The noxious grey-yellow fog hung over the greater Los Angeles region. He remembers the day vividly. He was excited for a tour with his college singing group from Stanford but as he approached the area, he was met with a surprise. The fog even covered the bright sun he was so used to seeing. Former mayor Rod Sinks felt his eyes sting as he stepped out into the city.
That’s when he clearly saw the effects of climate change.
The pollution back home in Silicon Valley wasn’t great either. His interest in the field of climate change was sparked by vice president Al Gore, who had spoken to the public about climate science. With Sinks’ own rationale of always leaving the earth in a better shape than he found it, Gore’s teachings really stood out to him. He looked into the research behind climate science and looked past the hills of the Silicon Valley at the pollution that covered parts of the Bay Area.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” In other words, global climate change is a significant, scientific dilemma.
It was around then, when Sinks and his singing group was in Los Angeles, that the Clean Air Act kicked in and he recalls how the first regulations had a substantial impact.
According to National Geographic, carbon dioxide levels have risen 405.6 parts per million, the highest levels have been in 650,000 years. The global temperature has increased 1.7°F and the sea level is increasing 3.4 mm a year. Scientists also know that the majority of this global climate change is caused by humans.
With the current political climate in the United States, there’s been quite a bit of tension as to whether the issue of climate change is valid or just an exaggeration of fears. However, climate change is a scientifically-proven non-partisan issue that eventually, most of the world will have to work to combat in order to keep the earth hospitable.
To Sinks, one of the main problems that comes with combatting global warming generally comes from how removed people feel from the problem and its causes.
“Climate change is kind of wonky,” Sinks said. “And your personal relationship to the planet having negative weather, extreme weather events and sea level rise is a bit remote.”
But he knows that climate change is something that has affected our planet little-by-little everyday. He works with the city council, energy companies, waste management and is a water district board member, and he works to mitigate the impact of the city on climate change. He sees a future where energy consumption and transportation can be completely decarbonized, and where the general population of the United States can have a basic climate change vocabulary to discuss the scientific problem at hand.
Mr. Rod Sinks (city council, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, Waste Management and Air District (BAAQMD) Board Member)
The beach — the warm sand, the breath-taking coastline and the beautiful beach-front houses lined along the edge of it.
One day, it could all be under water.
Stories of underwater cities like Atlantis could become more reality than fiction, according to maps published by Climate Central. These maps show the effects that the carbon emissions from this century could have in terms of sea level rise within a span of 2,000 years, indicating coastal regions that could be flooded.
Although the Earth has experienced fluctuations in climate and temperature throughout history, the current warming trend has become a significant problem. Climate change now is human-caused rather than attributed to natural changes in the warming and cooling phases of the earth.
In other words, this is not a natural cycle, but a human-made global disaster.
AP Environmental Science teacher Andrew Goldenkranz explains that scientists have repeatedly watched temperature and carbon dioxide data for around half a million years. Based on their observations, there’s evidence that includes a combination of atmospheric, ground-level, ocean and deep-core data that show the changes in the climate from an early time. Now, according to Goldenkranz, carbon dioxide levels are 25 percent higher than they have ever been in human history.
The effects of this change in the constituency of the atmosphere have almost immediate and wide-reaching effects. Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes ocean acidification. According to the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, at least one-fourth of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is dissolved into the ocean. This also makes it more difficult to see or understand the consequences of global warming.
When the carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, the ocean’s acidity levels rise, and the pH of the ocean’s water decreases. The change, Goldenkranz explains, comes in the variance of 0.1 to 0.2 pH points difference. Since pH measurements are based on a logarithmic scale, a decrease in 0.1 is around a 30 percent difference. To put this in perspective, according to the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, for humans, a drop in blood pH of 0.2-0.3 has the ability to cause seizures, comas and, in some cases, death. For marine life, these drops in pH can have similar harmful effects.
That creates real changes in the ocean’s environment.
For one, the Smithsonian Ocean Portal describes how the more rapid changes in the ocean’s chemistry and acidity levels haven’t given sea animals enough time to adapt. As consumers, this impacts humans because humans are linked to the ocean for food, recreation and transportation, among other uses. For example, ocean acidification has affected shelled animals like shellfish, and their decline in population means humans cannot consume shellfish at the same rate that they used to.
Another more well-reported impact is the effects of climate change on coral reefs, structures that Goldenkranz describes as the rainforests of the ocean.
More specifically, coral reefs are the most diverse marine ecosystem, and according to the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, one-quarter of ocean species depend on the coral reefs. Corals are created from calcium carbonate, and thus, acidification may limit coral growth with the erosion of existing coral skeletons and impacting the growth of new ones. This makes coral reefs weaker in their structure and reduces their ability to rebuild.
Acidification is also a stressor that leads to coral bleaching, a phenomenon where corals expel algae. The Nature Conservancy explains that algae provides food to the corals. If the corals don’t reabsorb the algae, the coral will die.
