Someone very close to me was once an environmental crusader. Protesting, demanding change, and harassing government entities the world over. They no longer do any of this. And this is the story of why.
Whether you believe in human driven climate change or not, the world is getting warmer. The ramifications of which will have profound implications for human civilization.
Meteorological scientists have studied datasets that indicate that between 1880 and 2012 the global average surface temperature (land and ocean) has increased a total of 0.85 celsius. Since 1979 the rate of temperature increase has roughly doubled.
What this means is that the energy typically stored in our climate systems has accumulated in the world’s oceans resulting in higher sea levels, melting of the polar ice caps, increased humidity, and more turbulent transitionary periods in temperate zones.
The modern industrial economy is to blame. Because before we started large scale industrial projects that emitted CO2 into our atmosphere, things were relatively stable. The gasses that contribute to the greenhouse gas effect, which is the driving force behind modern global warming, are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, and we produce them abundantly.
If things carry on as business as usual on Earth, than it means that the oceans will become more acidic (endangering marine wildlife), deserts will spread in the subtropics, and extreme whether events such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, heavy rain and snowfall, will become more common.
The effects we directly have to worry about are food security and massive population relocation due to the changing of the Earth’s shore line. But animals all over the world will face extinction.
These are the major political bodies you have to know to understand where we are today on the question of climate change. Sure there are more, but these entities constitute the real meat and potatoes of the issue.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
- Kyoto Protocol
- Copenhagen Accord
- Paris Agreement
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The IPCC is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations designed to give an objective viewpoint when it comes to the climate issues faced by mankind. Whether that be political, economic or scientific. As part of their duties they have produced reports that contribute to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).
The UNFCC is the main international treaty on climate change, and their goal is to prevent a furthering of human induced climate change brought on by greenhouse gas emissions.
The IPCC has produced 4 reports which are key to our understanding of how bad it will be down the road.
First assessment report (1990)
Published in 1990 this report establishes that in fact the Earth is warming and that by and large the cause is the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. They predicted that the Earth would warm at a rate of about 0.3 celsius per decade in the 21st century and that during the past 100 years the Earth mean surface temperature has risen roughly 0.3 – 0.6 celsius.
Second assessment report (1996)
Essentially this report says that green house gas emissions have continued to rise and that the climate is expected to continue to change in the future.
Third assessment report (2001)
This report asserted that the 90’s may have been the warmest decade on record, and that most of the observable warming is due to human influences. The changes to our ecosystems caused by climate change will have adverse effects on wildlife but this can be lessened with mitigating efforts. However, not all changes will can be reversed
Fourth assessment report (2007)
The scientists involved, from over 130 countries, now unequivocally attribute the warming climate to the industrial behaviours of man. Extreme weather events will continue to intensify and mitigation efforts will only partially reduce the supposed effects of climate change.
The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty which was adopted in 1997 and put into force in 2005. The members of the treaty are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, because 1) global warming is real 2) is man made. There are 192 signees on this treaty, with the exception of Canada who withdrew.
Side note, the reason why countries like Canada decided not to participate is because of their dependence on fossil fuels in their economy and in particular in Canada’s case the Albertan tar sands.
Basically continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord commits its members to pledge to cut their emissions by pre-ordained amounts. They set a deadline, but it was later described as ‘soft’ by the UNFCC president. More over, many of the countries who signed this accord have not done their work to cut emissions, as this sort of international treaty is not exactly legally binding and there are no punitive measures for not abiding by its clauses.
Ratified in 2016, the Paris Agreement, say’s each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming. There are no mechanisms in place to enforce what each country promises, they should however set loftier goals than in previews accords, treaties, or protocols.
We are fucked
The predominant theme of these reports, accords, protocols, and agreements is that countries keep promising and under delivering. So the amount of greenhouse gasses being continually emitted into our atmosphere is on a runaway. Some players have reduced, but this is marginal in the grand scheme of things when you consider that two of the largest emitters, the United States and China, have backed out of their promises altogether.
The size of these two countries makes this even more significant as they represent nearly a billion and half people who require cars, infrastructure, and buildings. So the size of their economies are huge. And when you boil down this issue it is an economic one.
We obviously could not just switch off the oil over night. There are too many people who depend on what it brings to the economy to just do that. First is jobs of the people directly related to the industry, second is how our economy and the power of the dollar is directly linked to the price per barrel.
What we should have done a long time ago is segue into alternative fuels and adapted our economies to fill the void with them. But this is way easier said than done. After all there remains oil on the planet, and that means there is a dollar to be made.
Sure there is a lot more solar power out there than there was 20 years ago, but it is too late. We have exceeded all reasonably expectations of emission reductions and have blown past what the UNFCC has set out as a just course for all industrialized countries.
Someone somewhere is doing something about it…I hope
When I learned about all of this, I came about the opinion that it is too late to cut our emissions significantly and reduce climate change. Our only way out was to invest in new technologies that would mitigate the effects of the change and brace for impact.
That means building sea walls, increasing the food surplus in developing countries, inventing water desalination techniques, further protecting endangered species and prospective endangered species, and investing in the Arctic as an actual place for cities where a lot of people could live.
When I consider whether or not it is okay to say, legally, that we just aren’t going to make money a specific way anymore, I can’t justify backing it up. I sympathize with everyone who depends on the flow of oil for their way of life, and it really is everyone.
Because of the large economic interests at stake, governments have really dragged their asses when completing any promises made to the international community about emission reductions.
If we were to turn off the taps tonight, the ramifications would be like a economic tidal wave that would rock every industry in the world. So I get why things have happened how they have.
As you can see from the list above of the accords, protocols and agreements, it takes years to get these things signed and that’s time we no longer have.
Much of the Earth will succumb to desertification as the sea levels rises, pushing populations more inland, and we’ll just have to deal with it.
Eventually we will run out of oil and our CO2 emissions will curtail, but not before it reaches a staggering exponential level in our atmosphere.
It’s no longer time for talks, accords, or protocols, we know what we did, it’s time to deal with it.
I used to think that there must be scientists all over the world working day and night in labs to fix this issue, but that really isn’t the case. Sure there are some who focus on this area, and they have put forth some interesting ideas, but simply put there isn’t a lot of money in studying why the Earth is screwed.
Even the guys out there who are actually putting in the work to determine what we can do, agree we are out of options.
Climate engineering is the idea that we can tweak our situation through the deliberate modification of our climate. This includes solar radiation management, and carbon dioxide removal. Both have been deemed ineffective, or have serious ramifications, by the scientific community at large.
The reason why that person I mentioned at the beginning of this article stopped protesting on behalf of the environment is that they too came about this opinion. You can shout about something until you are blue in the face but it won’t change your circumstances. Actually doing the appropriate things is what makes change, but we missed our opportunity for that.
So join me, and let’s brace for impact as the Earth withers away before our eyes. It’s going to be a rough time, but by the time I die, it might not have reached it’s peak ‘bad’ yet, so far as far I’m concerned this is someone else’s problem.
Call me selfish if you will, but there ain’t much else one person can do.