WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
- LEARNING TOGETHER | OCTOBER 23, 2019 -
It's undeniable, we now live in a world where climate change is mentioned every day. We can't escape it, both audibly and physically, but it's become apparent to me that people are hearing and reading too much about protests and "fake news", rather than reports, articles and books about the cold (excuse the irony), hard facts of the matter. This is probably because there isn't a lot of easy access to these facts. Articles are too boring, the few books are sometimes difficult to find or are confusingly written, and speeches have become too emotional - regardless of how much I adore Greta Thunburg's passion. Now we're in a time where the public are either extremely aware of the facts or are tired of the rebellions. I completely support the fight to get people aware of the facts and action to be taken, but I believe education in a calm way is the best way for me to do that. I've noticed that all the public want is for the protestors to teach them what is happening, in an articulate way, and what they need to do in order to help - in simple terms - and that's what I aim to do here on my blog. So, without further ado, here are six incredibly fascinating and hard-hitting facts and topics about climate change that you may not have heard before.
THE SIXTH EXTINCTION
This might explain to some poeple where Extinction Rebellion got their name. In the history of planet Earth, there has been five mass extinctions - four of these were caused by natural climate change from greenhouse gases (the other was the meteor killing the dinosaurs). One of these four 'climate change' extinctions happened at a 5ºC increase in global temperature. Currently, with human-inflicted global warming, if we continue to burn fossil fuels at the rate we're doing, we are on track to hit a 4ºC increase by the year 2100.
THIS IS NOT A NATURAL GLACIAL-INTERGLACIAL PROCESS
One worrying piece of misinformation recently circulating is that "significant warming and cooling of the planet is normal". What this is referring to is the glacial-interglacial process, which is a continuous cycle of cold (glacial) and warm (interglacial) periods that has happened during the lifetime of the planet. On average, the glacial periods last for around 100,000 years and the interglacial periods for around 10,000 years. We are currently in an interglacial period, and the last glacial period is known as The Ice Age. The statement that the planet naturally goes through warm and cool periods of time is correct, however, using it as an excuse for the rapid rate of warming we're currently experiencing is not.
Based on geological and historical patterns, we are nearing the end of the current interglacial period (we're actually 15,000 years into it), which means, if anything, the planet should be getting colder, not warmer. Further to this, scientists can find out the rate of warming at any point in time from geological records, such as rocks and sediments, and have found that today warming is ten times faster than at any point within the past 66 million years (roughly 660 glacial-interglacial cycles). I am hoping with this information people won't go, "oh, well it doesn't matter that the planet is warming at this rate, because it will soon get colder again" - this is not the point. We do not know how this rapid and unnatural rate of warming will affect the natural processes of the Earth, and it's important to remember that every action has a reaction, and it would be unwise to believe that there will be no significant consequence to our polluting way-of-life on the planet long-term. We do not know whether or not man-made climate change, due to it's intensity and rapidness, could prevent the next glacial period from starting at the time it is meant to. Yet dynamic, the Earth's processes rely on a consistent state of equilibrium to prevent significant damage from occurring and for the planet to progress from one phase of its life to another.
In fact, our methods have had such a large impact on the planet and it's geological history, that it is known as the Anthropocene. Further to this, the attitude of "the planet will fix itself" may be true (we don't know anymore), but in the mean time the human population may be cut dramatically or even potentially become endangered or extinct within the next 100-200 years if pollution continues as it is, and I think a "glacial-interglacial" argument against climate change and it's current devastating effects is quite delusional and/or uneducated and irresponsible.
CLIMATE MIGRATION & REFUGEES
This is a topic I haven't heard being discussed in the media, and I only found out about it through my own reading and research. In 2012, the World Bank stated in a report called Turn Down The Heat: Why A 4ºC Warmer World Must Be Avoided, that the five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002. This, obviously, doesn't include the unusually prolonged blue-sky and 30ºC British summer of 2018 and the European heatwave experienced in the summer of 2019, where temperatures exceeded 40ºC in the Mediterranean. The World Bank also found that at a 4ºC increase, the 2003 European heatwave, which killed around 2000 people a day, would be a normal summer. What's important to register here, is that this is Europe - a "temperate area" - not Africa or the Middle East, which are already characterised by extortionate temperatures.
