T H E   C L I M A T E   C R I S I S

Author: Josh Robertson (16/10/16) 👨‍💻 

Climate change is like that mate you don't wanna talk to because he's too drunk. It's difficult to understand, sometimes scary and people often avoid it. After all, it's hard to comprehend that us little humans are significantly affecting this big beautiful blue marble we're living on. We evolved to deal with immediate threats like a lion charging at us, rather than the creeping threat of a global apocalypse because of the collective actions of >7.5 billion people. But now we must quickly face and deal with what's happening.

Climate change is essentially the few hurting the many. Historically (and simply) speaking, the Western world became rich by exploiting resources on a huge scale, and we're consequently responsible for producing over 50% of the world's carbon emissions between 1850-2011. This story remains unchanged, with the richest 10% of the world's consumers currently being responsible for ~50% of the world's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Whilst the rich cause the problem, it's the poor who will suffer the consequences most. 

 📸 Paul Nicklen

The earth's climate is changing - but Josh, hasn't it always changed?? Why yes, yes it has. But the recent rapid change in climate doesn't fit the natural pattern of temperature variations - we're living in an anomaly. In fact, since 1998 we've had the 10 warmest years on record, the the levels of CO2 are higher than they have been in 650,000 years (that's 25,545 times as old as Justin Bieber), global sea levels have risen 178mm in the last 100 years, and the mass of land ice in Antarctica and Greenland has been reduced by an average of 3742 and  8910 tonnes per second since 2002; that means that Greenland is losing the equivalent of >44 blue whales worth of ice each second. But is this a big deal? I mean places like the UK could do with warmer summers anyway, and so what if the sea's gone up a little bit and we've lost a lot of ice. Well actually these things are a HUGE deal! (and parts of Europe will actually get colder!). The cause of this change? People.

 📸 Shannon Wild
 Graph by NASA

Greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane trap heat around the earth like a blanket...or a greenhouse. This effect takes place in the delicate film surrounding the earth, our lifeline, also known as the atmosphere - the thin greeny-blue layer below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 📸  above and 📽️ below by NASA

How are people causing this change you ask? Well CO2 levels have increased by ~42% from preindustrial levels (from 280 to 404.42 parts per million in 2016). This CO2 is released anytime we burn fossil fuels (driving cars, jet setting, heating our homes etc.) and chop down forests, and also through natural processes like volcanic eruptions (listen to this generically dull but informative video on the right for more info on CO2). Additionally, methane has a global warming potential 25 times higher than CO2 and is released through  agricultural practices like when cows get gassy (1  cow can produce between 250 - 500 litres of methane a day - there are at least 1.4 billion cows

across the world!); the production and transport of fossil fuels; and, the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills - that's why using that little annoying bin for organic waste is actually worthwhile. Basically we're producing wayyyy too much greenhouse gas, in fact around 110 million tonnes of greenhouse gas is released per day. This traps about as much heat as the heat energy released from exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs every single day!!

Obviously if we keep this up, the future doesn't look too great. But what exactly will happen? Well basically we'd be pretty screwed... weather related disasters will increase dramatically (e.g. more frequent and severe: flooding in the UK, droughts in the Mediterranean, rainstorms in the tropics, and wildfires worldwide), tropical diseases will spread to new areas, there will be a mass loss of wildlife, and sea level rise will cause mass migrations of people leading to overcrowding and geopolitical instability, which will in turn increase pressure on resources and potentially lead to wars; the list is pretty horrific and could go on and on. Here's a list Al Gore composed in his presentation at TED in 2016 (ft. Kevin Hart): 

Jeeze, that's extreme. Well I don't want that to happen, this is my favourite planet earth! So what can I do as an individual to help? For a start we can:

  1. Demand change from politicians and support carbon taxes (this will cause a shift that reduces other taxes and will reduce fossil fuel use and subsidies)

  2. Buy locally sourced foods

  3. Go vegetarian/vegan/generally reduce the amount of meat we eat, and especially avoid buying beef - switching to chicken can reduce your CO2 emissions by 80% on average and it's better for you!... and who wants to live in a world covered by a blanket of cow burp anyway?

  4. Use Ecosia for searching the web (they plant 1 tree for every search - pretty awesome)

  5. Reduce the number of flights we take by using trains instead (where possible)

  6. Cycle or walk short distances instead of driving

  7. Buy hybrid cars

  8. Be more efficient with our energy, e.g. change to eco-friendly lightbulbs in our houses

  9. Most importantly, be more conscientious of our individual impacts as consumers and strive for change.

Also - Ted Halstead breaks down what countries and governments should do in his cracking TED Talk: A climate solution where all sides can win. Ted presents a 4-point framework governments can use to increase income whilst reducing emissions.

So it seems that in our current culture of distraction (exhibit A) we have a planetary emergency, and in this emergency we have an opportunity like mankind has never had before, to change the fate of the planet in one generation. That may sound like a bit much but it's completely true. We're the last generation that can act and we can do it! We need to be more conscious of our own habits and move together as a society towards renewable energy, leaving our old carbon-based lifestyles in the dirt. We as the people have the power to change the way our governments view this situation, and if we treat it as a big deal and make a fuss they'll do the same. 

 

We're already making the first steps, and once renewable energy crosses the threshold making it a better investment than fossil fuels we'll be in a much stronger position. Renewable energy has huge potential, for example the solar energy reaching the earth in 1 hour is enough  to provide the global energy demand for 1 year. Al Gore suggests that renewable energy is perhaps the greatest new buisness opportunity in the world!  We're going to win this climate crisis, but the speed at which we win is key. Take it away Al...

When you have 90 mins, check out Leo Dicaprio's new documentary 'Before the Flood' - it's a must watch and you get to see Leo being an absolute boss in places around the world. If you don't have the time, just watch from 1hr 15mins 35 secs in (it's 15 mins long and you get a beautiful summary).

Want to learn more? Check these out!

Interesting Articles, Reports, & Book

Here's an interesting way to calculate your own carbon footprint - the results may surprise you!

Some great visuals on the state of the planet by NASA:    http://climate.nasa.gov​ 

This site talks you through the basics of climate change:    http://www.globalchange.gov/climate-change

Statements from the popular documentary 'Cowspiracy' and the sources of those statements:     http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/

Climate change for kids!   http://climatekids.nasa.gov/ocean/

Not everyone is a climate change believer though. Try not to pull all your hair out: http://www.climatehustle.org/

Interesting Videos

Jimmy Kimmel swiftly 'puts down' the climate change non-believers. Watch till the end for an important public service announcement! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UCdFbyL8y0

Comedian Marcus Brigstocke talks making climate change 'sexy' and solving climate change within a democracy. Worth watching just for the peom:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDUcQY3jO4M

Great TED talk on the inequality of climate change, why it's potential pathway for violence, and a final message of hope :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtu9GHhiK0o#t=484.815223203

Scientific Papers

Learn about the effects of climate change on our health: http://www.thelancet.com/commissions/climate-change-2015

Learn about the effects of climate change on the world's oceans:  http://www.annualreviews.org/eprint/QwPqRGcRzQM5ffhPjAdT/full/10.1146/annurev.marine.010908.163834?ref=driverlayer.com 

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