Climate Change has inevitably become the biggest issue of our time and somehow our generation stands at such a key decision point which will end up determining as to how much longer life on this planet will survive.
We have already witnessed stark changes in nature in our relatively minuscule lifetimes – from shifting weather patterns that threaten food production to the rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding. The changes have been nothing short of alarming and if something is not done right now, it will be too late for anything.
The evidence available on climate change is overwhelming anyway, yet to put things in perspective, let’s have a look at some of the facts:
The rise in global temperature –
The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century. 2016 was the warmest year on record and the months from January through September, except for June, were the warmest on record for those respective months.
The shrinking of Ice sheets –
Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost an average of 286 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016 and during the same time period, Antarctica lost about 127 billion tons of ice per year.
The rise in sea level –
The global sea level rose about 8 inches in the last century. The rate in the last two decades alone is nearly double that of the last century and is increasing slightly every year.
Who is to Blame for all that?
Rick Perry, the US Energy Secretary, during a recent congressional hearing, remarked, “to stand up and say that 100% of global warming is because of human activity, I think on its face, is just indefensible”.
Climate scientists say they are more than 95 percent certain that human influence has been the dominant cause of global warming since the mid-20th century. They are as sure about this as they are about cigarette smoke causing cancer.
We humans become the primary cause of this warming when by causing too much carbon to be released into the atmosphere, like when we choose to extract and burn coal, oil, and gas, or cut down and burn forests. It is not surprising that developed economies such as the US, Canada, UK, Germany and others, with their per-capita Carbon Dioxide emissions in the range of 10-18 t are credited with most of the blame.
As we know, Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main heat-trapping gas largely responsible for most of the warming. So, a danger threshold of 400 ppm was set for CO2 but we are already way beyond it. In March 2015, the global average reached this threshold, and in September 2016 the world reached a point of no-return: CO2 levels are highly unlikely to dip below 400 ppm again.
In more than a hundred nations, thousands of scientists have provided overwhelming evidence pointing to a clear conclusion: We humans are the main cause. We’re the ones who clear trees that absorb CO2 and burn fossil fuels, sending heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. It’s not a one person or one nation issue anymore. We all have our fingerprints to show as evidence in our planet’s degradation. While it may appear that it is the developing economies that are contributing mostly to global emissions, in reality it is the developed economies that are still the major contributors. This sets the wrong trend.
The question is – how much of it is justified?
The nations have people to feed and businesses to run but at what cost? The recent carbon credit scheme whereby the purchase of carbon credits by one nation from another, provided monetary benefits that helped optimize the use of resources and boost economic growth. However, with the big league in denial mode, the fundamental question remains as to how long this method will sustain.
How is the denial going to hurt?
It is known that the United States is the world’s largest economy with a GDP of $19.4 trillion and has the largest military budget amounting to $622 billion. This gives the US the power to strengthen global climate policies but instead, to everyone’s shock, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, weakening efforts to combat global warming. The process of pulling the US out of the landmark Paris Agreement has formally started, three years after the deal came into force. The president’s speech was the most sweeping assertion of an “America first” foreign policy.
The Ecological Impact
Talking about the effects of climate change in the US, different parts of the country will face different risks. Coastal flooding is projected to increase drastically in vulnerable South-eastern states; Charleston, South Carolina, could experience 180 tidal floods per year by 2045. Extreme heat could cause thousands of premature deaths and billions in lost work hours in the Southern Great Plains, by the end of the century.
If one holds the notion that these are not immediate risks and there are enough resources and time to tackle these risks, one couldn’t be more wrong. The U.S. is already paying a heavy price for climate change. For instance, a powerful ocean heat wave struck the Northeast and devastated the region’s lobster fishery.
The decision of the US to leave the Paris Agreement is a threat to the economic competitiveness of the country as well. While other countries race ahead with investment and innovation for a sustainable environment, the US will face regulatory uncertainty and fragmentation. In addition to all that, clean energy is being touted as the next big employer of this century. With the US in denial it is likely that the Americans will lose out on these new job opportunities, while other nations grab the competitive and technological advantages that a low-carbon future offers.
The age old adage of “With great power comes greater responsibilities” couldn’t have been truer than it is now for the US. Being the superpower that it is, the US has the responsibility to not just its citizens but to the rest of the world as well, and expedient decisions like these will be harmful.
We hope that sometime soon and before it is too late, Uncle Sam will realize that Climate Change is for real. If nothing is done immediately, the consequences will be fatal!