It’s a Warming World & I have no title
Climate change, nay, a warming world with more extreme weather, sharper and harder swings between flooding and drought, melting ice caps, rising seas, stronger and deadlier storms is upon us. We’ve already surpassed 1° C warming and are set to surpass 1.5° C warming within the next decade or two.
The data is depressing, it’s scary, and taken in of itself offers little hope of a calmer, better future. Now, I’ll admit, I’m a generally pessimistic guy. Or, rather, I’m optimistically pessimistic — I am usually positive that the worst outcomes will come to pass. But, on this, I’m relatively hopeful that while the latest UN climate report paints a pretty dark and foreboding picture of the decades and centuries to come, humanity will find ways to stop the warming and reverse what currently seems irreversible.
First and foremost, and no surprise to anyone who trusts in climate science and the latest conclusions, we must cut CO2 emissions and work to get to Net Negative Emissions (at least until we get back to pre-Industrial CO2 levels). We must cut methane emissions. Yes, all my carnivore friendly friends, that means cutting out red meat. We must kill our reliance on fossil fuels and give renewables the warm embrace and love they deserve. Farming practices must change, our reliance on toxic fertilizers and insecticides need to be rethought and reworked to keep our waterways clean and our insect populations up. On that note, we need to cut light pollution, find new and more sustainable building materials. Retrofit existing buildings and homes to be more energy efficient. And, that’s just off the top of my head.
There’s a lot of work, but so much of the necessary tools and technologies already exist. It’s a matter of energizing people on the local level, chipping away at the issues one house, one building, one town and one city at a time. It’s about coming together in a way humanity hasn’t since WW II to defeat yet another enemy of our own making.
It’s all doable. I even believe that reversing (or, at the very least, stopping) glacier melt, even though the UN report says that won’t happen for hundreds of years on its own, is possible with existing technology. We have ultra-white paint that reflects 95.5% of sunlight. Glass beads potentially provide the same or similar effect. Yes, I’m speaking of geo-engineering. While scary, and we really really need to be sure of how to mitigate any unintended consequences, geo-engineering will be a necessary component in stopping, mitigating and potentially reversing the damage we’ve done to the climate, planet and ecosystems we depend on for our very survival (no hyperbole here, Mars isn’t going to save us anytime soon, and we have yet to identify another Earth-like habitable planet).
To cut CO2 emissions we need not just replace our internal combustion engines with electric and replace our coal and natural gas power plants with renewables. No, we also need to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere to rapidly bring levels down, which is possible, we have the technology. Unproven at scale, sure, but the groundwork has been laid, and I believe that with enough government and private investment this is a technology that can be brought to scale in just a few short years. It’s also a technology we’ll need as replacing gas cars and coal power plants will take time, something we’re excessively short on.
There are those who have pushed back against this and other geo-engineering efforts, and to them I say “I understand the concern, but we’re no longer at the point where we can pull solutions off the table.” Absolutely we need to be smart about what we do, how we do it, as well as have backup plans to fix any unintended consequences. And, yes, not every geo-engineering idea is a good one, at least not at large scale. Maybe, like using reflective aerosols to help cool the atmosphere, it’s an idea that works regionally but not globally. Or, just not at all as the side effects are worse than the disease. Still, there are avenues we can take now that so far have shown little to no negative impacts. This includes rooftop gardens in cities. Using reflective materials on roofs to help reflect heat into space (such as the ultra-white paint I mentioned). Planting trees along urban roads. Reforestation. Restoring wetlands and other natural areas. Getting the wealthy nations to work with tropicals nations to find alternative industries to cutting down rainforests for farming and grazing as well as ways to restore the areas lost (I’m not naïve here, I know very well that this means putting pressure on the American and European multinationals that are behind much of this deforestation as well as the various Amazonian governments).
There are other avenues that we need to pursue, such as ramping up research and production of green building materials (there’s a lot of work into using fungi that looks exceptionally promising). Reducing meat consumption. Ramping up urban farming. Not just individual vegetable gardens, but vertical and indoor farming to bring fresh produce super local.
Truth be told, we’ve already identified what needs to be done and we’ve already pursued solutions to many of these challenges. What needs to be done today is what has always needed to be done. Our political leaders, representatives, and We the People need to apply the pressure and provide the resources to get private industry on board. That means that easy profits off polluting business strategies need to quickly become excessive losses. Big Oil needs to lose all subsidies and begin paying fines that fit the true scope and damage done by their misdeeds. Consumption habits need to change through awareness campaigns, higher prices and higher taxes targeting the junk foods and drinks that underpin much of the need for palm oil and other agricultural products that drive the efforts behind rainforest clear cutting. Polluters must feel financial pain, and governments need to ensure that the pain isn’t passed on to the consumer (aside from what I just mentioned). We must support the poor who will be most negatively impacted financially by these changes and by the climate disasters to come.
We royally screwed up. Those who have known for decades the level and scope of the disasters at our door must be made to pay. But, ultimately, the solutions must be pursued and implemented by all of us. We must work together to prevent further warming and we must work together to find solutions that will reverse the damage already done.
We have the solutions, we have the technology. We must muster the will and motivation. The money will come, the jobs will be there, our economies will not falter or fail so long as we build a green future. I believe we can do it. I have hope.