Killing Planet Earth & Ourselves, What Are We Doing?

I’m a young Mexican immigrant who happens to be an environmentalist.  Or in today’s political climate, a recipe for “Shut up, because you have no voice”. But I do, so here we go.

We like to think that we, as humans, are a highly evolved species capable of anything the mind can imagine. Wheelbarrow? Check. Automobiles? Check. Airplanes? Check. Weapons of mass destruction? Check. Space exploration? Check. And let’s not forget about the wonders of the internet! Big check. Oh, wait, and perhaps one of our greatest accomplishments: altering the planet’s climate. Really big check!

We also like to think that we are invincible. I hate to break it to you, but we are not. During my fellowship (by the way, I’m a CivicSpark Climate fellow) I have been, among other things, researching the impacts of heat and increased temperatures (as influenced by climate change) on the human body. And I have come to realize that a big percentage of the population does not think of themselves as vulnerable to heat. We do not enjoy the idea of feeling vulnerable, much like we do not like the idea that our individual actions are, to one degree or another, harming the natural environment.

Heat, like many viral and bacterial infections, can become a silent killer. And this is how. The body’s natural response to heat exposure triggers multiple cascading events: an increase in heart rate leads to vasodilation, which in turn triggers the body’s sweat glands or the body’s cooling mechanism. Yes, the body’s physiological response mechanism is impressive and life-saving. But even the human body has its limits. Prolonged heat exposure compromises blood flow to critical internal organs. And while sweating helps cool the body, prolonged sweating depletes both plasma volume and electrolytes. Once heat exposure becomes severe enough the body’s thermoregulatory process is impaired, which can lead to an increase in internal body temperatures, and if not treated, can begin to impact the cardiac and nervous systems, to the point where organ failure and death is likely to ensue.

In short, the human body prefers to maintain its internal body core temperature at, or close to, 98.6°F. The body can adjust to extreme heat exposures, but it is a delicate balance. It is not invincible.

Planet Earth, to a certain extent, can too withstand exposure to heat. But much like the human body, it has its limits. In April 2018, the average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration passed 410 parts per million, the highest in human history. The planet has its own mechanisms to adjust to natural heat, but the rapid increase in anthropogenic heat sources is anything but natural. In short, the planet is reaching the breaking point where its thermoregulatory process will soon, if it has not already, become impaired to the point where we kill the planet, and ourselves.

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that we live on the same planet we are destroying? Maybe it’s irony, or perhaps it’s karma, that we are destroying our home and ourselves. But hey, I guess every great thing must come to an end. But should it?  

Even if it is for selfish reasons like our own survival, we need to carefully and critically think about our actions as they relate to the environment. The changing climate does not only affect icebergs, it affects our public health in more ways than we perhaps care to realize. And at what cost?

Edgar Rincon Estrella is an AmeriCorps CivicSpark Fellow with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Edgar views CivicSpark as an opportunity to learn how the public and private sector can work together to address the present challenge that is climate change. He graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in International Relations.