We have known about the dangers of global climate change for decades, but we have continued to delay decisive action year after and decade after decade. Now we are careening towards a Point of No Return which threatens irreversible damage to life-support systems and possible extinction of human life unless we REVERSE COURSE immediately.
The Paris Climate Agreement, signed by the EU and more than 190 nations since 2015, is an agreement by governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperatures below a 2°C increase (from pre-industrial levels) and make efforts to limit this increase to 1.5°C. This monumental agreement is meant to legally bind governments to avert catastrophic global climate change. The problem is that globally we are nowhere near reaching these targets.
What is the Point of No Return?
The authors of the Paris Climate Agreement are hopeful that the earth can handle a global temperature rise of just below 2°C to prevent tipping into a scenario called “Hothouse Earth.”
“If this were to happen, the world would become far warmer than it’s been for at least the past 1.2 million years. Sea levels around the globe would likely rise between 33 and 200 feet higher than they are now.” –Business Insider
It may be the case, however, that we need to keep warming to a maximum of 1.5°C to avoid descending into Hothouse Earth. If we are conservative, we should aim for the lower target of a 1.5°C rise in temperatures.
If we fail to dramatically ramp up the transition to clean energy and cleaner land use, we will be left with an increasingly uninhabitable planet. What does that look like, you ask?
If the earth’s average temperature warms by 2.0°C climate models predict that the climate will become dramatically unstable and conventional feedback systems disrupted making a higher temperature rise inevitable. Dramatic sea level rise would inundate coastal areas and large swaths of land while making deserts of large areas while a rise of 4 to 5°C would make the earth uninhabitable. Scientists say that we are entering the earth’s sixth mass extinction and have sounded the alarm about the tale tale loss of vertebrate species which entails “massive anthropogenic erosion of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services essential to civilization.”
If we don’t get this right, it’s game over for all of us.
How Much Time Do We Have to Act Decisively?
In August 2018, a study attempted to identify a deadline for action to reach a 2°C. The study found that by 2035 we must have begun to replace 2% of global energy needs from fossil fuels to clean energy sources EACH YEAR. On my reading this entails a 50% reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions by 2055 and a 100% transition to clean energy and agriculture before 2085. 2% per year may sound easy, but between the 1990s and 2017 clean energy only grew by 3.8%. We will have to pick up the pace technologically, politically, and as consumers if we are to reach the 2% per year transition required in the near future, while aiming to reduce our dependence of fossil fuels by 5% per year as soon as possible. This 5% per year beginning in 2019 is what is called for in the most recent report on climate change prepared by some 150 scientists for the IPCC in October 2018. This report, using the most updated scientific data, gives us 12 years to reduce carbon emissions by 50%. See news coverage here, actual report summary here.
What Can We Do?
We must support leaders in both government and business who take seriously this threat and denounce those who don’t. We must vote in climate leaders and vote out climate-change deniers. We must make purchases inline with our values to reduce our contributions to climate change. This blog is intended to help you make good decisions along these lines. Below are some starting points. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.
1. We Must Transition to Clean Sources of Energy
In short, this means transitions from fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) to clean energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, tidal etc). Utilities must begin to increase the amount of electricity generated with clean sources. Individual consumers can install solar, and possibly wind or geothermal to help this transition. Individual consumer can purchase and use electric or other non-carbon fueled vehicles. Investors must divest in fossil fuel companies and fuel sources and invest in clean energy generation and sources. All coal plants must be replaced by solar, wind, hydro or geothermal by 2030.
2. We Must Transition to Clean Use of Land
Apart from energy, the other major source of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the way we use land and feed ourselves. We must stop clearing forests, especially rainforests in order to graze cows. Doing so is a double whammy for the climate. Trees reduce CO2 and cows emit significant levels of the greenhouse gas methane (CH4). Individual consumers can reduce the amount of beef and diary they consume as well as the amounts of meat they consume generally. You can also be an advocate for vegan and vegetarian options at restaurants, schools, and everywhere food is sold or served. For more on the harm by livestock go here. On the additional benefits of eating less or no meat go here.
3. We Must Change Our View of Economic Growth
We must abandon the logic that economic growth is an end and good in itself. It is not. It is destructive to the natural world. The increasing consumption of goods and the wasting of goods and energy is destructive behavior which is bad for the environment, but has been seen as good for the economy. This is why we must stop focusing on GDP and begin to use and advocate for other measures of human flourishing such as GNH (gross national happiness).
4. The Human Population Should Be Allowed to Decrease
For our own good, the good of the human species, we should stop being concerned about ageing populations. In 2018 we have more than 7.5 Billion people on the planet, up from 6 billion in 2000, up from 5 billion in 1990, with a projected 9.7 billion inhabitants by 2050. Higher numbers of humans mean more consumption of limited resources (material and energy), and greater damage to the natural environment. We need to stop seeing articles like this, or this, or this, bemoaning the fact that some countries are beginning to have negative population growth. Negative population growth must be welcomed as good news (in short, the problem of declining productivity can be alleviated by automation and robotics).
We have a lot of work to do, but the wind is at our backs!
These kinds of reports appear weekly:
Markets will advance green agenda–even if some governments lose interest
Get out of fossil fuels while you can:
Carbon ‘bubble’ could cost global economy trillions
But don’t let those reports make you complacent! The problem is the speed of our response and transition! Need a sober reminder? World ‘nowhere near on track’ to avoid warming beyond 1.5C target (27 September 2018).
Let’s get busy building a new world and fighting for our future.