A New Year’s resolution for the World
“Halt Climate Change” will probably not be on our New Year’s resolutions list. But it should, especially those of our political leaders.
The Effects of Climate Change
We, the human race, are the single largest contributors to climate change. Through our non-stop burning of fossil fuels, we are destroying the ozone layer and replacing it with Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The introduction of CFCs into the atmosphere makes the our atmosphere thicker. The increased thickness of our atmosphere traps more of the sun’s heat that makes it’s way to earth, causing our planet to warm (albeit unevenly).
And warm our planet will. According to the vast majority of climate models, the average world temperature will rise between 2.7 and 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of 21st century (“Future Climate Change”, epa.gov). To put this number into perspective, whenever our planet has undergone periods of global warming over the past few million years, the rate of warming was 20 times slower than what it is now (“How is Today’s Warming Different From the Past?”, nasa.gov/).
One effect that this rapid warming will have is changed weather patterns. When the planet warms, some areas will experience more warming than others. This could potentially lead to the creation of new high and low pressure systems, thereby altering weather patterns. This would have a massive impact on agricultural industries worldwide. In many undeveloped countries, crop yield is still largely predicated upon steady, predictable rainfall cycles. As a result of climate change, the regular rainfall cycles many hundreds of millions depend upon could no longer occur or come at unexpected times of the year. While we can adjust to this in the long run, in the short run this could lead widespread famines, especially in sub-saharan Africa (“Future Climate Change”, epa.gov).
Not only will the cycles of precipitation change, our sources of precipitation will change as well. Over the next 50 years, we can expect to see more rainfall come in the form of a few, destructive storms, rather than gentle showers (“Intense Storms Have Become More Common”, amnh.org). As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more water, allowing thunderstorms and hurricanes to become stronger than they were before. Additionally, these storms feed off latent heat in the atmosphere, and with rising global temperatures, these storms will become stronger (“Future Climate Change”, epa.gov). However, since the amount of water in the earth’s water cycle is constant, these stronger storms will be offset by a lesser frequency in light showers. This is bad for agriculture because soil cannot absorb water when it comes down in torrential downpours. This could lead to lower than expected crop yields, and famines in less-developed countries.
Climate change will do more than just change the weather. It also has the ability to severely impact human health. In south and southeast Asia, climate change will cause increased precipitation. This would mean more pools for mosquitos to breed in (resulting in more mosquitos) and increased availability of rodent food, because of the sewage spills that result from floods (“Climate Change Can Make You More Vulnerable To Diseases”, greencleanguide.com). In south and southeast Asia, rodents and mosquitos are vectors for dangerous diseases such as Chikungunya and Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (“Infectious Diseases to Watch in South Asia”, cdc.gov). With an increased amount of vectors, these diseases are more dangerous than ever, in areas already ill-equipped to deal with them.
Climate change will not only impact us aboveground, but below ground as well. Every year, over 8 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions are dissolved in earth’s oceans (“Ocean Acidification”, ocean.si.edu). When carbon dioxide is dissolved in water, carbonic acid is formed. Carbonic acid will release H+ when bonding with other molecules in the ocean, thereby acidifying the ocean. Currently, the ocean’s pH is 8.1. By the end of this century, the ocean’s pH could drop by .4 units (in other words become more than twice as acidic) (“Ocean Acidification”, ocean.si.edu). This rapid increase in acidity would decrease the amount of Calcium Carbonate (one of the key building blocks for life) by over 30% in the next century alone (“Future Climate Change”, epa.gov) . This would directly impact animals such as coral, plankton, shellfish and mollusks, all of which sit at (or close to) the base of the Oceanic Food Chain. Decline in any of these populations would have a massive impact on the populations of other marine species. If we do nothing to curb our greenhouse gas emissions, one day, millions of species could face extinction.
As result of climate change, diseases could be more potent than ever, millions of animal species could go extinct and tens of millions could die of starvation.
How have we responded to Climate Change?
Though climate change is a dire threat, world leaders have not done enough to combat it.
A prime example of this was the recent Paris agreement. The Paris agreement required all countries to engage in emissions trading (a system by which countries and organizations receive permits to produce a specified amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases). It also reaffirmed the goal of limiting average global temperature increase to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century and established a system where countries regularly report their emissions. The agreement was hailed as a “landmark, historic deal”. Despite all the buzz surrounding the deal, there are several flaws in the Paris deal. It forces developing countries to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions as much as developed countries. Since traditional fossil fuels are less costly than alternative fuel sources, cutting back on carbon dioxide emissions is costly. For a developing country, such costs can derail economic development. Given all this, I think it would be more reasonable for developed countries to cut back on carbon emissions more than developing countries have to.
Another weakness is the disconnect between the ideal behind the agreement and the realities of the modern-day economy. Very few finance ministers, who deal with shaping their country’s budget and managing their country’s trade competitiveness, were present at the conference. Without the presence of financial ministers, the delegates at conference may not have taken into account the economic realities facing other countries, which could make it hard for their countries to meet the standards of the Paris agreement.
Despite it’s many flaws of the Paris agreement, it is by far the most successful climate change conference of our time. This is not an endorsement of it’s successes; it is rather an indictment upon how little other climate change conferences have accomplished. Ever since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, very little has been done to further the fight against climate change. Most of the climate change conferences since the Kyoto Protocol have achieved little tangible progress in terms of coming up with measures to limit carbon dioxide emissions; progress that we desperately need.
Clearly, the response to the threat of climate change has been lackluster. This needs to change now.
What can we do?
Even if our world leaders don’t make any significant progress on tackling the threat of climate change, we the people still can.
Here are four things we all can do:
- Change Our Lightbulbs
One enviormentally friendly thing we could all do is change our lightbulbs. Instead of using energy-intensive incandescent bulbs, we should use LED/flourescent lightbulbs.
If every household in the world were to swap one incandescent lightbulb for LED/flourescent lightbulb, we would reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by over 400 million tons every year (I calculated this figure).
2. Choose a Laptop instead of a Desktop
Another easy thing we could do to shrink our carbon footprint is to choose a Laptop instead of a Desktop.
There are currently over 2 billion computers in use worldwide (“How many computers are there in the world?”, ask.com). Of this, nearly a quarter (500 million) are desktop computers (“How many computers are there in the world?”, ask.com). If we were to switch every desktop computer for a laptop, we would reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 25 million tons yearly.
3. Plant A Tree
One classic way we could cut down our carbon footprint is by planting a tree. Not only do trees provide shade in the summer, they absorb an average of 48 pounds of carbon dioxide every year (“Tree Facts”, americanforests.org).
If 1 out of every 5 people in the world were to plant just one tree, we could reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 33.6 million tons every year.
4. Drive more fuel efficient cars
Deciding between buying a small car or big car? Getting a smaller car is much more enviormentally friendly. “Compact cars”, on average, have an average fuel economy of 30 mpg, whereas “SUVs” have an average fuel economy of 21 mpg (“Gas-Saving Vehicles with the Best Combination of Fuel Economy and Acceleration”, consumerreports.org).
Currently, the average fuel efficiency of all American vehicles is 23.6 mpg (“Cars in the US are more fuel-efficient than ever”, washingtonpost.com). If we were to increase this fuel efficiency to 27 mpg (by buying small cars instead of SUVs), we would reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by over 150 million tons annually.
By just doing these 4 simple things, we would be able to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions by over 600 million tons a year. While doing these things may not be enough to reverse climate change on its own, they could certainly slow the pace of climate change.
It is not only in our power to change things, it is our duty as well. We all should make a New Year’s Resolution to fight climate change, especially the leaders of our world.