Warming Up the Planet

Written by Lydia Benedict.

My 15-year-old son recently wrote an essay for school on a topic of his choosing.  Since our family moved to Virginia and changed the way we eat and live, Tennyson has not only embraced this lifestyle, but also educated himself by reading everything from husbandry books to Omnivore’s Dilemma.   After working through several drafts of his paper, Tennyson is ready for his first by-line.  So instead of hearing from me this month, please read my first guest blog by Tennyson Benedict.



Warming Up the Planet
By Tennyson Benedict

Polar bears in Alaska are dying and the reason may surprise you: a lack of snow and ice.  For years now, the average snowfall in Alaska has been dropping.  Ice glaciers are melting and are forcing polar bears to swim great distances.  For example, scientist attached a radio collar to a mother polar bear, and discovered that she was forced to swim 600 miles.  The culprit behind this dilemma is that carbon dioxide is trapping solar heat.  These green house gases are simultaneously eroding the ozone layer.  And America and China are the countries producing the greatest amount of these pollutants.
China produces roughly the same amount of carbon dioxide as the U.S.; but China also has four times the population.  Thus, Americans are burning the greatest amount of fossil fuels.  Given the way we live, that’s no surprise.  Many Americans commute to work and some commute great distances.  Conversely, very few Chinese commute and of those that do, it is often a relatively short commute with a bicycle.


Americans need to find ways to cut down on how much oil we burn.  Warming up the vehicle is one practice that could be reduced, if not eliminated.  Another idea to reduce fossil fuel consumption is to buy more local products—namely food.  Historically, Americans have had a reputation for being frugal.  Perhaps if Americans implemented more frugality when it comes to oil consumption they would enjoy reduced gas bills while doing something good for the environment.


We need to take global warming seriously because the gases created in the burning of fossil fuels are also eroding the ozone layer.  The ozone layer acts like a shield, and is the only thing that is keeping out the sun’s ultra violet rays.  The rays would destroy plant life and vegetation. In reference to a very weak ozone layer, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says “Less protection from ultraviolet light will, over time, lead to higher skin cancer and cataract rates and crop damage.”  If the layer was completely destroyed, then the situation would be catastrophic.  These rays would be able to kill off most of the wildlife and that could easily cause many people to starve to death.  This threat alone ought to be enough to encourage people to find a way to reduce fuel use and promote finding an alternative fuel source.

America ought to be a far more fuel conscience country.  Additionally, we should put more time and resources into repairing the damage.  Of course, the ultimate goal would be to find other fuel sources that allow nature to heal itself.  In the meantime, there is plenty Americans can do both individually and collectively that could positively impact the environment in significant ways. In Omnivores Dilemma, Michael Pollan states, “If cornfields that feed commercial livestock were converted back to pasture land for livestock, it would be the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road.”
Eating locally can also help the environment as well as the economy.   Barbara Kingsolver’s book  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle says, “If American families were to have one meal a week (any meal) that was composed of locally grown/raised food, it would cut down our oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels of oil per week.”  This represents a huge reduction in oil consumption by a relatively small act by many people.  And it is something we can do now regardless of government policy.
However, we need Uncle Sam’s help too. The government could find ways to encourage Americans to cut down on fuel consumption.  It could entail a tax cut for those who use less than a certain amount of electricity.  Another idea is to make bottle returns far more common.  Right now there are only a handful of states that offer bottle deposit refunds.  Bottle deposits ought to be a standard in this country.  When you recycle, it will conserve energy that would otherwise be used mining these products.
The other needed change is the public’s attitude.  Too many people act as though these problems are just minor annoyances and that a major dilemma will never affect or concern them.  It is selfish and ignorant to take an indifferent attitude.  As Americans, we ought to be leading the fight against global warming by demonstrating concrete ways to reduce our carbon footprint.  And leading the charge should be the people themselves.