Barring the invention of some incredible new technology, the window for avoiding a deadly change to our climate appears to have closed. That’s the startling conclusion of a recent study in Nature, which found that the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the landmark Paris Climate Agreement are woefully inadequate for keeping our climate within safe and stable limits.
The Paris Agreement (a historic piece of climate change policy adopted by 195 countries) pledged to limit human-caused global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. (We are currently 1 degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels now.) We’re supposed to accomplish this goal by aggressively cutting back on fossil fuels and switching entirely to renewable sources of energy.
But according to new evidence, even before the Paris Agreement can take effect, we are already locked into 1.5 degrees of temperature increase simply from the carbon and methane pollution we have already released.
And if things weren’t already headed in the wrong direction, the study finds that the meager targets in the Paris Agreement would actually push us up to a 3 degree increase by the end of the century. This would cause about 20 feet of sea level rise, decimation of coral reefs and marine life, massive crop losses, famine, drought, vast extinctions and lethal weather calamities worldwide.
This would also displace so many people as to create a refugee crisis the same scale as the current Syrian refugee crisis—every year!
As controversial as the Paris Agreement has been, scientists are clear that if we want to keep the planet habitable for our grandchildren, it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
An Extremely Conservative Estimate
This new study only adds to the findings of the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which unequivocally determined that humans are indeed causing rapid climate change—despite natural global cooling trends like volcanic eruptions and changes in solar radiation.
The IPCC report included the work of over 2,000 scientists from around the world, reviewing 9,200 peer-reviewed studies, and received 1,855 comments from over 110 nations, as well as dozens of industry groups and environmental organizations.
In other words, the IPCC climate report is the culmination of the biggest and most rigorous process of peer review conducted in any scientific field, at any point in human history.
Even once the scientists agreed, the report had to be accepted by dozens of politicians worldwide who avidly questioned anything they found disagreeable.
Even the politicians found nothing in the IPCC report to disagree with.
Yeah, it’s like that.
Yet, despite the global consensus that humans are indeed causing rapid climate change, a lot of people have been crying foul over both the IPCC report and the Paris Agreement, saying they will crush the economy. (As if climate instability, increasing natural disasters, pollution, and dwindling resources aren’t already crushing the economy).
But in reality, what is happening is way beyond nature’s normal cycles of warming and cooling, and both this new report and the IPCC Agreement are highly conservative.
The overwhelming consensus among scientists, governments and even industry is even stronger than before. What the Nature report and the new study are describing is the collapse of the benign, relatively stable climate in which we evolved and have prospered for millennia, and the loss of the conditions upon which many plants, animals and other lifeforms depend for their very existence.
Truth be told, “climate change” is a term that inadequately describes what this report concludes.
What we are really looking at is climate breakdown.
No More Room for Denial
The IPCC report and the Nature study are revving up climate denial in all its forms, but failure to “believe in” something you don’t like doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
Really, such head-in-the-sand craziness would be hilarious were it not such a useless distraction from the very dire circumstances we are facing, and the work we need to be doing right now.
Honestly, the certainty the scientific community feels about what we are facing is enough to make any sane person feel depressed and hopeless. It would be reasonable for people to want to deny or just plain ignore the fact that we are on a fast track to catastrophic warming—and human-made pollution is the train that is carrying us there.
But there is a silver lining. There is hope…
This isn’t natural. This isn’t inevitable.
We are not at the passive mercy of the vagaries of planetary cycles. We are not doomed to helplessly watch the collapse of the stable climate we have depended on for tens of thousands of years.
No. This is us.
Forty years ago we didn’t know the damage that carbon and methane pollution could cause. But now we do.
And we can do something about it.
But we have to act powerfully and quickly.
All of us doing our part at home and in our communities, and demanding change from our government officials.
What We Can Do About Climate Change
There is no magic bullet to stop our rapidly changing climate. No solar plants, wind turbines, electric cars, or organic farms alone will do the trick. The only effective means of preventing climate breakdown is to also leave fossil fuels in the ground and reduce the amazing amount of energy we waste.
Press any government leader on this matter in private and, in one way or another, they will concede the point. A few, like the former Irish President, have even said as much publicly.
Yet no government will do what must be done without significant pressure to do so.
So it’s on us to change the way we live, and to demand that our governments put PEOPLE ahead of oil company profits, or even their re-election bid, and move us as quickly as possible to a fossil-fuel-free future.
There will be no political will to make the big changes we need unless we demand it. And without such demand, we really will be doomed. Remember, the science tells us our children are already locked in to being pretty uncomfortable. Let’s reign things in before it’s too late.
Here are six areas of action you can take now to make a difference:
1. Cut emissions from fossil fuels.
Technology to cut emissions from fossil fuels is available and must be used, and utilities must be forced to use it, whatever it may cost them. National emissions controls for coal, oil and gas are a necessity, not only for the sake of climate change, but simply to curb air pollution so fewer people suffer from asthma and other health problems related to poor air quality.
