Climate Change Requires A Radical Response

Rhetoric is irrelevant; climate change now threatens everything, eliminating the opportunity for a measured response.

Note: I realize that since we’ve spent 20 weeks with the novel there haven’t been a large number of links in what we’ve written. Our links are not underlined or colored, they’re bold italic. When you see anything in that format, click it for more information.

Not that anyone will. Our click rate is something like 0.001 percent. Either you trust me too much or you don’t care. This is part of the problem. We all need to click those links.

Eagle Creek State Park Ooze

Didn’t We Already Talk About This?

Driving across town recently, I found myself increasingly frustrated by how quickly the needle was descending on my gas gauge. Traffic was horrid, people were weaving in and out of lanes with little regard for safety, and I was late. In conditions such as these, I find myself thinking that there has to be a better way. We’re on the cusp of 2020, after all. All the 20th-century science fiction promised us something better by now. Why aren’t we there?

Then, a sports car passes doing nothing short of 90 miles per hour, black smoke belching from the exhaust, swerving dangerously through traffic, at times crossing four lanes and then back, cutting off a semi whose driver then had to brake hard to prevent a significant accident. Words similar to “fucking idiot” came out of my mouth. This happens far too often and it always surprises me at how many people I see driving like this. I’m both angry and disappointed.

Seven minutes later (yes, I checked), I’m sitting at a stoplight, look over at the car on my left and guess what: it’s the same speeding dude who had passed earlier. All that noise, pollution, and danger at high speed and it had gotten him to the same place at the same time as I had gotten driving slower. I looked at him and glared, hoping maybe he’d look my direction. He didn’t. The light changed and he left a trail of rubber as he sped off.

As I watch his trail of pollution disappear in front of me (for the distance of two more stoplights where I’m in front of him this time), it occurs to me that drivers like him are the reason we don’t have flying cars. People drive badly enough on the ground. Can you imagine the chaos and disaster that would occur if we allowed them to take flight? Getting people into autonomous cars is likely to be one of the greatest life-saving events in vehicular history.

What bothers me more, though, is that it’s almost the end of another decade and as I’m driving across this midsized midwestern city I can see a blue/pink haze hovering around the city’s skyline. This is mid-October. We don’t have the extreme heat to blame for creating an “ozone action day.” There are no longer big factories downtown belching black smoke into the sky. The horizon should be clear, but it’s not. Once again, I’m prompted to ask why this is happening.

There’s little question that people are what’s happening. This haze is caused by too many vehicles with bad exhaust, people still mowing their lawns, burning leaves in the backyard, greasy exhaust from commercial kitchens filtering into the air catching dust and other particles, and other seemingly casual elements of life that all add up to creating an environment that not only is bad for our own lungs but is destroying the planet as well.

We hear a lot about climate change and global warming today as a political issue more than a scientific matter because the world is at a tipping point. If we don’t initiate significant change quickly, the effects could become irreversible within the next 30 years. After that point, if we’ve not significantly reduced CO2 emissions, the planet starts fast-tracking its way toward being uninhabitable and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

What bothers me most is not the ridiculous denial on the part of short-sighted people with a lot of money and power, but the fact that we’ve been aware of the problem for almost two hundred years and have done next to nothing to stop it. Seriously. This is so not a new issue that had we responded appropriately at the first alarm, a half dozen generations could have been raised never knowing there was a problem. Science writer Simon Weart compiled this short history of how our knowledge of climate change has developed.

  • 1824 – Joseph Fourier discovered the greenhouse effect.
  • 1859 – John Tyndall discovered that H2O and CO2 absorb infrared confirming the Fourier greenhouse effect.
  • 1896 – Svante Arrhenius proposed human CO2 emissions would prevent earth from entering next ice age (challenged 1906).
  • 1950’s Guy Callendar found H2O and CO2 did not overlap all spectra bands, therefore warming from CO2 expected (countered the 1906 objections against Arrhenius).
  • 1955 – Hans Suess identified the isotopic signature of industrial based CO2 emissions.
  • 1956 – Gilbert Plass calculated adding CO2 would significantly change radiation balance.
  • 1957 – Revelle/Suess suggested oceans would absorb less CO2 causing more global warming than predicted.
  • 1958/60’s – Charles David Keeling proved CO2 was increasing in the atmosphere.
  • 70’s/80’s Suke Manabe and James Hansen began modeling climate projections.
  • Current: NCAR, GISS, Hadley, CRU, RSS TLT, UAH, MSU, Glacier Melt, Sea Level Rise, Latitudinal Shift all confirm models.

