Walking into school on a recent Wednesday morning, I found myself noticing the sunrise. The campus was quiet, save the chirping of a few birds, and was nearly deserted (it was a late start and I was there early.) The mild temperature and cloudless sky caught my attention. I breathed deep, taking advantage of the rare and peaceful start to my day.
I was there early to hear actor, educator, and activist Tim Guinee speak on climate change and climate activism, hardly noticing the irony of the perfect weather at the time. Mr. Guinee wore a pair of tan pants and a blazer overtop a t shirt with a photo of Greta Thunberg, the 15 year old climate activist who gained popularity after speaking at a UN conference and popularized the recent student climate strike. He smiled as I walked in and encouraged me to grab a chicken biscuit.
Mr. Guinee began with a warning: “I am not trying to depress you--look at me, I work in this field all day, every day, and I am not depressed at all--but, there is going to be a lot of heavy stuff.”
“Some people say that in order to talk about climate change, you should avoid the facts; some psychologists are even calling it pre-traumatic stress disorder when people just shut down before anything has even happened,” he laughed, “and I don’t blame people for this response, it’s scary.” He continued, “But, I think that people need to hear the truth if they’re going to do anything about it. In order to make any big step forward, we need to start from where we are, so it’s important to understand where exactly that is.”
Disclaimer clearly laid out, he began.
Mr. Guinee displayed the first photo of our earth ever taken from space, followed by one of the earth’s edge silhouetted against the sun. “This is the most important thing I’ll show you today,” he said, “this thin little line here is our entire atmosphere.”
He compared the line’s thickness to a layer of shellac painted on a ball, and told us that if we could drive straight up, we’d bust through the atmosphere and into space in about 5 minutes. “Every smell you’ve ever smelt, everything you’ve ever done, every delicious chicken biscuit you’ve ever tasted,” he pointed to the tray of biscuits in the back of the room, “is only possible because of this tiny, fragile, miraculous layer of atmosphere.”
He then brought in the statistics. He showed graphs of changing temperature averages, changing wind currents, changing weather, and changing levels of atmospheric gasses. He said the current CO2 levels in the atmosphere are 412 parts per million, compared to roughly 315 as recently as 1965.
“Do you know when the last time humans breathed air with 412 ppm of CO2 was?” He paused to let us answer, but no one spoke. “Never. Never in human history has the CO2 level been this high,” he said.
The slide changed and Mr. Guinee turned the conversation towards changing wind currents, and, as a result, severe weather patterns being majorly altered. He explained the deepening curves of wind patterns, creating dips deep enough to trap and supercharge once-innocent rain storms.
Moreover, he explained how usually when these supercharged storms then travel over hot waters, which speeds them up, they churn up the cold water from the ocean floor and negate that effect. Now, the hot waters run too deep, so these storms get worse and worse; this is exactly what happened with hurricane Harvey as it traveled over the Gulf of Mexico not too long ago.
Mr. Guinee continued, pointing out statistics on where we are now, projections on where we will be, and comparisons to where we should be in regards to atmospheric condition. It would be impossible for me to recount every detail to you now--and to do so with Mr. Guinee’s same conviction and knowledge--but I assure you he had no shortage of information, all clearly supported and well spoken.
One thing that I hadn’t expected going into the talk was to learn about climate change in a political, social, and economic light. Mr. Guinee explained how climate change affects class disparity, racial disparity, the world economy, and government action. Very simply put, Mr. Guinee put into perspective how nearly every aspect of life is, in some way, affected by climate change, making it even more clear that climate change is everyone’s fight.
With this heavy load laid down, Mr. Guinee turned the conversation in a more hopeful direction. “We already have everything we need to meet all of our climate change goals,” he explained. He spoke about leaps in renewable energy industries, action from politicians, teenagers, Democrats and Republicans alike. Following up on his opening statement, he told us that “the reason I am not depressed is because I’m active. The key to feeling okay and hopeful is to go out and do something about it.”
Leaving the speaker an hour and change later, I regarded the atmosphere around me in a new light. I saw the same blue sky and felt the same pleasant temperature, but as I took another deep breath, my mind thought of the CO2 concentration in it, and when I heard the birds chirping, I thought of the ones falling out of the sky because of unprecedented heat (something he’d also mentioned earlier). Looking up into the seemingly-endless sky that I could break through in nearly five minutes, I felt smaller than ever. That being said, all change starts with a first small step, and I think I’m ready now to start where I am.