she left school every Friday to protest in front of the Sweedish Parliament.  Now, her protests arise on a global scale.

This all being said, what exactly is happening to our planet? 

The Earth’s temperature is rising, glaciers are melting, and sea levels are rising. Scientists attribute the main cause of these changes to a concept called the “greenhouse effect.” When energy flows from the sun to the Earth, a portion is reflected back into space.

However, certain gases called greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide, release heat into the lower atmosphere, which controls the Earth’s climate. Without these gases, our planet would be too cold to house life. 

But, human activities, such as forest clearing and burning of fossil fuels, have produced greenhouse gases faster than they can be removed by the Earth’s carbon and nitrogen cycle. Furthermore, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), human industry has increased carbon dioxide levels from 280 to 400 parts per million in the last 150 years.”

In simpler terms, human advances are causing more of these greenhouse gases to be released than the Earth can process. This imbalance is what is known as Global Warming. 

NASA also has recorded that the Earth’s average surface temperature has increased 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since about 1880. Most of this warming took place since the late 20th century. 

In fact, statistics prove that the hottest year to date was three years ago, in 2016, where eight months of the year had the highest recorded temperatures for those months.

Brentwood School faculty members are also well-versed in this issue. 

Science Department Chair and Environmental Science teacher Sabrina Erickson, along with Biology teacher Dawn Roje both tackle Climate Change in their courses and express interest in expanding these conversations throughout Brentwood School.

“Science teachers should be explaining what greenhouse gases are and showing climate change data both indirect and direct in any sort of Earth Science class,” Roje said. “In terms of greenhouse gases and climate change, we [biology] could even partner up with the chemistry and physics classes and talk about the physical science behind it.”

Climate Change is discussed in detail in the Environmental Science course and is part of the ecology unit in the biology course; however, there are not many other opportunities for younger students to delve into the topic. 

To implement learning more about climate change, the administration is starting to seek opportunities through the Belldegrun Center for Innovative Learning (BCIL). An example of this is Erickson’s Sustainable Earth Engineering Class.

In this class, students make projects in the BCIL Innovation Lab surrounding the topics of water and pollution. In addition, her students learn about aspects of energy including production, transmission, storage, and consumption of energy in our everyday lives.

Erickson and Roje offer their thoughts on how our community, both inside and outside of Brentwood, can improve efforts to save the environment. 

“I think that more emphasis needs to be put on big corporations and the capitalist system,” Roje said. “If companies don’t have an economic benefit to use multi-use plastics instead of single-use plastics, they will not do it…we need to have institutions employing these changes.”

A ground-breaking report by the Carbon Majors Database in 2017 revealed that 100 energy companies are accountable for 71% of industrial energy emissions since climate change was recognized as human-driven. In addition, 15 of the most popular food and drink companies produce a total of  630 million metric tons of greenhouse gases every year, making them a bigger emitter than all of Australia.

On the other hand, Erickson comments on certain ways people at Brentwood can instigate significant change.

“I think small changes matter,” Erickson said. “There is a lot Brentwood could do like eliminating the water bottles on campus or using reusable plates and utensils.”

According to Erickson, who taught at Brentwood in 2008, the cafeteria experimented with reusable plates and silverware for three years. So, perhaps this option may be worth putting into effect again, as it worked in the past.

In Erickson’s Advanced Placement Environmental Science class, each student is required to change “one small thing” in his or her daily life in order to help the environment.  If every student makes one change, the class will have a larger impact on bettering the environment.

Ultimately, climate change is an issue that touches everyone on this planet. It is vital that our generation takes action now, whether it is spreading awareness in the surrounding community, taking part in a climate strike, or taking it upon yourself to change “one small thing.”