Mind you, that’s the short version. Weart offers a little more depth in his book, The Discovery Of Global Warming. The amount of science supporting and providing evidence of this cataclysmic problem is ponderous. So, why the hell are we so incredibly slow to do anything about such an obvious problem? The answer lies within the foundations of human character in the 21st century: We are lazy and we are cheap.

Numerous solutions have been available between 1824 and now. We’ve had plenty of opportunities to avoid this last-minute panic. Yet, we are a society that celebrates a culture of procrastination, starting in school when we wait until the last minute to finish a project or cram for a test, and not buying anything that isn’t on sale for less than it costs to produce. As a result, we have simultaneously eroded not only the environment but the retail economy as well.

Because of our procrastination, we have reached a level of emergency where the solutions still available to us are going to require billions, perhaps trillions, more dollars and an even greater, more drastic change to our lifestyle and cultures than could ever be considered comfortable. If we are going to survive, however, we have no choice. We have to be willing to make sacrifices and piss off people in power in order to actually get something done, even if it means working outside the permission and purveyance of governments. As a society, we can no longer wait for governments to lead the way. We must go around them, or over them, in order to maintain human viability on this planet. Hold on tight, this is going to get ugly.

The Truth Is More Radical Than We Realized

Eagle Creek Park Oil Slick

When former Vice President Al Gore presented the concept of severe climate change under the banner of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, he did so with the deft touch of an experienced politician: He played it soft. He knew far too well that Americans wouldn’t be able to handle the enormity and seriousness of the problem had he gone full-tilt with all the alarming facts available to him. Even soft balling it, he was still called a radical and a fear-monger by just about everyone in any position of power. What Americans didn’t see is that Mr. Gore’s actions scared the living shit out of those who control the money and, by extension, the economy of the United States. He presented to them a problem whose only solution required an extensive overhaul of investments, one that would produce less return and therefore less profit. Theoretically, they could have embraced their role and responsibility and, if so, we probably wouldn’t be having the conversation we are now. Instead, they got mad, painted Mr. Gore as a liar and radical leftist (as though there’s anything wrong with being a radical leftist), and invested hard-core into climate change denial.

The other challenge standing in the way of easy acceptance of the severity of climate change is the fact that all the genuinely informative and factual studies are written in academic science language, something the average person doesn’t understand, doesn’t see the importance in understanding, and therefore holds the summaries suspect because they don’t understand a damn thing the paper just said. Let me try and help you out there a bit.

Last year (2018), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report on Global Warming of 1.5℃. Right there, in the title, they lost the vast majority of Americans who might, depending on their age, have been taught in school how to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit (hint: you multiply the Celsius temperature by 1.8, then add 32). If we’re going to get alarmed over what seems to be a relatively low amount, we need to understand what that increase means. 

For example, in 1980, the mean temperature for the planet was around 57℉. By 2015, that had risen to 61℉ and that’s when we saw scientists begin to scream, “Oh shit!” and start throwing major conferences on just how severe the problem has become. If we take the 2015 number and even add one full degree (which is where we were this past summer), the conditions become rather worrisome.

Why get so upset over one degree? Because it only takes as little as five degrees difference to take the planet from nice, reasonably livable conditions to being buried under thousands of feet of snow or, if it goes the other direction, a complete desert with no surface water available anywhere.

