On Friday, September 20,2019, thousands of people across 120 countries came together for the climate change strike action. This universal activism is clear signal to politicians and big business, that society is beginning to sit up, notice and take action to prevent an existential crisis to life. There will soon be little wiggle room left to politicians and CEOs for climate change denials.
50% of all CO2 in atmosphere today was emitted after 1990. Since 1950, science debunked the theory of oceans absorbing CO2 emissions. By 1980, science definitively showed the causal relationship between CO2 and global warming. It is amazing how so little has been done since we knew as a species that CO2 emissions are a cause for global warming. Why have we allowed the global temperature to rise by +1 Celsius? Why are we staring the catastrophic irreversible tipping point of +2 Celsius for us to take urgent action to transform our relationship with the earth?
The Earth has gone through many changes since the Big Bang. We are now in the Anthropocene- age of man. We have permanently altered the nature of the planet. This human induced change has benefited most of humanity, enabling us 4x our population and GDP in the 20th century. But it has been genocidal to other living species. 95% of flora and fauna that existed at the start of the industrial revolution in the 1700s have been destroyed. In April 2019, we saw the extinction of the White Rhino. Pangolins and Elephants across the world are being hunted to extinction. Millions of birds and bees are dying.
All parts of the earth are affected. In the global south in August 2019, we watched in horror as the size of New York burned across the Amazon because of farmers burning the forest to clear for cattle ranching and grain production. 17% of the Amazon has been cleared for wood, cattle ranches and grain farms. By the time 21% of the Amazon is lost, it will be irreversibly damaged and will permanently turn from forest to Savannah. This will be tragic. The Amazon traps nutrition containing dust from the Africa Sahara and uses this to farm the largest forest in the world. It sucks up water from rivers that would otherwise flood. Retains ocean sized waters in its roots and transports water up its trunks to create rivers in the cloud through moisture from its leaves. The forests climb to the clouds sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere and releasing Oxygen and moisture. Hence why the Amazon is called Lungs of the World. Winds transport the Oxygen it makes across the world, making life possible. It’s moisture is transported to the Andes mountains which serve as a barrier that then cause the moisture to turn to rain. The rain goes into the rivers across the Amazon which are then sucked by the forest and the process repeated. Some of the Sahara dust trapped by the Amazon are also transported by rivers into the Ocean, where plankton feeds off them. Fish feed off the plankton and humans off the fish. Without the Amazon, this global feedback loop will be in serious danger.
In the global North, the Arctic- the Earths cooler is disappearing. Temperatures in parts of the Arctic that used to be sub-zero in summer were at 10 Celsius in the summer of 2019. Permafrost in the Arctic- a methane and carbon store for millennia is melting. Carbon stores are being released. Methane a far more potent warmer than CO2 is being released. This portends an irreversible positive feedback loop that will lead to more warming, more ice sheet melting, more methane and CO2 emissions and then more warming. Dangerous and unknown preserved bacteria and viruses that have been buried in Arctic ice since eternity are getting warmed back to life- presenting serious global public health implications.
In the wind-swept Caribbean and cities lying off the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans prone to wind extremities, adverse weather conditions have increased multiple fold. In 2019 alone, Mozambique suffered 2 severe hurricanes killing thousands and sinking entire cities under water. Several hurricanes ravaged the Bahamas and the Eastern Board of the Caribbean islands and North America leveling whole cities and killing thousands. Massive typhoons have swept through South-East China as well as Indonesia. In fact Jakarta the Indonesia capital is sinking and the government is now moving the city upland.
In years past, it would have been unprecedented to have so many adverse weather events in the space of a year not to mention within a single season as we have seen in 2019.
Our greed is changing our planet and destroying other life. It will ultimately destroy us.
There are 3 approaches to tackling this crisis- the mitigation approach, the adaptive approach and the transformative approach.
1. The Mitigation Approach:
The mitigation approach posits that we can prevent earth’s climate from reaching the potentially catastrophic +2 Celsius temperature change by reducing fossil fuel use and achieving CO2 neutrality across all human activities. Proponents seek to switch humans to electric vehicles.
They seek to eliminate fossil fuel use and switch all energy sources to renewable wind, solar and hydrothermal. They want you to use less water by reducing the time you spend in the shower and turning off running water when doing dishes and brushing your teeth.
