Preserving the planet is a question of human will, not capacity.
East Tennessee is known for many things but predictable weather is NOT one of them. In the 5 years I have lived here, I have seen the most beautiful fall colors in the Smokies, gone ice-skating in the winter, played soccer in the parks in the spring, and tried to stay hydrated in the summer because 90°F is just too high, even for an equator-born boy like me. However, this year’s weather has been…unusual, to put it lightly. Tornadoes, thunderstorms, and 3 inches of snow all in one weekend? Yet this is just but a glimpse of the many unprecedented weather events we have been witnessing in the US and globally.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) report asserts with “high confidence [that] there is a near-linear relationship between cumulative anthropogenic CO2 emissions and the global warming they cause”. What this report is saying is that the current levels of warming, and subsequently, the impact on the climate, are undoubtedly due to human activity, which is what anthropogenic means. It would be unfair to say that fossil fuels have been entirely bad for human society as they have been the main driver of development in the 20th century. However, knowing the effect of CO2 on the planet, which by the way had already been demonstrated by Eunice Foote in 1856, should have been sufficient to show that we could not depend on fossil fuels forever and would eventually have to transition to cleaner sources of energy. But now is not the time to say what we could have done, or even feel guilty for what we should have done but didn’t. We should channel all our efforts to actions that will preserve the planet. If in 150 years we have been able to alter the temperature of an entire planet that has been stable for 9000 years, I believe we have the ability to reverse the effects of our own human-caused climate change. Preserving the climate, like destroying it, is simply a question of human will, not capacity.
And I do not mean using paper straws or carpooling. These are all good things but will not significantly reduce the effects of climate change. A solution has to be comprehensive and has to supersede individual actions. Governments and corporations committing to carbon-neutrality are also taking a step in the right direction. However, this falls short of the required aggressiveness that will actually make a difference. We not only need to offset current CO2 emissions, we need to be carbon-negative and take out historical emissions as well as offset current emissions and at the same time transition to cleaner sources of energy. The IPCC report asserts that “Anthropogenic CO2 (CDR) removal leading to global net negative emissions would lower the atmospheric CO2 concentration [and] If global net negative CO2 emissions were to be achieved and be sustained, the global CO2-induced surface temperature increase would be gradually reversed”.
Therefore, carbon-capture and sequestration projects need to be a top priority for many countries, especially those in the developed world that have both the technical expertise as well as the larger share of responsibility in mitigating the climate crisis. While the technology of sequestering carbon underground is not perfect, and in some ways controversial since it can be used to extract even more fossil fuels, it is a crucial tool in the toolbox of climate change mitigation.
Meeting the target of 1.5°C of warming is ambitious and imperative, since meeting this temperature target will help us avert the worst effects of climate change. Humans have an incredible ability to solve difficult problems, especially when we work together, and meeting this target is a goal we have to achieve, since our very existence is at stake.