It’s been just over a year since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its special report warning immediate action is needed to keep global temperatures within reasonable limits suitable for human survival, and it’s been just over a year since world leaders have yet to take meaningful action.
Yet hope remains in this “Year of the Climate” as people the world over have taken to the streets to demonstrate support for renewable energy, voted to elect candidates who support a Green New Deal, and forced, for the first time ever, a primary debate solely focused on the climate emergency.
And, somewhat surprisingly, the historically conservative Time magazine named 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg Person of the Year. In August 2018 Thunberg began a sole protest against the Swedish government that in 2019 erupted into weekly protests worldwide, which by September grew to millions of people. Since then numerous countries have declared a climate emergency, though the recent 25th annual meeting of the U.N. climate summit (COP 25) yielded only more hot air, no action. In November, more than 11,000 scientists called for urgent action to avert a climate-related catastophe.
What recent climate research reveals
Several global studies released within the past 12 months reveal the future scenarios for Earth’s climate are edging closer to the worst case scenarios of climate forecasts. The U.S. National Climate Assessment revealed how rising global temperatures, left unchecked, will negatively impact all regions of the country. And the negative impact of the climate crisis already is among us, pronounced in this year’s deadly Midwest flooding, which evolved into a farming crisis with lingering impacts.
More climate science, better climate forecasts
With so many technology advances to date — such as sending a space probe beyond our galaxy, or landing rovers on Mars, which continue to lead to discoveries — it may be hard to believe understanding the complexity of Earth’s climate remains, to a degree, somewhat elusive. But given the ice-ocean-atmospheric connection that affects the global climate, albeit with regional variations, there are places on Earth that remain difficult to explore.
For example, the rate of glacial ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica are still best-educated guesstimates that regularly get revised upward — as in, much more ice is melting than previously thought — as scientists are able to gather more data, either from improved measurements from newer satellites or from a better understanding of what’s happening beneath the surface contributing to more ice melt, and, therefore, more sea level rise. A new underwater survey in Antarctica using an autonomous “surfboard” led by the University of Washington’s School of Oceanography will help improve knowledge in that respect.
Beyond protests and activism, the Year of the Climate also is about a year of significant advances in climate research, underscoring the urgency to address the climate emergency:
- Sea level rise estimates revised “worseward.”
- Antarctica ice is melting faster — and rising seas will threaten coastal communities sooner.
- The ocean now has deadly heat waves, and it’s all our fault!
Good news and low cost of a Green New Deal
Researchers led by Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University have updated their plan for a global green new deal, which was first published 10 years ago. The revisions update the steps 143 countries can take to attain 100-percent clean, renewable energy by 2050. They project the transition could reduce worldwide energy needs by 57 percent, have a net gain of nearly 30 million long-term, full-time jobs, and reduce energy, health, and climate costs by 91 percent compared with the world’s business-as-usual scenario.
Politicians ignoring the climate crisis are losing elections
People who don’t even consider themselves climate activists and who are frustrated with the political inaction to deal with the climate emergency are running for office and winning elections. And 2020 will be yet another pivotal election year — not just for national elections, but local ones, too. And, remember, all climate change is local. Whether a sprawling metropolitan area or a small town, your officials decide where to source the electricity to power local utilities, and they decide what types of vehicles to buy for city or county fleets. Such decisions provide opportunities to invest in green, clean energy, so we must pressure them to do the right thing.
The 7-percent (partial) solution to save the planet
As humanity struts forth into climate-emergency territory and fails to make progress limiting greenhouse gas emissions, it’s a certainty global temperatures will continue to rise, according to the U.N. Environment Programme emissions gap report released last month. However, it is possible to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement by 2030 if nations reduce emissions by 7.6 percent each year over the next 10 years. But, given the confounding inaction by world leaders, there are 7-percent solutions we can try ourselves, which, collectively, may be impactful:
- If you drive every day, try driving one less day, or even more. Give public transit a try during your commute.
- Leaving lights on at the office or at home? Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Turn off computers when not in use.
- Your winters are getting warmer, so turn down the thermostat!
- Reduce water usage — do laundry and run the dishwasher only when you have a full load.
- Turn small errands into leisurely strolls or bike rides if you don’t need your car to haul a load you can’t comfortably carry.
- Plant a tree or other carbon-capturing plants native to your growing region.
The science is clear — and getting clearer — the CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere acts like blanket upon blanket, trapping more heat, causing stronger storms, more costly catastrophes, for which taxpayers foot the bill. Until those at the top are replaced by those who’ll take the action required to avert a climate crisis, the lot of us at the bottom collectively can start turning the ship, steering it in the proper direction.