Ok, so the answer to this would be more air conditioning units, right? Not quite. Air-cons account for 10% of global electrical consumption, and demand is expected to triple, if not quadruple, by 2050. If they were powered by renewable resources of energy then that would be much better, but unfortunately, the technology required to do this isn't wide-spread enough currently, and so fossil fuels are the preference (obviously, this is a deeper topic, which I'll touch on another time). Currently, Saudi Arabia burn 700,000 barrels of oil each day to power air-con units. One of the most concerning factors relating to this statistic is that the highest demand for air conditioning units are in some of the poorest and most populated countries in the world, who simply can't afford to run them all.
With this, comes the issue of climate migration and refugees. If people cannot stand or survive in the areas in which they live in, which will only become more uninhabitable as carbon continues to be recklessly pumped into the atmosphere, they will have no choice but to either move or succumb to the suicide us humans have created. The UN predict that there will be 200 million climate refugees by 2050, and went on to say that within the next 30 years there could be "a billion or more vulnerable poor people with little or no choice but to fight or flee". These climate refugees will move to "temperate" areas of the world, and for the Middle East and Africa, the closest place is Europe, which already is over-populated with, already, not enough resources for civilian co-existence and peace to exist. It's not about being anti-migration, it's about considering that we might just not have enough resources for everybody and that action should be taken to stop climate change from causing this outcome.
"Well, just find or build the resources", your response may be. Again, this is missing the mark. We should be stopping our polluting lifestyles to prevent this situation from occurring, and it is important to understand that as climate change and pollution worsens, these resources which are needed in temperate areas to compensate for the increase in population may not be accessible or have been damaged beyond repair by the issue at hand. As it is, climate migration is already happening and will worsen, but the size of the issue can be controlled if industries (who produce the most amount of greenhouse gases) stop abusing the planet.
According to The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells (Deputy Editor of New York magazine and graduate from Brown University), air pollution causes 1 in 6 deaths worldwide. He also found research stating that air pollution is linked to increases in stroke, heart disease, all types of cancer, premature births, mental illness in children, dementia in adults and, unsurprisingly, asthma. Further to this, he found a statistic that 95% of the global population breathes in dangerously polluted air. Michael Bauer, who studied at the University of British Columbia, said that "in the US, we know that for every dollar spent on air pollution improvements, we can get between $4 - $30 benefit in reduced health impacts.
In 2016 the Paris Agreement was signed by countries around the world to combat global warming issues. However, just weeks later, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere had already gone over the 'no go' red line which states "do not cross". The maximum threshold of carbon in the atmosphere is 400 parts per million (ppm) and currently, three years later, it's at a monthly average of 412ppm, according to NASA. This is because not enough action, or anything significantly effective, has been put in place to combat climate change. Today, there is a third more carbon in the atmosphere than at any point within the last 800,000 years, with some reports suggesting this to be the case for even as long as 15 million years.
WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF AVAILABLE WATER
Only 0.007% of the planet's water is fresh and accessible to humans, despite the fact that water covers 71% of the planet. Half of the world's population depends on seasonal melting from high-relief snow and ice (e.g. from glaciers in the mountains). Even if we hit a 2ºC increase in warming by 2100, 40% of Himalayan ice will be lost, which supplies water, for example, to India, where 17% of the world's population live (1.3 billion people). To reiterate: we are on track to hit a 4ºC increase by this time.
An argument for a potential solution to this problem could be desalination treatment facilities, where salt water is purified and made fresh and drinkable. However, these plants are exceptionally expensive, and not a realistic solution when you think how there will have to be enough water being desalinated to meet the requirements of nearly 8 billion people every day. Desalination facilities also use a significant amount of energy, which will mean that even more non-renewable fossil fuels would be used, or even more money would have to be spent on renewable resources (which, even though this has to happen anyway, the amount necessary alongside every other industry and civilian requirement will be extortionate and expensive beyond measure). Again, the point isn't to try and find a solution to cover up the mess as it continues to be created - we need to stop polluting the planet to stop this from being necessary. However, we now know, that even though the 2016 Paris Agreement stated a 2ºC increase in global temperature as the ultimate maximum, this figure is no longer viewed as an "if" scenario, but a "when", and the best outcome we could wish for.