Spinning your little head a bit? I know, on the surface it doesn’t appear to make sense because we see more than five degrees fluctuation in a single day, especially this time of year. In the Midwestern United States, it’s not the least bit unusual for some days to see a thirty-degree shift between morning and evening temperatures. If we can endure that with no problem, how is complete devastation possible because of only five degrees?

Our friends at the NASA Global Observatory explain it like this:

The global temperature record represents an average over the entire surface of the planet. The temperatures we experience locally and in short periods can fluctuate significantly due to predictable cyclical events (night and day, summer and winter) and hard-to-predict wind and precipitation patterns. But the global temperature mainly depends on how much energy the planet receives from the Sun and how much it radiates back into space—quantities that change very little. The amount of energy radiated by the Earth depends significantly on the chemical composition of the atmosphere, particularly the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

While land temperatures fluctuate wildly, the rapid warming of the earth is taking us quickly toward a condition where human life is no longer sustainable. And how hot is too hot?

1.5℃ from pre-industrial levels. Spoiler alert, we were already 0.79 degrees warmer in 1980. The earth’s temperature hasn’t gone down any since then.

Now that we understand why the title of this report is alarming, let’s look at some of its findings. 

  • Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. 
  • Climate models project robust differences in regional climate characteristics present-day and global warming of 1.5°C, and between 1.5°C and 2°C.
  • Estimates of the global emissions outcome of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions as submitted under the Paris Agreement would lead to global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 of 52–58 GtCO2eq yr−1 (medium confidence). Pathways reflecting these ambitions would not limit global warming to 1.5°C, even if supplemented by very challenging increases in the scale and ambition of emissions reductions after 2030 (high confidence). Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030 (high confidence).

Now, let’s break this down to a third-grade reading level. The first point is one we’ve heard, and denied, for 30 years. Human activity is causing the earth to warm. 1.5℃ warmer is when bad things start to happen. Those bad things cannot be reversed. Nothing here is new, we’ve just argued over it so long it’s now an emergency.

The second point is that 1.5℃ is the LOW end of the scale. Regionally, some areas of the planet will see warming to 2℃. This is bad. This is very bad. A 2℃ increase means people cannot live there. People will have to move. Global migration increases. Global food supplies are not enough. Some animal species will die out completely. Global resources are too small to handle those changes. 

The third point is, perhaps, scarier. Even if everyone followed the Paris Climate Agreement like they’re supposed to, it’s not going to be enough to prevent the planet from warming to 1.5°C. The “solutions” we have now are not enough even if everyone played along and the US isn’t playing at all. Our government is going in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.

Let’s talk more like grownups again. Our ridiculous arguments over whether the science is real have cost us dearly in terms of time available to find and enact an appropriate solution. The fact that climate change is even a question in anyone’s mind is a depth of ignorance and/or stubbornness that may have to be declared criminal in order to avoid complete extermination of the planet.

Even among those who do accept that climate change is happening there has not been enough alarm over how severe the consequences are going to be within the next ten or so years. Let me say that again: ten years. 2030 sounds distant for many people but that is no longer reality. We’re not looking at only the loss of every major coastal seaport and a redefining of beachfront property by several miles, we’re looking at massive drops in food production. As polar ice caps melt, more water becomes over salinated, making it undrinkable. Production rates for crops such as wheat, rice, potato, soybean, sugar beet, alfalfa, cotton, tree and vine crops, and most vegetable crops decreases because of the increased CO2 (long and scientific explanation of why can be found at The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine

Not everything is going to wait ten years before becoming problematic, either. Global migration is already an issue and is only going to worsen as more areas of the world become uninhabitable. Europe is already feeling the pain where migration is expected to triple over the next ten years. The World Bank Group estimates that 140 million people from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America will be displaced by 2050. As that migration takes place, political, cultural, and social strains easily result in outbreaks of violence as bigotry, racism, and discrimination fueled by rampant Nationalism becomes more of a problem than it already is. 

