Humans are at the pinnacle of technological and cultural prowess; we are propelling humongous telescopes to space and using microscopic machines to treat diseases from the inside. However, in all the sheen of this advancement, we often forget that we are just tenants on Earth.
The risks at hand
- Rising seas and increased coastal flooding
Since 1880, the average global sea level has increased by about eight inches, especially along the U.S. East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. The increasing worldwide temperature is accelerating this rise of water, putting low-lying coastal properties at flooding risk.
- More destructive natural catastrophes and new diseases
Scientific evidence strongly shows that climate change is increasing certain types of extreme weather events, including heat waves, coastal flooding, extreme precipitation events, and severe droughts. Global warming creates more powerful hurricanes. More than 11 per cent of the world population (around 800 million people) is vulnerable to various extreme weather conditions. We have also seen an increase in fatal forest fires. The warmer weather in cold places paves the way for microbes that hitherto, were unable to survive in the cold.
- Loss of wildlife and marine ecosystem
It is hardly surprising that global warming can potentially wipe out diverse flora and fauna from this planet. The Earth is warming up faster than it was 10,000 years ago and this is not giving the species enough time to adapt to the warmer environment. This has a winnowing effect; species with lesser adaptability, niche or colder environments are being filtered out. An area of coastal ecosystems larger than New York City is destroyed every year, removing an important buffer from extreme weather for coastal communities and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Even though this article enlists just a few effects of climate change we see now, the shocking fact is that climate change has just begun. Since the 1800s, the mean temperature change has just been 0.8 degrees Celsius and it has resulted in immeasurable losses of human life. A study conducted by WHO reported, “250,000 deaths a year from climate change is a ‘conservative estimate’.”
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that by 2100, this would be 2 degrees Celsius and through scientific models, sea level, by then, is estimated to rise a whole 25 metres (imagine waves crashing over 80 feet). Climate change is, therefore, a more urgent issue than ever at this point in time because if we don’t slow down by 2030-2035, we could pass the point of no return with an apocalyptic future waiting for us.
The roadblocks in the way
It was almost 30 years ago that the potentially disruptive impact of heat-trapping emissions from burning fossil fuels and rain forests became front-page news. It had taken a century of accumulating science, and a big shift in perceptions, for that to happen. The situation today has worsened and how! Today we face something called Climate Change which is unlike any environmental problem we’ve ever faced. We can’t “fix” it the way we’ve started to fix smog or the ozone hole, with circumscribed regulations and treaties and limited technological changes. It is too big in space, time and complexity and requires a cumulative effort of almost 8 billion teeming souls thriving on this planet.
And funnily enough, the causes for the same are too obvious like reliability on fossil fuels as our primary source of energy, large scale deforestation, urbanization and industrialization, superstitious beliefs, traditions and human greed which causes us to kill animals, use of non-biodegradable substances, etc. But we humans do literally nothing about it. What explains the lack of decisive progress on human-driven climate change? Who or what are the main culprits?
Some of the theories stated are lack of research funding, industry influence on politics, poor media coverage, and doubt-sowing by those invested in fossil fuels or opposed to government intervention. One might state Agatha Christie’s famous Murder on the Orient Express: “All suspects are guilty.”
It’s high time to pull up our socks and start working towards it. Concrete steps have been taken by major organizations like the United Nations to alter the havoc created by human intervention. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a programme of the United Nations, coordinates the organization’s environmental activities and assists developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices, banning toxic materials, providing safe drinking water, tackling fish stock depletion, etc.
Recently, in 2015, almost every nation in the world signed the Paris Agreement to curb climate change to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius. But unfortunately, only a handful of countries among a whooping number of 197 have been able to follow it. More so, major emitting countries like Russia, Turkey and Iran haven’t cared to sign the treaty.
Following through on a campaign promise, Donald Trump — a climate change controversialist who has claimed climate change is a “hoax” perpetuated by China — announced in June 2017 his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. Pioneers of world leadership who supposedly should lead their people by example seem to be turning a blind eye to the most burning issue of the time. Similarly, Brazil was once a global leader on climate change, but the election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s president has thrown the country’s status as an environmental beacon into doubt.
The Future Prospects
The jeopardy to our planet has never been more real. The cold, hard data has never been more foreboding. The necessity to act has never been more imminent. And incompetent leadership could not have had worse timing.
On one hand, you have a cohesive pro-environment force comprising aware governments, civilian activists and alacritous NGOs. On the other, you have feisty populists who have ridden campaigns of hyperbole and braggadocio to power, and replaced intellect with impulses as the mantra for governing. It’s a fierce bout, with the fate of our planet placed right at its center.
The denouement, however, is that we are moving ahead. Individual lifestyle changes mean nothing in the face of government and corporate inaction, and that’s where players have stepped up.
The UK now has more renewable energy capacity than fossil fuel capacity. It has gone without burning coal ever since May 17 this year, a post-Industrial-Revolution record. France, the world’s biggest exporter of electricity, derives 72% of it from non-polluting nuclear energy.
On the industrial front, Google announced in an April 2018 blog post that it now purchases more renewable energy than it consumes as a company. Apple, in its turn, announced just five days later that it is now globally powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
The same day that Donald Trump announced America’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a coalition of US states called the United States Climate Alliance vowed to uphold the treaty’s targets within their state borders, independently of the federal government. As of April 2019, the coalition had 23 member states, representing half the country’s population.
Furthermore, American withdrawal from the agreement has just made the rest of the world even more resolute in seeing it through. Only weeks after Trump’s announcement, the remaining members of the G-20 issued a cohesive call proclaiming that the Paris Agreement was “irreversible”, regardless of the Trump administration’s views.
Whilst this fresh burst of populist browbeating might seem worrisome, it just drives the committed people to strive even harder. For every climate change cynic, there are multitudes spreading the right word and inciting positive action. We’re seeing the minority of debilitating skeptics drowned out by a forceful majority committed to securing a healthier ecosystem.
So while such challenges might be new-found, a solid group of influencers both within and outside these outlying systems continue to work to ensure that our planet remains a secure home for generations to come.