“If you think of corals as canaries [in a coal mine], they’re chirping really loudly right now,” said Jennifer Koss, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program director, at a press conference. “The ones that are still alive, that is.”
This isn’t the only significant impact that climate change has on the ocean. According to National Geographic, since 1992, sea levels have risen an average of three inches around the world.
An increase in temperature causes water to expand in a phenomenon known as thermal expansion. According to National Geographic, oceans absorb around 80 percent of the additional heat trapped in the atmosphere. This, along with glacial recessions and the receding of ice-caps has led to a rise in sea levels. Goldenkranz explains how the city of Miami Beach has undergone a money-guzzling process to raise their buildings and foundations by three feet in compensation for the predicted rise in sea levels.
The coastline of Miami beach will be significantly impacted by rising sea levels. According to their public works plan, aimed at bettering the city’s stormwater management system because of the potential sea level change, the 20-year plan for stormwater infrastructure is estimated to cost the city 206.3 million dollars.
The impact of rising sea levels has now become a reality.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by 2100, we can expect oceans to rise between 11 and 38 inches. These rising seas would threaten many coastal communities and cities. This would also mean that sea storms would become much more powerful in their magnitude.
Higher sea levels may cause many inhabitants of beach-front property to abandon their homes completely with the potential of their land being completely submerged under water, flooding or a fear of heightened powered sea storms.
According to the EPA, climate change also has many prolonged impacts on the southwestern region of the United States. One example is the large California drought, which according to the California Water Science Center lasted for five years. Temperatures have risen 2ºF in the last decade and are projected to rise 3.5ºF to 9.5ºF by the end of this century.
With increased severities in droughts in the Southwest, water sources will become severely impacted in the area. With the increase in severe droughts, lowered snowfall and precipitation, temperature increase and expected population growth, the competition for water will increase.
For the inhabitants of the Southwest region, health problems may be exacerbated by heat stress and poor air qualities, which may lead to an increase in respiratory problems such as asthma.
In the past decade, there has been an increase in the amount of wildfires that plague the Southwest. Though wildfires are natural, the increased temperature and decreased humidity have caused prolonged, expansive wildfires. According to the California Government CAL FIRE responses, between Jan. 1 and April 22 of 2017, there have been 320 fires that have destroyed a total of 5,963 acres.
On top of just the immediate damage that wildfires do to homes and land, they can also have severe health problems for people who face them, including burns and cardiovascular diseases.
In Sink’s opinion, given the impact that climate change is projected to have on the environment and country, right now there are not enough regulations to minimize human effect on the carbon footprint.
The city of Cupertino created a climate action plan in 2014 that identified sources of greenhouse gases and established strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also detailed ways to provide energy, water, fuel and cost savings for the city.
The city is attempting to decrease the amount of carbon that people use for energy. According to PG&E, the company provides electricity and natural gas to nearly 16 million California residents. PG&E has worked to uphold an environmental commitment to minimize the impact of electricity consumption on the earth. For example, the energy company offers PG&E’s Solar Choice, an option for users to purchase and use solar energy.
Sinks has become a part of many local efforts to reduce the carbon footprints of Cupertino. He is one of the founders of Silicon Valley Clean Energy, a community-owned agency that offers clean, renewable and 100 percent carbon-free energy at competitive rates. The company works with PG&E for 12 communities in Santa Clara County including Cupertino, Saratoga and Los Altos, and each of the 12 counties now have SVCE as their electricity provider.
SVCE services began in April 2017, and the company will continue to provide clean, renewable energy to each of the 12 counties unless users choose to opt-out. In that case, users would be using PG&E’s energy supply, which the SVCE declares as 70 percent carbon-free.
If consumers made a switch from gasoline-powered cars to hybrid and electric ones, the human carbon footprint would be minimized even more. For one, switching to electric cars in California has its benefits. In 2013, it became mandatory for vehicles to display the Fuel Economy and Environmental Label, which details smog rating, annual fuel cost and fuel economy and includes a QR code to access information about the vehicles online. Higher greenhouse gas ratings tend to burn less fuel, thus saving consumers money. In California, incentives include rebates, free parking and the ability to drive in the carpool lane. By charging their cars with carbon-free electricity, local consumers would essentially be driving their vehicles with no carbon consumption.
Even with the general shift to electric vehicles, Sinks would like to find a way for Cupertino to be less dependent on personal cars and shift the city more towards public transportation.
“Things are so bad here,” Sinks said. “I mean, people in Cupertino — we live in a transit desert.”
It’s hard for residents to do much more than hop into their cars in the morning and get to work as, Sinks explains. There aren’t many more viable alternatives. But, the crowded, gridlocked traffic has more effects than just the annoyance it causes people.