A 2016 presidential memorandum addressed the extent to which climate change presents a threat to national security in the United States. That memorandum said, in part, 

“Extended drought, more frequent and severe weather events, heat waves, warming and acidifying ocean waters, catastrophic wildfires, and rising sea levels all have compounding effects on people’s health and well-being. Flooding and water scarcity can negatively affect food and energy production. Energy infrastructure, essential for supporting other key sectors, is already vulnerable to extreme weather and may be further compromised.” 

However, the current administration revoked that and other climate-change-related memos, choosing to completely ignore the severe danger. The administration’s opinion seems to be that if it’s not making money that it’s not important. Such an incredibly ignorant and short-sighted approach doesn’t merely threaten the economy and the stock market the president seems so worried about, but also the lives and well-being of every person in the United States. 

What we’re looking at is an ecological and economic disaster of a magnitude far greater than that of the Great Depression a century ago. The less we do, the less done not only by the United States but every government across the planet, the greater the risk that we hit that 1.5℃ mark and blow right past it. If we wait for the natural order of politics to provide change, we inevitably find ourselves facing a situation where we can no longer focus on prevention and instead are forced to find more radical ways to respond to the crisis.

A Desperate Situation Requires A Radical Response

Dead Conch

The days for a moderate, careful response to climate change passed thirty years ago. We are now in a situation where mass migration, drought, new deserts, food shortages, severe coastal flooding, agricultural failure, economic inflation, and all the social unrest that goes with those conditions is inevitable unless we make dramatic and uncomfortable changes. Those changes inevitably mean upsetting the status quo and thereby defying the powers that be and making at least half the population angry. We know that before ever starting.

In her new book  “On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal,” Naomi Klein compares the modern situation and “radical” proposals to the era that prompted Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. She writes:

The skepticism is understandable. The idea that societies could collectively decide to embrace rapid foundational changes to transportation, housing, energy, agriculture, forestry, and more— precisely what is needed to avert climate breakdown—is not something for which most of us have any living reference. We have grown up bombarded with the message that there is no alternative to the crappy system that is destabilizing the planet and hoarding vast wealth at the top. 

From the start, elite critics derided FDR’s plans as everything from creeping fascism to closet communism. In the 1933 equivalent of “They’re coming for your hamburgers!” Republican senator Henry D. Hatfield of West Virginia wrote to a colleague, “This is despotism, this is tyranny, this is the annihilation of liberty. The ordinary American is thus reduced to the status of a robot.” A former DuPont executive complained that with the government offering decent-paying jobs, “five negroes on my place in South Carolina refused work this spring . . . and a cook on my houseboat in Fort Myers quit because the government was paying him a dollar an hour as a painter.”

Far-right militias formed; there was even a sloppy plot by a group of bankers to overthrow FDR.

Self-styled centrists took a more subtle tack: In newspaper editorials and op-eds, they cautioned FDR to slow down and scale back.

The rhetoric of nearly 100 years ago hasn’t changed. As Americans, dramatic change scares us. Being told that we might have to be temporarily inconvenienced in order to make things better make us angry. Consider the typical response to large expanses of road construction. We fuss and fume about the detours and the heavy traffic and the inevitable delays. We deride construction workers for not moving fast enough. We curse at the long lines. Yet, when the work is done and the roads are smooth, there’s no denying that, as uncomfortable as the construction period was, it was necessary to keep the entire road from falling apart.

Our environment is at exactly that same stage. We are on the verge of having the entire planet crumble underneath our feet. If we are to have any hope of preventing total collapse we have to begin work right now and accept the fact that some very basic elements of life and economics in the United States and around the world have to change. 

Painful truth: change is going to happen one way or another. Either we can take steps in an attempt to control at least some of that change, or we can let it happen to us and suffer the consequences. All the bad things possible will happen if we sit on our ever-expanding backsides and do nothing.

An all-too-perfect example is the United Kingdom’s decision three years ago to leave the European Union. When the vote first passed, the UK government had time and opportunity to craft a workable departure that would have minimized the economic impact. Parliament made the decision to not do that. They fussed. They argued. They refused to cooperate with anyone under any circumstances. Those who wanted to stay in the EU dug in their heels and refused to consider any compromise. As a result, they are now at a point where they’re having to consider significantly more dramatic and uncomfortable actions to keep the country from leaving without the benefit of trade or any other treaties and, as a result, not only upending the UK economy but potentially putting the entire global economy into a downward spiral. 

