On the Path of the Climate Change Threat

[Note on the author: Sally Wang is an operations manager and coordinator, living and working temporarily in London though her family home is in the USA. She was a student on the City, University of London Writing for Business short course in Oct-Dec 2018. Sally wrote this blog as part of a homework/in-class exercise on that course.]

Heatwaves, floods and drought are striking us more frequently than expected. Our actions will determine our future and fate. Are we prepared?

Why are California’s wildfires so hard to fight? And why do farmers in Iowa have no water for their corn? Why are people seeing their insurance rates go up? It is clear that the impact of climate change is growing. But what is causing these changes? And how does the rising temperature affect the environment, and our lives?

A group of prominent global climate change scientists at the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) have been exploring this issue for decades. And their recent climate change report gives more explanation.

The IPCC report statistics are telling

The IPCC scientists reported that the earth had warmed by 1° Celsius over the last few centuries and was likely to heat up by 2°C more by the next century. A temperature rise of that scale would exceed the terms of the Paris climate agreement which is aiming for an increase of less than 2°C. “Warming of 1.5 degrees (Celsius) or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes” said one of the chairs of the IPCC working group. The IPCC report found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would need quick and extensive action to cut carbon dioxide emissions, by nearly half by the year 2030, and to zero by the year 2050.

The IPCC added that it is critical to limit warming to 1.5°C and to set that as our climate goal. The research results show that coral reefs would disappear with 2°C of warming, but that some would survive an increase of the target 1.5°C. A higher rise would mean millions more people facing increased sea levels and heatwaves. In an FT article on the report, Leslie Hook highlighted the IPCC’s conclusion that the Arctic would experience a summer free of sea-ice once a decade in a world that was 2°C warmer, compared to only once a century if warming were limited to 1.5°C.

Impact of global carbon emissions

According to the IPCC report, to reach our climate goal hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide need to be removed from the atmosphere via high levels of reforestation and other methods. The environmental impact of carbon dioxide lies in the greenhouse effect, which makes it difficult to release the heat absorbed by the earth. So the big dream of the environmental and meteorological community at present is to maintain and control the increase in the average atmospheric temperature to 2°C by the end of this century.

To laymen like us, this doesn’t seem a big problem. It will be more comfortable to have a warmer winter; and it seems ok to have a slightly hot summer. However, the distribution of the surface air temperature is unbalanced. So, with an average increase of 2°C, obviously some areas will be facing a greater temperature increase.

And a 2°C increase means severe damage to the ecosystem of the coral reef; a large scale of ice layer collapse for the Antarctic; and no ice for the Arctic Ocean which leads to a raising of the sea level globally.

The IPCC report added that global carbon dioxide emissions were flat in 2015 and 2016, but have started to rise again, due to increasing consumption of coal, oil, and natural gas.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, made the following observations:

Now in 2018, we have looked at the first nine months of data, the energy data which we have here at our fingertips, I can tell you that we expect CO2 emissions in 2018 will continue to increase. This will bring us further away from our climate goals. The growth in renewable energy seems to be not enough to reduce the trends.

What should we do?

If we cannot reverse the trend of global warming, as the sea level rises it will cause coastal seawater to pour in, forcing residents to move inland, and leading to water contamination. Natural disasters such as heatwave, drought and wildfire will strike us more frequently; and agricultural output will decline.

So climate change has become a cross-cutting issue, affecting our living environment and public health as well as economic aspects. Scientists are finally focusing attention on the combined implications of the recolonization of marine animals, the decline of sea ice in the Arctic, rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns, and agricultural economy disruption.

It is time for us to have a general policy to restrict fossil fuels and develop renewable energy such as solar and wind – some people even argue nuclear. In many organizations and communities, people have launched initiatives on maintaining their living environments, such as driving smart and electric cars; riding and walking to work, school and anywhere they can; recycling reusable goods; and making home more energy efficient.

Controversies

There are controversial views about the climate change issue. Some people think climate change is a topic of noise. However, Kenneth Miller, a distinguished professor and prominent climate scientist at Rutgers University in the USA, has a different view. Miller authored a research paper together with a number of colleagues, and based on research into past sea-level activity from New York to Virginia, they found that in the 20th century the sea level rise was faster than during any other century in the last four thousand years.

Miller is frustrated with the climate change deniers:

We can say unequivocally, looking at sea-level records, that what’s going on now is unprecedented. … It greatly concerns me. There’s always going to be people who are not going to acknowledge reality – which is the nicest way I could put it – or want to live in their own reality. To not acknowledge there’s a problem is sticking your head in the sand.

The climate is certainly changing and it creates risks and challenges to human health, safety, living quality, and economic growth. To avoid further damage, the IPCC report calls for renewed efforts to restrict the consumption of fossil fuels and to reduce the greenhouse effects.

If policymakers across the world could work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the ways recommended by the report, who knows, maybe the degree of future damage could be lessened.