The climate crisis
Climate Change has become a weak understatement for our current situation. It has morphed into a climate crisis. Not long ago discussion on the environment centred around whether the rising global temperature was a natural phenomenon or caused by humans. That uncertainty is over and the answer is clear. The claim that human activity is not responsible is overwhelmed by the scientific evidence1. We are the guilty ones, mainly because of our failure to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy while time was on our side. The discussion now is on how serious the crisis is. What will the impact be? Can we stop it? Can we slow it down? The world is starting to listen as the evidence piles up.
We are seeing the evidence around the world and many of us are actually experiencing it. Extreme floods, fires, droughts, storms, the Arctic melting, oceans rising, corals dying, the marine food chain breaking down, and a climbing global temperature are the signs of what lies before us and we know it will get worse.
The Paris Agreement2 was established in 2015 and since then, 197 countries have joined. Prior to the Paris meeting, the temperature had already risen 1 degree Celsius (° C). The aspirational target agreed on at the meeting was to keep the global temperature from rising more than 1.5° C and failing that, to keep it well below 2° C. Each country agreed to prepare a plan designed to produce a significant decline in carbon emissions by 2030 and to take protective action by means of adaptation and mitigation. The targets for each country were voluntary and not legally binding. Each country agreed to produce progress reports in 2025 and 2030.
However, temperature rise is not the only environmental issue related to the climate crisis. Numerous other related problems are occurring simultaneously. Biodiversity loss is one of the most critical. The loss of huge numbers of plants and animals is occurring at an alarming rate, mainly caused by human activity. The issue of biodiversity loss is so important we have devoted a special section to it on our website.
Deforestation is also intertwined with the climate crisis. When forests are destroyed, whether through wildfire or deliberate clearing, they release carbon. At the same time, they cease to fill their beneficial role as carbon sinks or absorbers. The importance of forests cannot be overstated. They are disappearing at a rapid rate, which adds to the increase in emissions. Ecosystems are our life support system and many are breaking down. They are essential because they help maintain a balanced environment. Another consequence of the climate crisis is rising ocean levels: already many millions of people are being forced to move to higher ground.
The rate at which we are using our natural resources is not sustainable because we are exceeding the planetary boundaries2-5, that is, using up resources that cannot be replaced or cannot be replenished at a maintenance rate. At the same time, we are overloading our planet everywhere with endless amounts of waste and toxic materials. Even without temperature rise we are in grave danger. We are physically destroying all the components of our planet that we need to survive. If we don’t stop we will vanish and the earth will recover without us.
It has taken us too long to grasp what is really happening. The majority of us in developed countries are still locked into our comfortable but excessive lifestyle. We resist reducing our consumption or losing some of our conveniences despite the fact that we are, on a per capita basis, some of the worst emitters. Many corporations are still forging ahead, business as usual, without regard for emissions. Some politicians and governments are ignoring the need for action and are taking the easy way out. Now we are burdened with a race against time as we move closer to environmental collapse. Our failure to take strong action has created a climate crisis.
To understand why the problems we have created are leading us down a destructive pathway that may lead to the collapse of our civilization, see The Problems.
To understand the actions that are required to prevent the worst outcome, see The Solutions.
1. Cook J, Oreskes N, Doran PT, et al. Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming. Environ Res Lett. 2016;11(4):048002. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002
2. UNFCCC United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Paris Agreement. Paris, France; 2015. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Paris_Agreement. Accessed October 27, 2018.
3. Steffen W, Rockström J, Richardson K, et al. Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. PNAS. August 2018:201810141. doi:10.1073/pnas.1810141115
4. Rockström J, Steffen W, Noone K, et al. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature. 2009;461(7263):472-475. doi:10.1038/461472a
5. Stockholm Resilience Centre. The nine planetary boundaries. https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/planetary-boundaries/about-the-research/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html. Published September 17, 2009. Accessed September 20, 2019.