It’s time to do more than just talk about the weather
Weather-wise, 2022 is already a year to remember. Ian – the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935 (also devastating Venezuela, the Cayman Islands, and Jamaica); record-breaking heat waves throughout Europe (topping 100°F in cities such as under-air-conditioned Paris), an unusually intense monsoon with devastating flooding in Pakistan.
Climate-related disasters are proliferating, and once the emergency relief work is over, the enormous economic damage starts piling up: impeded transport, destroyed infrastructure and a huge drop in productivity. And that’s not including the insurance payouts.
The Agreement to Limit Global Warming
Back in 2015, world leaders (including the US) attending the UN’s climate change meeting in France, created the Paris Climate Accord, an international agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, compared to pre-industrial times. They called the move critical to minimizing the damage to humans and nature caused by extreme temperatures and climate disasters.
The Trump administration subsequently withdrew the US from that agreement. Global climate control measures since then have been so inefficient that the 13th edition of the U.N. Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report, issued in October, states there is now “no credible pathway” remaining to accomplish the move to containment at 1.5C. This report analyses the gap between the rhetoric and the reality.
According to the UN, not only are the world’s nations failing to enact sufficient plans to reduce warming, global greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise .
“Loss and damage from the climate emergency are getting worse by the day and global and national climate commitments are falling pitifully short,” says United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
“Under current policies, the world is headed for 2.8 degrees Celsius (37.04 Fahrenheit) of global heating in fewer than 80 years. In other words, we are headed for a global catastrophe.”
It’s not just flooding that worries scientists. Climate change creates cascading crises. What’s in all those prehistoric ice caps — such Siberian permafrost — that will be unleashed when thawing increases? Might we be confronting unknown virulent viruses and bacteria that have been in deep freeze for thousands of years?
The only way to change this trajectory is with “urgent system-wide transformation,” the UN agency said.
Those concerns are making up a large part of the agenda for the 27th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – or COP 27 – now taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. And because the UN has just made it pretty clear that the 1.5°C target will be missed, the discussion will center on how to make greater efforts to adapt to climate change. And, yes, it comes down to money.
Adapting to Climate Change
Market estimates figure governments and industries today invest about $1Trillion a year globally in clean energy – about a third of what’s needed. Even though solar and wind power can be built more cheaply than today’s more polluting power generators, our power grids must be rebuilt to accommodate the sporadic occurrence of sun and wind.
The public will is there. In the US, nearly two-thirds of the population think the federal government is not doing enough to fight climate change. That poll also shows a lack of public awareness of what the Biden administration has already done. The Inflation Reduction Act, for example, includes $375 Billion in climate incentives to spur investments in clean energy such as wind and solar power, in order to speed up the transition from the oil, coal, and gas that largely cause climate change.
In short, the bill aims to make the cost of using renewable energy so cheap to use at home, on the roads, and in the factories, that carbon emissions from fossil-fuel-generated electricity will shrink by 80% by 2030.
This is the largest ever commitment made by the US to combat global warming. However, considering that the US is the world’s second-biggest polluter (China is #1, India #3, Russia #4), the move had a tepid reception from other industrial countries.
“This law is big for the US but in global terms long overdue,” Niklas Hohne, co-founder of the New Climate Institute in environmentally conscious Germany told the BBC. “The U.S. has a long way to go on climate change and it is starting from a very, very high emission level.”
On the Plus Side…
Despite the grim reporting from the UN, there are other studies that point to some bright signs.
The State of Climate Action study from the World Resources Institute says that globally, almost half of the buses sold in 2021 were powered by battery electric or fuel cell electric engines — a sign that the transition to sustainable travel is well underway.
And the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook, published in October, argues that the energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine has already created positive changes that could hasten the transition to a more secure and sustainable energy system. The report also finds it’s likely that new policies in countries like the US, Japan, Korea, and the 27-nation EU will boost see clean energy investments to some $2 trilllion by 2030, a 50% increase from today.
What You Can Do
You don’t have to be prepared to spend your savings to save the planet. There are daily decisions you can make that will make a difference: reflection rather than refinancing. For example:
How do you travel? Fossil fuels are the world’s largest polluter. Have you investigated electric cars? They are not far from being readily available and readily chargeable, so be informed. We may be decades away from solar-powered airplanes, but you can still consider whether you absolutely positively must take that cross-country trip. Can you take a train rather than a plane? In town, can you take one of those electric buses rather than drive? Can you WALK?
How do you power your home? Are your appliances energy-efficient? Many gas and electric companies are offering rebates to upgrade to low-usage models. Are solar panels a possibility? Many utility companies are now required to include renewables in their energy portfolios. Is yours one of them? (If not, how about sending a letter to your state’s utilities commissioner?)
How do you shop?
– Clothing represents about 3% of global carbon emissions. That’s both in production and in end-of-use when it literally goes up in smoke unless you recycle.
– Food – especially meat and dairy – is the second-largest polluter, right behind fossil fuel. A World Resource Institute report on sustainable diets show that if the cattle grown for food were their own nation, they would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the US. Even a small change like eating locally grown and seasonal food can help cut down emissions. You could consider cutting down on meat, too.
Are you speaking up? Sharing your concerns on social media isn’t enough. E-mail your local state, and national officials who can actually do something concrete. Check out what the companies you transact with do about controlling climate change and let them know how you feel about what they’re doing. Be a good citizen as well as a good consumer.
Can you spare some money to fight climate change? Consider contributing to the UN Climate Convention’s portfolio of dozens of projects around the world – some of which allow you to “buy back” the carbon your company or household is emitting as a way of decreasing your “carbon footprint.” To find out how that works, you can use the UN’s handy carbon footprint calculator.
And if you think one person will not make a difference, these items from the BBC should change your mind:
- Patrons at a US cafe who were told that 30% of Americans had started eating less meat were twice as likely to order a meatless lunch.
- An online survey showed that of the respondents who know someone who had given up flying because of climate change, half of them said they flew less as a result.
- In California, households were more likely to install solar panels in neighborhoods that already have them.
So before you start thinking fighting climate change is a lost cause, take heart: as The Economist special report notes, many actions adapting to climate change are affordable, and anything action you take is far better than doing nothing at all.