Modern-day politics have rarely been as fraught and multi-layered as they are today, but if there is one topic that future historians might highlight as the one red thread that should be pulling everything together, it would be climate change. The topic has become simply unavoidable (even if the DNC rejects a debate on it).
And the news don’t look good. Almost every other day another study is published that decries the imminent death of most, if not all, habitability of the planet. News articles herald the end of human civilisation as we know it. And protests highlighting it all bring entire cities to a standstill.
There is one particular date that most everyone focuses on: 2050. That is the year most climate reports date their predictions by. If we don’t stick by the 2015 Paris Agreement, which envisioned temperatures not rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than before we started burning fossil fuels, things will indeed look very dire by 2050.
But a lot can be done in three decades.
2050 is about 30 years from now — and that’s more than enough time to turn things around. Mainly, there will have to be a massive shift in our priorities. But if we get things done in the next few years, we can still save the planet.
We have to change the way we spend money — on every scale.
First, we’ll have to massively divert funds away from the fossil fuel industry. The International Monetary Fund estimates that governments spend about $5 trillion globally on this —something we can’t really budget for anymore if we value our climate.
This will create costs upfront. It will mean a shift in the economy and a loss of job sectors and industry incentives. But these costs are not as high as they were once believed to be, and new technologies continue to be developed that can step up to cover the losses.
For example, recent years have seen a massive decrease in solar panels and offshore wind power prices. Iceland and Paraguay have made headlines by completely removing carbon from their bills, according to an energy analysis by Bloomberg: Paraguay made the jump by investing massively in hydro power, and Iceland utilised hydro as well as geothermal sources. Europe faces the tantalising possibility of being 90 % carbon-free by 2040. Canada is already almost there, thanks to hydro, nuclear, wind and solar.
These changes will have to make their way into our everyday lives. For example, we will have to change drastically how we move around in the world. Today, transportation globally contributes around a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But these changes are within our grasp. China, for instance, relies on 400,000 electric city buses, a number that increase by about a third in the last year alone.
We need to focus on what we can gain, rather than what we will lose.
Another big change will have to transform modern-day agriculture. Typical large-scale monoculture farms will have to give way to smarter, less intensive ones that focus on a range of different crops, instead of just one at a time. Alongside this shift in planting strategies, there will also be a reduction in chemical pesticides and fertilisers (the latter is a key contribution to one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide).
Animal farming will also have to evolve. We will have to decrease the amount of meat we consume, while restricting cows and sheep to land that cannot be used for agricultural or urban development, or by covering their grazing areas to capture the methane they produce.
Meanwhile, our dietary habits will have to rely more and more on lab-grown meat or artificial protein, if we want to maintain current cuisines. Or we could just switch to generally more veggie-based menus — if we can convince the carnivores.
Not all hope is lost just yet.
All of the strategies I have outlined here are already happening. These aren’t utopian Sci-Fi fantasies, or Silicon Valley sponsored computer simulations. We already have people working on all of these topics, from energy to agriculture to transportation, and many, many more.
“The best way out is always through.” — Robert Frost
We just need to make the jump and start using these technologies on a grander scale, in our everyday lives. If we get things right in the next few years, the forecast for 2050 doesn’t look so bleak — or hot — any longer.