Stubbornness and commitment to petty ideals have been the death of many solutions that could have already saved us from being in this frightful situation. We have reached a point where politicians can no longer be trusted to lead on environmental issues. Instead, our best option is to appeal directly to state and local governments, private corporations, and non-profits to take the actions federal governments will not and make changes even in defiance of federal regulations.

Another example: In July of this year, automakers Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, and BMW openly defied the federal government’s rollback of fuel emission standards for new vehicles by signing on to a California deal that decreases greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7 percent each year between 2000 and 2026. Yes, the change will increase the price of new vehicles, but the long-term benefit to the environment is far greater. The president’s objection reflects fear from the oil and gas industry as the new vehicles also improve fuel economy by as much as 50 miles per gallon, potentially putting a severe dent in industry profits. 

At this point, however, any argument against improvement of the environment is irrelevant no matter who is doing the arguing. To defend the status quo on the basis of one industry’s profit or loss is unconscionable. If the planet overheats by 1.5℃, the net effect is going to be severe enough to crash all economies on its own and at that point, there is nothing the federal government can do to stop it.

Change Deliberately Or Consequentially

All the denial and arguing in the world isn’t going to stop the warming from happening. By 2030 either we’ve taken the dramatic steps necessary to slow the warming (completely stopping it at this point probably isn’t an option) or we pretend to act surprised when all the things about which we’ve been warned become severe enough we can no longer deny their consequences. Either we care about the sustainability of life on this planet or we don’t. If we do care, we’re going to have to take some dramatic steps quickly. 

What steps make the most difference? The ones that are the least comfortable. Walk with me here.

Agriculture

We have to change the way we’ve been farming. Sure, it’s been productive—the United States provides food for more people than any other country in the world and employees some 827,000 people. However, agriculture is also the fourth-highest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Oops. We’ve been talking about using more sustainable farming methods since I was a kid and some farmers have made moderate changes. 

Get ready to be upset, though, because all that “organic” nonsense that everyone’s been screaming about the past ten years? It’s got to go. Organic farming increases greenhouse gas emissions. Full stop. Those benefits you think you’re getting are not worth losing the entire planet. 

Better animal breeding practices could reduce methane emissions by 10-20% and better-pasturing techniques could double that. However, feed alternatives are where a lot of reduction can take place, as much as 52% in some studies. Dietary oils are key and there are several other feeding methods that show promise.

Improving crop rotation practices, manure holding procedures, reducing the amount of fallow ground, and switching from fossil-fueled to electric pumps and motors are all things some farms have started but the process is expensive and smaller farms need financial assistance in making those changes. The difference, however, is worth any financial investment necessary.

Transportation

This one’s going to hurt. The problem is not only that we drive too much but that the vehicles we use when we do drive are amazingly inefficient and are made more so because of the inferior condition of roads and highways. Everyone’s been screaming about infrastructure investment for years, but the money still hasn’t shown up and where it has the funding has been focused on propping up bad systems rather than replacing them.

First, we need to ditch vehicles using fossil fuels ASAP. The most recent studies show that newer electric-powered vehicles (not the ones from ten years ago) reduce CO2 emissions by as much as half and the technology is only improving. Here’s the thing: we can’t wait for everyone to buy a new electric car in the natural course of individual car buying. Department of Transportation figures show that it takes 11 on average to get a car off the road. We don’t have that much time. That means we have to eliminate used car sales for non-electric vehicles and provide tax incentives, subsidies, and vehicle buy-back programs to encourage the purchase of new electric vehicles. 

