Enacting Change as a Physicist

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Enacting Change as a Physicist


Molly McDonough, SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma Executive Committee, Associate Zone Counselor Representative

 Molly McDonough. Photo courtesy of the SPS National Office.Over the last 650,000 years, the Earth has weathered seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat. The end of the last cycle, around 11,700 years ago, marks the beginning of human civilization.1

With humans ultimately came industrialization and a marked deviation from Earth’s past climate cycles. In the past century, the global sea level has risen about 8 inches, surface temperatures have risen by approximately 1.62 ℉, and the ice sheets in Antarctica have rapidly shrunk.1

As physicists, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves and to communicate the evidence supporting the severity of the climate crisis in the age of false information and climate change denial.

The SPS and ΣΠΣ community expressed concern for the climate crisis at the 2019 Physics Congress, and as a result, the Society of Physics Students National Office voted to release the following SPS and ΣΠΣ Statement on the Climate Crisis:

“The Society of Physics Students and the Sigma Pi Sigma National Council encourage chapters to sponsor, engage in, and pursue outreach events that promote awareness of the scientific basis of human-induced climate change to the general public. Furthermore, chapters are encouraged to champion initiatives that address the climate crisis and to practice environmental sustainability.”

It is critical that we call upon ourselves as scientists to advocate for climate change education to our public policymakers, government officials, and college and university administrators. If we don’t take steps to educate those around us and make changes in our communities, climate change will be catastrophic to animals, ecosystems, and society. As the primary cause of climate change, humanity must do its part to reduce its ecological impact.

Here are a few ways you can make an impact on climate change:

1. Speak up and vote!

This is the single most significant impact you can have on global climate change. Contact your local government officials (find their information at usa.gov/elected-officials) and encourage Congress to enact new laws that limit carbon emissions and require polluters to pay for the emissions they produce. If your elected officials are unwilling to change their stance on climate change, get out and vote. Voting in local and federal elections is critical to increasing awareness around climate change and getting the right people in office to make change happen. Additionally, the AIP Mather Public Policy Internship hosted by the Society of Physics Students places interns at congressional offices on Capitol Hill and at national laboratories. This program allows physicists like you to engage in science policy and make a difference on a federal level.

2. Use renewable energy.

At home, choose a utility company that generates at least half of its energy from solar or wind power. Review your electric, gas, and water usage to see if you can make reductions. At your college or university, bring up sustainability concerns with your department, student government, or university administration and see if they can provide support for enacting change.

3. Rethink your commute.

Using public transit can drastically reduce your carbon footprint. Additionally, walking or biking to class is a great alternative to driving a car. Either of these options will reduce fuel consumption and the generation of air pollution and greenhouse gases. If a car is necessary, consider a more fuel-efficient option, such as a hybrid or electric car, or carpool with a friend!

4. Remember that small steps make a big difference.

By working to eliminate personal food waste and consumption of single-use plastics, everyone can contribute to reducing waste. Two major tenets of the recycling process are reduction and reuse of consumables. Reduce your plastic use by opting for reusable or compostable containers and bags, and reuse plastic bags, water bottles, and other containers.

As we continue our fight to save the planet, I encourage you to use the SPS community to support your efforts. The Society of Physics Students offers awards for students to support their outreach efforts, such as the Future Faces of Physics Award and the Marsh W. White Award. Most importantly, within SPS there are thousands of bright, passionate scientists who are ready to work with you to make a lasting difference for our planet.

1. climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

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