Just a few days ago, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared a “code red for humanity” in its latest 3,000 page report on the state of the climate. It is clear that the climate is in a state of emergency due to human-caused climate change and time is running out to do something about limiting our temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Enough with the vague pledges and distant deadlines. The time is now to do something as the world is literally burning as I write this. Here in Colorado our air is getting choked by smoke from wildfires burning on the West coast. Alaska has been affected by local wildfires and smoke from fires burning in Siberia. Turkey, Italy and Greece are battling historic fires. Bushfires devastated Australia in 2019-20 with the next season just starting. Weather patterns are getting less stable and the planet will become less and less habitable creating new crises as well as coastal climate refugees who will migrate inland, causing overpopulation problems and exhausting already stressed resources. The signs and symptoms are all around us – the Earth has a fever, thanks to us. At this point, some of these changes are irreversible. There’s a built-in lag time to the climate system. Think about when you set an ice cube out on a counter. It doesn’t melt instantaneously. Rather, it takes some time to heat up and then melt – there’s a lag. So even if we stopped ALL emissions today, there’s a lag in the system – there’s still warming coming down the “pipeline”. Is there anything we can do to fix this?
The first step is understanding the scale of the problem – a tough thing to do as the world is a big place. Using less heat in the winter and less air conditioning in the summer is good – and should be done – but it needs the collective effort of billions of people on the planet. Realistically, that simply won’t happen. Ordering from Amazon, while convenient, burns fossil fuels. There’s a huge carbon footprint associated because of the fuel for the vehicle (truck or plane); not to mention all the packaging and plastic used that most likely doesn’t get recycled. Multiply this waste by the millions EVERY DAY and it’s no wonder we have a problem – with fossil fuel emissions AND plastic. This is easily fixed though – stop buying so much! Or buy local and support local businesses – they could sure use the help given the pandemic year we’ve had.
Will the Earth survive this? Sure. It has in the past after natural climate changes occurred due to plate tectonics, extreme volcanism and changes in the solar cycle. But in the deep past, those events have always led to extinctions. We’re next. How can a species be so short-sighted as to have all the facts and evidence in hand and STILL cause their own extinction? Humanity should be better than this. And it has the rational capacity to change. Switching to carbon-free economies and societies is possible – think of all the new jobs that will open up in the renewable energy sector. Think of the opportunity to make our planet cleaner and healthier for all, not just the privileged. Let’s help make fossil fuels history – leave it buried in the past. Vote for leadership – at all levels – that takes climate change seriously and will actually take steps to do something about it. This is the greatest existential threat we have faced – let’s rise to the challenge.