Even that move, as drastic as it is, falls short of what we need to get CO2 emissions back in line. We still need to drive less and we also need to reduce the number of airplanes in the sky. On average, whether hauling people or cargo, the average commercial airplane produces a little over 53 pounds of CO2 per mile. One 2010 study shows that over 10,000 are killed each year just from the pollution that planes emit. The most readily available solution to both is investing in high-speed rail systems that utilize electric power. Localized high-speed rail systems in major cities combined with severe reductions of individual car use (most likely implemented by changes in driving laws) would not only reduce carbon dioxide emissions but could save lives do to reduce road fatalities. 

Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s a move that upsets the current economy and shifts power away from traditional sources, but we have to make these moves if we’re going to continue living on the planet.

Elimination Of Fossil Fuel Use

Talk about upsetting the status quo, we’ve had the means to wrench away from our dependence on fossil fuels for at least 30 years and we’re afraid to make the move because of this prevailing myth pushed by big oil and related industries that the effect on the economy would be devastating. It’s all bullshit. We’re talking about eliminating a source of fuel, not the demand. Therefore, the economic impact only hurts those companies who are unwilling to make the shift. Already, big oil has started investing in renewable energy sources and European producers are doing so at a significantly faster rate than US and Asian producers. If governments eliminate oil subsidies to renewable sources, the same dollars stay in the market, continue employing high numbers of people at higher-than-average wages, and the economy benefits. This is not an economic issue but a power issue. Given the corruption we’ve seen in the fossil fuel industry, a power shift isn’t a bad thing.

We can provide all the power needs for the entire planet with solar panels covering 0.3 percent of the earth’s land surface (source). Yes, that’s a lot of land, but since solar isn’t our only choice we can reduce the land-use significantly and still make sure the entire planet has more than energy to not only fuel current needs but the increasing needs going into the future. 

Conservatives and those financed by the oil, gas, and coal industries want you to believe that moving away from fossil fuels is a bad thing. No, it’s not. At the worst, it might mean more people have solar panels on their roofs. If solar panels on your roof are what saves the planet isn’t that a reasonable trade-off?

Rethinking Plastics

We use a LOT of plastic and much of it is for very necessary things especially in regard to medical supplies. So, to completely eliminate plastics, which are traditionally made from fossil fuels, requires a strong and flexible alternative. We’ve been hearing the call to reduce our dependency on plastic for over 30 years. How did we respond? We started using it to store and sell water, causing every environmentalist on the planet to do a hard face-palm. 

Plastics such as the Polyethelene PE that is used most have a carbon footprint equivalent to burning 2kg of oil for every 1kg of plastic. 1kg of plastic is roughly the weight of five plastic shopping bags. Put it all together and plastics represent the fourth largest contributor to greenhouse gases and that’s before we fail to recycle them and they end up being the trash that pollutes everything

The good news here is that technology is rapidly bringing us to that point where bioplastics, especially those produced from hemp, offer the possibility of at least making plastics carbon neutral, meaning they absorb as much carbon as they emit. As of this writing, there are still some areas of the creation process that uses oil and the biodegradable claim is challenging to fully support, keeping it from being the perfect solution. However, the reduction of CO2 a complete switch to bioplastics would provide is a significant boost toward halting the warming of the planet.

The bad news? Big Oil is only too happy to sponsor arguments against bioplastics claiming they’re not fully biodegradable. Biodegradability is certainly something that would help, but the far greater CO2 emissions from plastic happen during the creation process. Arguing over biodegradability is, at best, a distraction to keep any improvements from actually happening. Bioplastics are proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and right now that has to remain the top priority. We can worry about biodegradability when we’re sure we’re not all going to die.

Technology

The fourth Industrial Revolution is here and technology is in the driver’s seat. Already, our reliance on technology has grown 100-fold over the past ten years, but in order to save ourselves from the damage we’ve done, we have to go further than tends to make us comfortable. Right off the bat, technology is the fundamental resource that makes all other solutions possible. Still, there is more that it can do and we need to get comfortable with making the investments that utilize technology to its fullest extent.

For example, as scary as autonomous vehicles sound, they provide more fuel-efficient transportation, even in electric vehicles. Humans are not efficient when they drive. We speed, we brake wrong, we rubber-neck like crazy, and all of those bad habits result in using more energy than is necessary to get us from point A to point B.