This has its benefits but will not be enough to prevent our Journey towards catastrophic +2% warming. It seeks to keep the current economic system and its unsustainable consumerism and population growth which is responsible for getting us to this crisis in the first place. It is at best tokenism at scale and is dangerous because it makes us all feel we are doing something to stem climate change. Unfortunately ‘these somethings’ are not enough to reverse our reckless harms to earth of the last 300 years. We need more radical sacrifices that require a complete transformation of our civilization- but are we willing to make this sacrifice and do away with the living comforts and high business profits that we have become used to?
2. The Adaptive Approach
On the opposite end, the adaptive approach says that we are too late to stop climate change. Governments need to start moving cities to higher ground. Regions in the Northern half of the world need to adapt to warmer weather. Low lying cities need to build dykes and barriers to protect from flooding and ocean surges. Cities in hurricane and tsunami prone regions need to be deserted. People need to stop depending on imported food- which will become increasingly unreliable due to unpredictable seasons. They must begin to depend on local farming. Drought prone farmlands need to be abandoned and new farmlands set up in areas expected to receive more rainfall. Proponents of this approach estimate that it will cost the world only 0.4% of GDP by 2100 vs 4.5% (worth at least ~$10+ trillion) which will be the cost of not taking adaptive measures now. The adaptive approach is pragmatic. It may indeed be too late to reverse climate change so we need to begin adaptive measures but this should not stop us from taking transformative action to try to reverse climate change- even if impossible.
3. The Transformative Approach
On the extreme end of interventions, proponents of the transformative approach say with radical change to our civilization we can heal the Earth. We can recreate the conditions for the Earth to begin to regenerate itself if we make the required immense sacrifices to our way of living.
For example ‘transformationists’ smirk while proponents of the mitigation approach rail against fossil fuels for causing CO2 emissions. They are furious that ‘mitigationists’ ignore an even more serious cause of CO2 emissions and global warming- this is the Meat, Dairy, Cattle and agriculture industry. This industry is responsible for 35% of Green house emissions vs. 11% from the fossil fuel industry. See chart below-
It is easier to create electric vehicles as it aligns with economic interests than to ask people to give up meat,dairy and industrial farming. Giving up beef and other meat not only helps to reduce green house emissions, it preserves the forest, protects indigenous peoples and conserves water.
Proponents of the transformative approach propose that we should stop fishing. Industrial fishing has become so large scale and automated that it is wiping out large amounts of fish species to levels that nature is unable to replenish.
The transformative approach requires us to completely change our diet and become vegan.
The transformative approach also requires us to completely eliminate the use of plastic. That plastic in all forms is non-degradable, is responsible for contaminating land and water sources and killing fish in the ocean. It is soaking into the blood of humans and causing cancers. We would have to give up plastics entirely.
Transportation and frequent traveling by air and water are also leading causes of green house emissions. We will need to stop traveling. We will need to start working from home to reduce traffic congestion and the emissions occurring due to people living in suburbs and transporting themselves daily to work in the center of cities.
The transformative approach requires us to upend our current approach for economic success – driven by externalizing pollution to maximize profits. Big business needs to accept lower margins in exchange for being responsible and absorbing the costs in eliminating dirty production practices. Humans must stop showing status by rhino horns, ivory and serving pangolin meat. Long accepted business practices of industrial scale production, farming, fishing and logging need to be abandoned for smaller scale, self-replenishing production methods- much like our ancestors did in past.Our population growth is unsustainable. Couples must reduce number of births and have less than 3 children at the most. We have to stop owning cars and single family homes. We must start using mass transit and living in high rise condos. We must evacuate land, reduce city sprawl and leave the earth to regenerate evacuated lands. We must move from ownership to kinship- human success must be redefined from accumulation to sharing- like our ancestors lived. Prices must rise, production volumes must fall and humans must learn to do without.
We must move from meat based diets to vegan. We must reduce births per woman. We must have less possessions. We must eat less. We must travel less. We must show off less.
Are humans ready to make these sacrifices?
I am a climate pessimist because humans are taking the easier approach of mitigation and adaptation. What we need is to take on the transformative approach on a global basis for us to stand a chance. But well people don’t want to change. People refuse to make the required sacrifice and so our fauna and flora will continue to be destroyed. Mass extinction events of ‘wild animals’ will continue at unprecedented traction until we alone are left with our domesticated animals. The Earth will boil, mass migrations will occur from poor to rich nations and from drought and weather destroyed lands to surviving lands. Wars will be fought and ultimately our civilization will be destroyed as no region on earth will have enough water, oxygen and tolerable weather conditions to sustain human life.
And then while we are gone, Earth will regenerate itself and new forms of life will arise. But we and our greed will be gone forever- unless we take transformative action today!