THE BEAUTY OF WIND TURBINES
A lot of people don't like wind turbines, which I never understood. They're incredible, powerful, relatively inexpensive compared to other renewable resources, such as solar power, they're sustainable and structurally look amazing (in my opinion that is). One day, it clicked in my mind why people didn't like them - it was because they didn't understand the benefits of them and/or the devastating impacts of using fossil fuels. Normally when I tell people that it takes just one single full rotation of one wind turbine to produce enough energy to fulfil one household's electrical needs for a day, they start to like them (even if it's just a little bit!).
3 THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
Buy local produce.
Buying local produce is an easy place to start. Try walking around your supermarket (or even just look in your fridge) and look closely at where your everyday essential foods come from. You might be horrified that your blueberries might be coming from Argentina or that your green beans are coming from Kenya. Even though it's good to support developing countries, there is a valid argument to support your local farmers first, and make sure your vegetables and fruit aren't being flown in from across the world every single day. Really, we shouldn't be eating foods that are not in season, however the developed Western world has an obsession with consumerism, and so it might be difficult for us to cut back on what we think are "necessities". Saying that though, it's vitally important that we ensure we have a good, balance diet, so for now a compromise between reliable buying but sensible eating habits should be implemented, while electric aeroplanes are being produced with, and fuelled by, renewable energy resources.
Buy clothes and wear them until they're unwearable...and then wear them more.
We've all heard about how fast fashion isn't good for the environment, but the majority of the fashion industry are culprits if you don't use what you buy sustainably (i.e. wear the clothes you buy until they no longer can be worn and then recycle them, for example). Cotton production has had catastrophic effects on the environment due to the amount of water that is required (it takes 15 litres to make one pair of jeans, for example). The effect has been so great that the Aral Sea has near-enough completely dried up, which has altered the local climate, as winds are now faster and the air is drier due to less evaporation (never mind the impact on the fishing industry and local economy). My recommendation is to buy high-quality clothes in small quantities that will last for years and wear them continuously. Once the clothes look old or are no longer fit for everyday wear, maybe retire them as either gardening t-shirts or pyjamas, perhaps. Buy clothes and have fun, but be responsible. It's not about not wearing cotton, or wool or leather, for example - it's about cutting down on excessive consumerism and truly owning what you buy to the fullest. No one is going to care if you wear the same dress ten times on night's out.
Cut down on the number of flights you take.
I've learnt that this is quite a touchy topic since a lot of people feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to travelling. I was watching the Jeremy Vine show a few weeks ago and the panel were talking about the impact of flying on climate change. I was surprised that no one on the panel (except for Jeremy, who said that his daughters more-often-than-not refuse to fly because of this issue) said anything except for how much they WANT to go on holiday, and that travel is vital in order to learn about other cultures. They made it sound like not travelling would be a disaster for human kind (and not the fact that fossil fuel pollution has caused the death of half of the world's species in the past 50 years, that climate migration has begun, and that we have a potential Sixth Extinction looming upon us). Another argument which I was particularly unsettled by was the questioning of whether or not climate change is actually happening, in order to justify the excessive flying one panellist did. I believe, and I hope, this is due to them just not knowing, and even though they need to educate themselves, I'm not going to crucify them for it - no can know everything, and all we can do is to try and be as informed and responsible as possible. However, when these individuals go on these high-profile and influential programmes and profess to being highly educated, even though they are not educated in this field, it is exceptionally irresponsible of them to make unsubstantiated statements like "this is a natural process" when talking about climate change. They should know better.
Obsessive and excessive consumerism is a significant issue in developed and newly industrialising countries. However, cutting down or "going backwards" isn't a bad thing, and maybe now life, industries and the economy have gotten too big, and perhaps exponential growth, profit and discoveries aren't actually a positive thing anymore, if it's preventing people from not wanting to stop polluting the planet. Without a doubt, climate change is happening - 97% of climate scientists agree. The recommended number of flights a year is one - that doesn't even get you back home from your holiday. Even if you just went abroad once every two years, you would still live an enriched and exciting life, and since your trips would be few and far between, they might be a little more special and appreciated too. Again, it's not about not taking any flights for the rest of your life, it's about being responsible while appropriate technology is being created.
I want to stress that I'm not promoting that we don't enjoy our lives and don't continue to explore the world. I think a balance is necessary while science and technologies are being developed and put into place. It's important in such a stressful world that we are able to have fun and not become isolated. Just do whatever you feel able to do to help.