Climate Crisis: The Solutions—Building a Pathway to Survival
What must we do?
Fortunately humans are a resilient species and there is still time to reduce further damage. We cannot reverse the damage that is already done. When we do stop emissions, the temperature will continue to rise to an average of another 0.6° C, where it will remain for a very long time1–3. Sea level will continue to rise, oceans will continue to heat up, and frozen parts of the planet will continue to thaw. It took a long time for these problems to start and it will also take a long time to stop. It is essential we understand that every good action we do reinforces the chance of protecting the remaining living conditions on our planet. We know the outcome is a question of degrees of difference. It is not an all or nothing scenario.
If we are going to win the battle we will need to employ every weapon in our arsenal. This is no longer the time to pick and choose. Politicians who resist action or look for an easy way out are a menace to civilization and have no business holding a leadership position. People who complain about the unavoidable sacrifices and inconveniences will have to face reality. What we need is a complete shift in attitude from the complacency that still dominates society to the acceptance of the different world we occupy.
Economic growth is frequently mentioned by the media in a positive light. This is not so! Economic growth is the major obstacle to reducing emissions and must undergo a systemic change. The only acceptable economic growth occurs when the emissions produced by the initial growth results in the removal of future emissions. For example, building a solar panel creates emissions, but the panel replacing the existing energy source stops future emissions. Attention must be focused on the transformation to renewable energy within three decades. For example, changing to renewables for energy-intensive activities such as transportation and home heating, would comply with this requirement.
The remaining budget of carbon emissions estimated to be allowable for the temperature to stay below 1.5° C is 420 Gigatons (Gt) over the next ten years. Surpassing that number would mean the rise in temperature will probably exceed 1.5° C. If that happens our target would be to stay below 2° C. Scientists calculate the extra half-degree will cause a significant worsening of our planet’s condition4. If we aim to meet the demanding target of 1.5 there are several other positive actions we can utilize along with the shift to renewable energy.
The technology needed to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequester it in the ground or reuse it in another way is available5. Up to now this method is limited and needs to be expanded to a much larger scale for effective use. Whether or not it will be effective at scale is still debatable.
Reforestation or planting trees on a massive scale6, finding ways to prevent further damage to existing forests, and developing a plan to protect ecosystems are effective means of reducing greenhouse gases and maintaining biodiversity. As the British writer and environmentalist George Monbiot puts it, “There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It’s called a tree.”7
Reducing meat consumption could also make a significant difference: livestock production accounts for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions8. A change to a more plant-based diet would also have major health benefits. A reduction in livestock would free large amounts of land for growing cereals, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. It would help prevent soil erosion, save fresh water, and lower the use of fertilizer.
A national carbon tax would compel corporations and large companies to seek innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gases and raise the awareness of citizens. But to be effective, a carbon tax must be significant and increased yearly in order to provide the incentive to develop and implement non-emitting technologies. In 2019 there are 46 nations and 28 jurisdictions (states, provinces, cities) that have chosen to use the carbon tax.
Finding ways to initiate huge numbers of community projects where people work together to reduce carbon emissions has great potential. There is strength in numbers when people face an important challenge. There are already some community groups in action.
Funding developing countries lacking the resources to prepare for the impact of the changing climate is essential. It serves the best interests of everyone to assist populations of all countries to remain in their homeland. Without help, massive migrations, far exceeding the current floods of migrants, could occur as desperate people are forced to ignore legal boundaries in search of survival.
Regardless of what actions we take the final outcome is not predictable. Mitigation and adaptation strategies are critical to our protection plan.
On numerous occasions during the past few years, David Attenborough, the famous and respected naturalist, has pointed out we can’t solve the climate crisis or its related problems, such as biodiversity loss, unless we deal with the enormous population growth. According to the United Nations we are adding about 83 million people each year. This unprecedented dilemma is caused by the sharp increases in population in a small number of countries in Africa and Asia. To slow the population growth we need to ensure education for women and promote global policies to reduce family size.
How can we do it?
If we actually carried out the necessary actions without further delay the outcome would be less destructive than currently feared. Technology is moving forward on many fronts around the world at an accelerating rate, including the field of renewable energy. Some of the major developments in electrification are occurring at an amazing pace. Examples are public transit vehicles of several kinds such as electric buses, trains, and cars; retrofitted houses called “passive houses” that use heat-recovery exchange ventilators. Transportation and home heating are two of the largest contributors of greenhouse gases. Alter that and we have a leap forward. Many countries in Europe are already well into these technological advances and others will soon follow.
Alas, our past behaviour does not offer much hope that we will take the necessary action, but as long as the possibility exists, we must hope. Maybe sometime soon enough people will get fired up, drag others along with them and reverse the tide.
Success is more likely if countries collaborate. We will need to form a consortium of nations for the purpose of creating an international plan of action. Disparate nations working together presents a challenge, but this obstacle can be overcome by the overwhelming magnitude of the crisis. We already have a nucleus for such a group, the leaders of the Paris Agreement. They are in the best position to take on the work of building the task force we are going to need.
1. IPCC. Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis, 10.7.1 Climate Change Commitment to Year 2300 Based on AOGCMs. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; 2007. https://archive.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch10s10-7.html#10-7-1. Accessed September 19, 2019.
2. Meehl GA, Washington WM, Collins WD, et al. How Much More Global Warming and Sea Level Rise? Science. 2005;307(5716):1769-1772. doi:10.1126/science.1106663
3. Rood RB. If We Stopped Emitting Greenhouse Gases Right Now, Would We Stop Climate Change? ScienceAlert. https://www.sciencealert.com/if-we-stopped-emitting-greenhouse-gases-right-now-would-we-stop-climate-change-2017. Published July 5, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2019.
4. Carbon Brief. Analysis: Why the IPCC 1.5C report expanded the carbon budget. Carbon Brief. https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-why-the-ipcc-1-5c-report-expanded-the-carbon-budget. Published October 8, 2018. Accessed September 20, 2019.
5. Cho R. Can Removing Carbon From the Atmosphere Save Us from Climate Catastrophe? State of the Planet. November 2018. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2018/11/27/carbon-dioxide-removal-climate-change/. Accessed September 20, 2019.
6. Bastin J-F, Finegold Y, Garcia C, et al. The global tree restoration potential. Science. 2019;365(6448):76-79. doi:10.1126/science.aax0848
7. Carrington D. Greta Thunberg: ‘We are ignoring natural climate solutions.’ The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/19/greta-thunberg-we-are-ignoring-natural-climate-solutions. Published September 19, 2019. Accessed September 20, 2019.
8. Gerber PJ, Steinfield H, Henderson B, et al. Tackling Climate Change through Livestock: A Global Assessment of Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; 2013. http://www.fao.org/3/i3437e/i3437e.pdf. Accessed September 20, 2019.