He recognizes that traffic congestion is a problem that stems from the regional population growth and has fought to improve it on a regional level. In turn, he created and was elected Founding Chair of the VTA 85 Corridor Policy Advisory Board.
At the moment, the advisory board is discussing solutions for the traffic that plagues 85. In 2016, Santa Clara County voters approved Measure B, which is a 30-year sales tax aimed at enhancing transportation.
But, that’s just the start.
“It’s a start, not the end,” Sinks said. “It’s going to be a long fight for a few years.”
When science teacher Kavita Gupta grew up in India, she was immersed in an environment filled with people passionate about taking care of the earth, using the most of what they had and keeping themselves from excessive wastage. To her, climate change is an important issue that students should immerse themselves in because as they grow up, they’ll have more influence in the world itself and it’ll be an issue that they have to handle.
FUHSD agrees. FUHSD Director of Facilities Erik Walukiewicz explained how the district is trying to reduce the FUHSD schools’ carbon footprints.
Of the entire district, MVHS has the most water bottle fillers — thanks to the help of funding from the First Five California Grant and principal April Scott. The district plans include increasing the amount of trees on campus and a goal to eliminate the amount of real grass at the school, which would save money on both water and maintenance costs. Walukiewicz explains that the schools want to equip students with the right resources to understand how to save the environment, which includes getting rid of plastic water bottles and adding EV charge stations to parking lots.
But at the end of the day, the decision of whether to act is the students’.
He looks forward to a day where his two young daughters can grow up in the clean environment that FUHSD is working to build for each school.
“I think everyone has a role: teachers, students, administrators, parents, the community,” Walukiewicz said. “As a school, we can do as best we can educating students to recycle, to reuse, and maybe you don't need to [print out] that piece of paper. But those are certain things that every person has to help out [with]. That term is kind of corny, ‘It takes a village.’ But it really does.”
The first step to combat the problem of climate change comes in the form of education. From learning simple climate terminology to understanding the real consequences that climate change would have, Sinks sees this education as necessary to solve the problem. In Sinks’ opinion, in this day and age, it’s become even easier to stay connected with friends that think similarly to us, but by talking to people that do not understand the scientific grounding of climate change, it is possible to make everybody in the country aware of the scientific basis of climate change.
And in a way, students at MVHS learn the skills to start everyday. Gupta sees science education as a means for students to develop a scientific view of the world. With this, they can develop critical thinking skills and understand what is happening and bring awareness of human impact on the environment.
In just a few years, the issue of climate change will heighten and it will be in the hands of today’s students to fix the problems that come with it. Once people become familiar with climate change and potential ways to combat it, then Sinks believes that they can have effective conversations about what is happening in the world and how people can work to propel the country forward.
But starting to ignore or put off dealing with the concept of climate change isn’t the right start.
“The longer we dither, the shorter time we have to fix it,” Sinks said. “The longer we let lies represent fact and cast out uncertainty, the less time we have to fix it.”
That’s where the Earth Deconstructed event, held in San Jose at the Tech Museum on May 18, plans to educate students. This informative multidisciplinary event seeks to bring attention and advocacy to climate change, centered around the documentary “Before the Flood.” Here, a board of five panelists, including Sinks, will also discuss effects of climate change.
Gupta sees the event as a way to give students the opportunity to have validation of their work in front of an authentic audience and in turn feel validation in their learning. Through the poster presentation sessions where students present their research, Gupta believes that students will be able to implement a sense of individualism where they can argue intelligently in regards to the conclusions they draw from their data. She believes the research that students do would help them decide what they can do to help fix the problem instead of just seeing the problem as a big issue that only policy makers have control over.
Soon, she hopes to develop a long term partnership with the Tech Museum to try to do a youth climate summit to really help shape the way students learn and help equip them with a proper vocabulary for climate change.
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
That tweet, published by president Donald J. Trump on Nov. 22, 2016 has also become how Trump has addressed the country in terms of his policies. So far, Trump has promised to remove Obama’s climate change policies and increase coal and oil consumptions.
In his first 100 days, the Trump administration has pursued a strong anti-climate agenda, including temporarily freezing EPA funds and eliminating the NOAA’s sea grant. EPA head Scott Pruitt does not think that humans are the main cause to global warming. The EPA webpage has currently been down since Jan. 19 and is being updated to “reflect EPA's priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.”
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do,” Pruitt said in an interview. “And there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. That - so, no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
Despite the fact that many politicians right now may denounce climate change as a hoax or refuse to see the factual basis of climate change concerns, climate change is still a global scientific problem.
The science backing climate change has no political attribution. Sinks doesn’t understand whether politicians actually think that climate change actually isn’t real, but he’s noticed that they seem okay turning their cheek to the problem.
“The fact that [Trump] got elected shows us that if we thought the fight was over in this the government at the federal level and within many states, then we have to work on this with great urgency,” Sinks said. “Its pretty clear that we have a lot more work to do.”