It’s ridiculous that we should have “orange”, “red” or even “purple” air quality days anymore.
Our carbon emissions are falling a bit because we are using more natural gas and less coal. But carbon pollution hasn’t fallen enough, and methane emissions are rising because of natural gas production. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas too—in fact, it’s 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide!
Power plants are also one of the leading causes of mercury pollution (which ends up in seafood), so cleaning up our power plants would go a long way toward cleaner air for everyone!
Contact your governor and your Congressperson and demand they enact strong legislation to curb emissions both from vehicles and power plants. We need to regulate emissions from both tailpipe and smokestack. We have the technology to do it, we just need the political will to make it happen. It’s do or die here. The choice is simple.
Demand a ban on fracking, which causes earthquakes, and releases tons of methane into the air, as well as radioactive and chemical waste into our soil and water. Fracking for natural gas has net zero environmental benefits, and in some ways is worse than coal.
2. Cut fossil fuel subsidies.
In the U.S., subsidies to oil, gas and coal producers amount to $20.5 billion annually, mostly in the form of tax or royalty breaks. Federal subsidies amount to $17.2 billion annually, while subsidies in a number of oil-, gas- and coal-producing states average $3.3 billion annually.
It’s OUTRAGEOUS that oil and gas giants get billions of dollars in support they don’t need at a time when we need to be aggressively getting off of fossil fuels.
Time to get rid of those subsidies. They give fossil fuels an unfair advantage in the market, as does the fact that they are not paying the price for the damage that carbon and methane pollution cause. We are. We taxpayers pay for all those oil spills and methane leaks too.
Petition your Senators to end fossil fuel subsidies. Call your Congressperson and demand it. You will probably hear that your utility bills will go up because of new regulations. This is a scare tactic. Don’t buy it.
Instead Mom’s Clean Air Force suggests that you ask: “Since gas is so much cheaper than coal, and since they are using so much more gas these days, why haven’t your bills gone down? Who exactly is keeping those savings? Be a demanding consumer. Know your power, and use it.”
3. Increase research, development and subsidies for renewable energy.
We need to do this as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.
Tell your President, Governor and your Congresspeople to support strong climate change legislation and national investment in renewables.
Put pressure on your governor and your utility companies to include renewable sources of energy in your power mix.
4. Become as energy-efficient and sustainable at home as possible.
Most importantly, weatherproof and insulate your home so heat doesn’t leak out your doors, walls and windows. This is a very big deal that will also save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year. It’s not a sexy thing to do as far as being green goes, but it’s one of the best things you can do.
Gradually replace your inefficient lightbulbs with LED bulbs, and be mindful of turning lights off. If you’re purchasing a new home, consider greener options. If you’re building a new home, consider the greenest options.
Live where you can carpool, use public transportation or bicycle to get to work, school or errands. Telecommute, if you can. Buy locally produced goods whenever you can, shop online when you can’t (because a few trucks delivering to everyone is more efficient than everyone individually driving to the store).
If your state already offers green power through your local utility, ask about it and sign up for it, or contact Arcadia Power to see if they provide renewable energy to your city. It will probably cost you less than a fancy latté at the local coffee shop to get your electricity from wind or solar instead of fossil fuels.
Check into solar leases and solar rentals in your state, which can provide you with renewable electricity (and sometimes a rebate check!) for much less than the cost of buying solar panels outright.
5. Mind your food footprint.
Industrial agriculture releases tons of carbon from the soil every year. In fact, industrial production of meat and vegetables rivals automobiles for the amount of carbon and methane emissions it produces.
In contrast, small and mid-scale organic farming and holistic ranching sequesters tons of carbon, returning it to the soil, and helps cool the Earth down.
Grow an organic garden and/or raise chickens to provide some of your food. Buy the rest of your food from local, organic farms and holistic ranches whenever possible. If you can’t find meat that is produced sustainably, consider eating less of it or going vegetarian.
Compost. Meal plan. 20% of U.S. methane emissions is caused by food waste going into landfills. Yikes! Meal planning is the best way to prevent this pollution on the front end, and composting is the best way to prevent it on the back-end. Food does not belong in landfills!
6. Plant trees.
Planting trees remains one of the cheapest, most effective means of removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees also “scrub” the air of pollution, and help soak up stormwater, preventing floods. They provide shade which reduces utility bills and reduces ground level ozone, and they can increase property values with their beauty, too.
As far as healthy planets go, you really can’t have too many trees.
Since we are already locked in for a really bumpy ride ahead, it is the responsibility of all of us to be good stewards of our gorgeous planet, and to make sure it is livable for our children and grandchildren. Because it really might not be, if we don’t change course NOW.
That makes doing the right thing a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
Let’s get busy!
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50 Ways to Love Your Mother contains 50 simple, “entry-level” ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Not only will these baby steps go easy on the planet, but they will go easy on your wallet, too.