Technology also offers the opportunity to compress CO2 into fertilizer, turn CO2 into liquid fuel, use CO2 to create hybrid membranes for medical use, and a plethora of other changes that help eliminate the use of fossil fuels and other materials that leave large amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. One of the most critical may be in developing new fabrics for clothing, eliminating the need to grow cotton, an act that completely ruins the land on which it is grown. 

There are plenty of options but what they all need is a dramatic level of investment to get them out of labs and into everyday use. One obvious source of investment funds would be to completely eliminate oil and gas subsidies and put those same funds toward planet-saving technologies. 

Economic Redistribution

If ever there was a strong argument for economic equality, saving the planet is it. The reasons are rather obvious.

  1. The poor suffer the most from environmental damage.
  2. Economic inequality drives environmental damage.
  3. The richest 10 percent are responsible for 50 percent of global emissions.

Equitable distribution of funds and resources allows poorer countries to invest in technologies and methods that reduce greenhouse emissions. Pollution in countries that have greater economic balance is significantly less than in countries with severe gaps between rich and poor. What’s more, as reliance on fossil fuels and their related industries has to be eliminated, people employed in those fields are more likely to experience a severe reduction in wealth as they are not necessarily skilled to transition into the most high-demand fields of employment. 

In order to combat this problem, we need to come to grips with the need for some very uncomfortable economic changes.

  1. Significantly taxing the richest one percent
  2. Significantly taxing corporations, especially those involved in industries that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions
  3. Greater public investment in global education
  4. Significantly higher wage minimums 
  5. Tighter control of housing and food costs

I can hear the screaming from here. Let’s face the facts, though. Trickle-down economics only benefits the rich. Inflation in the housing market has created a crisis. More public funds are necessary to combat warming and there’s no legitimate reason to put that burden on those who can least afford it. Personal wealth and corporate profits have to take a back seat to the sustainability fo the planet.

Planetary Problems Require Global Solutions

Bird tracks in the mud

Global warming and the resulting climate change are not problems unique to the United States. Granted, we’re the largest country not making a concerted effort to find a solution, but the problem is universal. For us to avoid reaching the 1.5℃ mark or worse in ten years, every country on the planet has to participate in solutions. When the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2016, 197 countries, including the United States, signed on. However, not everyone has been able to sell the agreement at home and the current closed-minded administration pulled the US out altogether. We’re not alone, though. In addition to the US, there’s an interesting list of countries that have not ratified the agreement.

  • Turkey
  • Iran
  • Angola, 
  • Eritrea, 
  • Iraq, 
  • Kyrgyzstan, 
  • Lebanon, 
  • Libya, 
  • South Sudan, and 
  • Yemen

What all of those countries share with the United States is an authoritarian leader (though not necessarily authoritarian government) whose focus is on maintaining a tight grip on the rule of their country. Such an inward “me first” focus is detrimental to addressing climate change. Leaders have to actually care about the welfare of the people they govern in order to support solutions that involve international cooperation. 

Such Nationalistic tendencies are more a reflection of the leader’s psychosis rather than the nation’s true attitude. Notice that some of the world’s most infamously dictatorial leaders, including Russia’s Putin, China’s Xi, and North Korea’s Kim, all recognized the need for their country to cooperate. For a leader to not adequately address the emergency of global warming is to demonstrate utter disregard for the people most likely to be directly affected by the crisis: the people they rule.

While most of the countries who have not ratified the agreement are small and some, such as Kyrgyzstan, barely have a carbon footprint at all compared to other countries, the United States is the world’s second-largest contributor to CO2 emissions behind China. For the US to not address the challenge not only dooms Americans but the entire planet. We, as a country, fail to provide the most critical leadership and in doing so effectively sign the death warrants of millions of people.

Yes, I realize that sounds alarmist, but this is the reality.

