Life in the 21st century is largely influenced as well as shaped by science and technology surrounding us, for better or for worse.
As a resident of planet Earth it feels wonderful to acknowledge the fact that never before in our known history have we been technologically more advanced, powerful and, for the most part, able to lead more comfortable lives, so to speak. Yet, our scientists, global leaders, and people from all walks of life seem overwhelmed by the catastrophic impacts of rapid climate change around the planet.
We spent most of the past three decades in giving pep talks on climate change and came to realize that the greenhouse gas emissions haven’t decreased by any measure.
Climate change, in the next few decades, will dramatically transform our modern way of living on this planet. Even after taking drastic preventive measures now, it is highly likely that we will be living in a completely different world within the next couple of decades.
Therefore, climate change is, without doubt, the most serious and challenging issue of our time. It is, in fact, threatening our entire existence in this planet we call home.
Rapid climate change, like the COVID-19, knows no boundaries and respects no nationality. Its dire consequences are evident everywhere; from glacial lakes of the Himalayas down to the sea levels.
Human activities, over the past couple of centuries, are responsible for causing excessive Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, thereby influencing climate system of the planet.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in its 6th assessment report-2021 confirmed “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres termed it “Code red for humanity”.
Many decades ago, scientists reached an undisputed consensus that the GHGs in the atmosphere absorb energy from the Sun and transfer it back to our atmosphere causing global warming.
And more recently, Syukuro Manabe was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in physics for clearly demonstrating how increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2; major constituent of GHGs) in the atmosphere lead to increased temperatures at the surface of the Earth.
Too much CO2 leads to increased global warming and irreversible climate change. This intensifies specific weather conditions and climate events, such as extreme heat waves, heavy rainfalls, floods, landslides, wildfires, warmer winters and severe summers. Earth’s dry regions become drier and wet places even wetter.
Over the time climate-related disasters will become a common phenomenon. Soon entire biosphere will be impacted and ecosystems will start dying. Biodiversity will decline significantly while the rising sea levels will start swallowing coastal cities around the globe.
Although the explanation sounds simple on the surface, the complications created by the rapid climate change are certainly not that simple, to say the least.
It seems that the advanced, powerful and comfortable lives that we acquired over the last two hundred years came with a huge cost. We are forced to sincerely question whether we are on the right track, or we shall have to make extensive corrections in our life-style.
The reason being that, if we look closely, everything we do to make our lives easier is causing destruction to our environment; whether it be the clothing we put on, air-conditioned houses we live in, the way we travel, the foods we consume, the roads we drive on or the electronic gadgets we use, etc. Somehow or other, they all have impacted air, water, soil, wild life, marine life and the environment as a whole.
The Earth’s total landfill emissions can be easily compared to all the jet aircrafts flying in the air. All the homes of our planet emit more CO2 than all the cars running on the road.
Furthermore, building just two meters of road is equivalent to the emissions produced by manufacturing one new car. Therefore, switching to electric cars might not be enough unless we also have substitute for building roads.
Recent studies by the Brown University and the Lancaster University showed that the Department of Defense is the U.S. government’s largest fossil fuel consumer and that the U.S. military emits more GHGs than most countries across the globe. I wonder how the numbers would look, if we combined all the military emissions of the planet.
As per UN projections our global population will reach 10 billion by 2050. It is highly unlikely that we could feed them without emitting even more GHGs.
Methane from rice contributes same as all the air traffic emissions in the world, and could grow substantially in coming days. Overall, agriculture contributes nearly 30% of global GHG emissions and nearly 60% of food emissions come from animal-based foods, such as meat, cheese and eggs.
The demand for animal-based food is growing in both rich and poor countries around the world. About 40% of world agricultural land (equivalent to North and South America combined) is being used for meat production, one way or another. Although many argue it to be the worst source of GHG emissions, cutting back on meat consumption can easily make both rich and poor unhappy.
This is no hidden fact that there is a clear and positive correlation between the prosperity of nations and their carbon emissions. So, what if we simply ask the rich countries to cut back on their energy consumption and luxurious lifestyles? This may sound rational to some but not a workable solution for obvious reasons; you cannot expect billions of people giving up their business as usual overnight.
On the other hand, over 60 percent of global emissions come from low and middle income countries. This includes countries like ours where most people are struggling to earn basic necessities, trying to escape poverty or striving for a reasonably comfortable lifestyle.
So, it will be unfair to ask developing economies to cut emissions to stop rapid climate change; especially when the rich countries making such demands have already caused (and are still causing) severe damages in the first place.