The Guardian (Charlottetown)
‘What will the world be like when I’m an adult?’
Newfoundland student working to make the world a better place
You probably already know about global warming and climate change as serious environmental issues, but what about some less talked about problems that are having a serious impact on the earth right now?
Have you ever looked up at the night sky and noticed you can see a lot fewer stars when you’re in the city than you can when you’re out of town? That’s light pollution, and it happens when the night sky is brightened by human-made sources like streetlights.
Excess lighting can be a waste of energy and it can disrupt animal habitats in a big way. For example, if an animal is nocturnal (like an owl) then it hunts at night, but light pollution can trick it into thinking it’s daytime. Some birds migrate or hunt at night and light pollution can lead them off course or cause them to migrate at the wrong time. Humans’ sleep can be affected by too much light at night, too.
Cellphones can also harm the environment. A study from McMaster University in 2018 found that smartphones are among the most damaging devices for the environment, with 85 per cent of their emissions coming from their production. They contain precious metals that are often mined with environmentally unsound practices and smartphones get outdated pretty quickly, so people buy newer models.
“For every text message, for every phone call, every video you upload or download, there’s a data centre making this happen. Telecommunications networks and data centres consume a lot of energy to serve you and most data centres continue to be powered by electricity generated by fossil fuels. It’s the energy consumption we don’t see,” said McMaster researcher and professor Lotfi Belkhir in an article on the university’s website when his research was published.
Ocean acidification is another problem. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says the ocean absorbs 30 per cent of all the carbon dioxide humans put into the air and that decreases the ocean’s pH. Acidic oceans can harm marine life and that can mess up the entire food chain. Plastic and other litter is already a problem for marine life; do they really need another one?
A problem caused by global warming that we don’t talk about so much on this side of the world is the shrinking freshwater supply. Oceanographer David Gallo said something in a video posted on YouTube by The Atlantic that I found really shocking: “If the Earth was the size of a basketball, the amount of fresh water on the Earth would fit onto a grain of salt.” It’s easy to see why we need to protect our freshwater sources.
Juanita Mercer is the environmental reporter for The Telegram and I asked her about readers’ views on her stories and what types of issues interest them the most.
“Climate change. So many specific and local environmental issues are related to climate change,” is what she told me.
She said she believes readers are especially interested in local stories or ones that affect them directly but that sometimes the issues might seem too big or far away for people to grasp.
“Sometimes, we talk about the consequences of environmental issues in future terms — something that will happen in a decade or in a century, and it makes it easier to sort of put them aside. My job is to help readers understand the issues are current and in their own backyards.”
Juanita says she realized, even more, the importance of reporting on environmental stories after her baby was born three months ago.
“I’m currently on maternity leave and am spending a lot of time thinking about the world my daughter will be living in when she’s my age. How can the stories I write help ensure her world is more sustainable than our current trajectory? It’s something I’m even more acutely focused on now that I’m a mother.”
This is something I think about, too. What will the world be like when I’m an adult?
If you look at some of the environmental problems I mentioned, the future looks grim unless we make changes. I try to think of things that I can do, even though I’m a kid, to help and to raise awareness. Last year, for school, I created a project called Poseidon’s Chest, where I make jewelry out of sea glass I collect (and sometimes people donate to me) and I sell it to raise money for animal habitat protection organizations. I have made more than $500 so far that I will be presenting to the N.L. branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS-NL).
This year, during the COVID-19 lockdown, my teacher asked us to work on a “passion project” to share with the class. I created a board game called “The Terrene Society” where people work together to solve environmental problems.
I hope people will be inspired to learn about some of the issues facing our earth today and that we can all take steps to make sure our environment is healthy in the future.