As if 2020 wasn’t already bad enough, Russian mining company Norilsk Nickel spilled 21,000 tons of diesel fuel in a remote region inside Russia’s portion of the Arctic Circle June 4, causing Russian president Vladimir Putin to declare a national state of emergency.
Rosprirodnazor, Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, stated that 15,000 tons of the fuel spilled into water, seeping into the nearby Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers and nearly all their tributaries.
The tank holding the fuel seemed to have collapsed due to the thawing of the permafrost ground below it, suggested Norilsk Nickel’s First Vice President Sergey Dyachenko. Permafrost, a layer of ground that is permanently frozen over for two or more years, is often what buildings and structures are built on in Arctic latitudes. Rising temperatures due to global warming are beginning to thaw out these surfaces, leading to major structural damage and, in this case, substantial damage to the environment and water supply that will last decades.
The most alarming aspect of this situation to me is the warning it flashes to the rest of humanity. The spill itself is bad enough, but the greater problem is that global warming directly caused it. This is one of the first major events directly attributed to rising temperatures due to global warming, and similar occurrences will soon follow if we continue to reject the environmental problems that face us as a whole.
We as a human race understand the disastrous effects that global warming will pose if we continue to act in an irresponsible and non-sustainable manner, but now, clearly, those effects are starting to hit us. We tend to cold-shoulder problems until they are in our face screaming at us, so the silver lining to this disaster may be that it will force governments across the world to wake up and start doing something to save the Earth.
The time frame in which we as individuals can just worry about these issues for a short while, then return to our normal lives, is waning. Temperatures will rise even more (they have already risen 1.8° F since 1900 according to the WWF), prolonged droughts will damage agriculture, Arctic species will die out as their habitats are destroyed, ocean levels will rise to levels high enough to damage coastal cities, pollution will harm our health, our global freshwater supply will deplete, and much, much more.
I am not denouncing other issues that are currently at hand. A fierce pandemic and tense race relations within the US, as well as countless other humanitarian issues across the world, should of course be dealt with in the short-run. However, these environmental problems are coming for us all, and we must do more to tackle them in the long-run.
For the US, rejoining the Paris Agreement would be a good start, as well as placing regulations on environmentally destructive practices like fracking and deforestation. However, that is up to individuals of power, and not you.
As is the case with many national or global issues, you probably feel like there is nothing you can do as an individual. However, on top of writing to politicians and signing petitions, there are simple changes you can (and frankly, must, eventually) make to reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to slowing the effects of climate change.
Global warming may seem like a daunting issue, but we can minimize its effects if we all contribute together. Recycle. Turn off the lights. Make sustainable long-term investments like buying an electric car or solar panels. Remove the stigma surrounding environmentalism. Post on your story. Spread awareness. Make a donation. Sign a petition. Write to your district’s representative. VOTE. These actions may seem small, but can contribute to real change when done in masses. Let’s continue the spirit of making change we’ve already seen in our country and across the world in the last few weeks. Our generation must save the Earth, before it’s too late.