The week of April 17, 2016

Dispatches from the front lines of a warming planet

By Jesse Hicks

In this issue of the Kernel, looking forward to Earth Day, we’re focused on the most important question currently facing humanity: global climate change.

First, Christine Ro looks at how climate change has already begun to afflict the most vulnerable among us. As environmental disasters become more severe—from flooding to drought, tsunamis to earthquakes—it’s predictably the poor who are most at risk. We have already seen the term “climate change refugee” enter the lexicon; Ro details how these at-risk communities are responding to a changing world, doing their best to make one another safe. There are no easy answers to their plight, and the questions they face now may be a grim precursor to those we’re just barely begin to consider as a global society.

From the effects of global warming to one of its major causes: Nithin Coca asks whether satellites can help us better understand deforestation, carbon emissions, and just what we’re in the process of doing to the earth. For almost the entirety of human history, we’ve lacked a truly global perspective, one that accounts for the entire world. That’s in part what’s allowed us to reach this point. As Coca points out, satellites—a band of prosthetic eyes circling the planet—may finally offer us a picture that would force us to change.

Back on ground level, Rick Paulas talks to John Sears, who’s spent years walking California, like a roaming preacher with three mules in tow, spreading his unique gospel of environmental conservation. In his own, perhaps quixotic, way, Sears agitates against what he sees as a growing “Megatropolis,” a man-made world that’s pushing out the natural spaces he declares essential to our humanity. So he walks, mules following behind him, talking to anyone who’ll listen, pleading his case for a different world.

Finally, closer to home, Amrita Khalid compares the environmental impact of ordering from Amazon versus going to the store. It’s the kind of question we might ask every day, in taking a small degree of responsibility for our personal consumption. (Another question to ask, of course, might be: Do I really need to buy this?) The calculations, as Khalid shows, can get complicated, but that doesn’t mean the question isn’t worth asking. It’s a start.

Enjoy the issue.

Photo via Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed