Stretching back millions of years ago, climate change is a relatively familiar phenomenon as the Earth regularly enters periods of major climate variation due to its orbit, carbon dioxide levels, and volcanic features. Since the 1800s, however, the accelerating rate of industrialization dramatically increased global CO2 emissions by over 400 percent, primarily due to unconstrained human activities like deforestation and fossil fuel combustion. From the rising global temperatures, rapidly retreating glaciers, and rising sea levels to the erratic weather patterns and acidification of oceans, the environmental anomaly has been jeopardizing the sustainability and even the habitability of our planet.
Recent signs of climate change demonstrate the alarming growth of its sporadic effects. Though not unprecedented, the polar vortex that arrived in Midwestern United States disrupted life with its freezing temperatures, making even one step outside a painful and precarious experience. During winter, the polar vortex—a low pressure area of swirling cold air—at the North Pole expands, regularly sending cold drafts southward. Growing research indicates, however, that the unnatural warming of the Arctic region caused erratic changes in the jet stream and pushed polar air down to unaccustomed latitudes, contributing to devastating temperature outbreaks. The whole region experienced a shutdown of daily functions: businesses, schools, and restaurants closed, mail services were suspended, gas lines froze, electrical grids collapsed, and airlines canceled over 2,300 flights in the United States. As people scrambled to heat their houses, the record-breaking consumption of natural gas even caused problems of power outages for 13,500 customers in Wisconsin and Iowa.
The polar vortex has hit the record low of minus 38 degrees in Illinois and even below 50 degrees in northern Minnesota and the Dakotas, inflicting medical emergencies like frostbite and at least 21 deaths. The chilling wind blows away an insulating layer of warm air naturally made by our bodies, causing frostbite in less than 30 minutes of exposure outside. People were found dead as a result of car crashes, snow plows, thermostat malfunctions, and hypothermia; in Iowa City, Gerald Belz of the University of Iowa was found unresponsive near a campus building—just one of out of many tragedies that alarmed the country.
An unintended yet notable effect of the climate debacle is the growth of unity in the community in face of adversity. Nonprofit and government organizations have been cooperating persistently with one another to provide necessary medical aid and help for the homeless. From arranging buses to provisioning hot meals in warming centers, these hospitable community centers were pivotal benefactors that refused to turn away even those with records of condemnable behavior, helping to bring the devastated community together and back on its feet.
Nevertheless, the debilitating effects of environmental degradation are unfortunately yet assuredly catching up to us. As climate change originated from human activities, it is our responsibility to take strong and immediate initiative in curbing the proliferation of its negative effects. The government should not only subsidize and invest in sustainable renewable energy sources, but individuals should also take a daily stand against environmental pollution by recycling, utilizing public transportation, straying away from plastic bottles and bags, and even minimizing their overconsumption of meat. It is only with the cooperation of all parties in society do we have the possibility of overcoming such life threatening backlash of nature.