About Those Consequences

Tree stump in a withering lake

Remember when the IPCC report mentioned overshoot and gave it a “high probability?” That means they don’t expect the world to be able to limit warming to 1.5℃. In fact, they go ahead and admit that some regions will see an increase of 2℃ or higher. So, what happens if we completely fail and blow right past that half-degree increase from where we are now?

It’s not pretty. If greenhouse gas emissions remain at their current level, here are some of the effects.

  • Temperature records will continue to be broken. Considering this past summer already saw the hottest months on record, it’s safe to assume severe drought patterns across places that normally do not have a problem. [source]
  • The amount of land destroyed by wildfires would more than double to approximately 5.3 million acres annually. This would continue to grow in severity putting people at risk who have never needed to worry before. [source]
  • Severe drought across 40% of all land on the planet. Say goodbye to normal crop production. Should we stay at the status quo, rates of hunger and starvation would spike as prices for available food would shoot high. [source]
  • Reduced nutritional value of existing food would result in a food-security crisis for some 821 million people (estimating conservatively). While sources decline to predict morbidity rates, there’s little question the death toll would be considerably higher than it is now. [source]
  • If we reach a 2℃ warmth above the pre-industrial level, the result is a climatological feedback loop that would cause temperatures to jump 4-5℃. There are currently no reliable models for how severe the effect could be. [source]
  • Warming water rising 2-3 feet above current levels expands, displacing approximately 700 million climate refugees. [source 1, source 2, source 3]
  • More frequent and more intense hurricanes. We’re talking multiple F5 and stronger storms with an expanded hurricane season. We’ve already seen how devastating multiple storms in a single season can be. Imagine those storms on steroids. [source]
  • 60 % of all coral reefs will be highly or critically threatened. Millions of people would lose their primary food source. Whole fish groups would go extinct and disease would infect those that remain. This alone could cause global markets to completely crumble. [source]

And those, dear friends, are just the tip of the proverbial rapidly-melting iceberg. There’s no way of estimating what could happen as a result of the severe migration. The social/political unrest could topple entire governments and result in unchecked war and genocide. No country is immune from the potential fallout. Humans have never knowingly faced a greater threat to the whole planet and our very survival.

Radical Solutions Require A Radical Response

birds gather around the little water that remains in a dying resevoir

The current US president is fond of calling those intelligent enough to acknowledge the challenge of climate change as radicals. He calls their proposals radical and thinks that alone is sufficient reason for ignoring them. He’s right in that the only solutions left to us now genuinely are radical. They are upsetting to the status quo and require changing some of the most fundamental aspects of our lives. There’s no harm in admitting that the whole thing is just a little bit scary.

Where the president and his supporters are wrong, though, is in thinking that if they yell loud enough, ignore hard enough, bully scientists long enough, that it will all go away and they’ll get the continued disaster without any consequences. They are wrong and there’s absolutely nothing they or anyone else can do to stop the disaster if we do nothing. 

Here’s the thing: all those little things like switching the kind of straw one uses and recycling their plastic water bottles and all the other little tasks one does individually provide a false sense of accomplishment. Those things only help if the larger players are doing their part. Household recycling only helps if those materials are actually being recycled through means that are environmentally helpful. Straw use only matters if material from landfills stops ending up in waterways. If the big guys aren’t in the game, individual household participating is irrelevant There’s nothing you or I can do to stop the inevitable.

That means you and I have to become radicals as well. We have to vote, starting at the local level, for city council members and mayors that support clean air initiatives in our own towns.  We have to get radical in voting with our pocketbooks by paying attention to how everything we buy is made and not purchasing from companies who are not doing their best to offset their own carbon footprint. We have to get radical in pressuring our elected representatives to take governmental action, even in the face of an ignorant and incendiary president. That pressure has to come hard and continuously and needs to unseat anyone who doesn’t get with the plan.

When it comes to climate change, there is no such thing as being too radical. Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable. Yes, it’s going to mean changing the way we do things. But the alternative?

We die. 

The whole planet dies.

Not kidding. Not fear-mongering. This is the reality. 

Time to get radical.

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