By: Robert Thomas
With increasing talk of the importance of taking action to prevent climate change, environmental activism has made a resurgence. Even with this last-ditch effort to save the environment, the reality is that it is already too late, and at best we can attempt to alleviate the worst of it.
Climate change is best made analogous to a speeding car that has no brakes and is gradually accelerating toward a brick wall in the distance. Even if the world somehow managed to cease 100 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, because this planet-sized car has no brakes, it will still take a significant amount of time for the greenhouse gasses that we have already released to be naturally scrubbed from the atmosphere, or for the car to decelerate.
According to a recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the planet has 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Surpassing this number by even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of catastrophic events, such as drought, floods, wildfires, extreme heat, food and water shortages, mass migrations and poverty for people worldwide.
The world is currently 1 degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels. However, headlines on this report such as “We have 12 years left to act on climate change, UN warns” from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, can be extremely misleading and give the implication that things may not be as grim as they actually are.
Despite many claiming that the media hypes up the danger of climate change, it actually significantly undersells the reality of climate change.
The U.N. report states that carbon pollution would have to be cut by 45 percent by 2030 to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius and come down to zero by 2050. This would require an unprecedented level of change to achieve, which seems very unlikely given the current global outlook.
According to a Yale University article, in Sept. 2016, the planet’s atmosphere broke a startling record of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide year around. The significance of this number is that it has long served as a clear red line into a danger zone of climate change by climate scientists.
The last time that there was this much carbon in the air, over 2 million years ago, the sea levels were 80 feet higher than they are now. This is important considering the fact that about 40 percent of people in the world live within 100 kilometers of the coast, and that humans can’t breathe underwater.
Despite such a grim outlook, the public is largely uninformed on the reality of the situation. Matt Bershadsky, a sophomore psychology major, said that he believes it is possibly worse than most people believe.
“Even myself, I don’t think about climate change ever,” Bershadsky said. “Because it doesn’t seem as bad to me since I just don’t have the knowledge … that would be necessary to make a decision on it.”
With conflicting reports and studies, it can be difficult to understand the direction in which our planet is heading. While the planet may be in an irreversible path to a deteriorating environment, the best we can do now is make small efforts to slow it down.