UNDERSTANDING CLIMATE CHANGE AND WHAT LIES AHEAD

While most people agree that climate change is real and that it is a big problem, they often don’t realize how big a challenge it is and the scale of the problem involved. Climate change has the potential to totally transform the world that we live in. It is like a small change within a closed system that changes everything in it. 

How we answer this question of climate change will have a major impact on the entire future of human civilization. However, only if a large number of people truly understand climate change, and the details of what is happening, only then do we as a civilization have any chance to come out with a proper response to it.

In this article, we wish to discuss some of the lesser recognized facts about climate change.

Climate Change Will Be Irreversible

In a recent report published by the IPCC, scientists from around the world, expressed a high degree of confidence to the notion that, if the world were to cross the 1.5°C Global Mean Surface Temperatures (GMST) benchmark and then reduce this number back to 1.5°C through carbon sequestration technology, the final result will not be desirable when compared to the case in which we do not breach the benchmark at all. 

What this means essentially is, if we cross this benchmark, we will cause damage that cannot be replenished by simply restoring the balance again. Mind you, the very idea, that we may be able to reduce the temperature once again by removing carbon is an over-optimistic one. The scale is simply too large and the technology is too naive for us to even consider this as a valid solution. Today, known carbon capture technologies are like cleaning the Pacific with a bucket and hence, they cannot be our go-to solution.

The ice that melts, will not solidify again, the species that are lost, will not be brought back to life, the arable land that becomes a desert will not become fertile again, the infrastructure lost to natural disasters will need to be built once again, and the people who lose their lives, loved ones and homes will be destroyed. These aren’t reversible changes; their consequences will be felt even after you and I are gone. 

Hence, to think of climate change as a reversible change is wrong. We need to realize that we are fast approaching a point of no return. The only logical option we have is to change our approach to growth before it is too late.

Climate Change Will Be Unpredictable

While mankind has created models that can predict the weather today with a very high degree of certainty, it is important to understand, that soon, our models can become obsolete and useless. Climate change will soon change the very fabric of our weather systems. With a large change in the GMST, there will be a related change in the wind patterns and ocean currents. There will be a remarkable change in precipitation and season patterns as well.

While this is common knowledge, it is important to realize, that today, we don’t have the ability or the data to predict the specifics of all of these changes. While we can make broad assumptions; we cannot determine the exact specifics. We don’t know how different systems will interact under these new fundamental parameters and the changes in the ecosystem that will happen as a result of this.

What we can be certain of are the following—a large portion of the tropics will become deserts due to a decrease in the annual rainfall and overheating of land. Arctic ice cover will be majorly affected and the possibility of a sea ice-free Arctic summer is quite real. There will be an increase in the frequency of large and dangerous cyclones and hurricanes as the natural speed breakers to these disasters (the cold water in the depth of the ocean) will move further down and hence the storm will grow much larger before it halts. All of these are once again the tip of the iceberg. We have no way of knowing all the changes that will happen and how these changes compound each other to alter human life.

The only thing that we can be certain of is that a post-climate change era will be fundamentally different than the world that we live in today.

Climate Change Will Be Self-Sustaining

The thing that scares me the most about climate change is the fact that after a point, it will become self-sustaining. There will be nothing that you and I can do to stop it. The planet will at this point, aggressively move towards creating a new balance and it can only create this balance by removing the factor that caused the scale to tip in the first place—us. 

The increasing temperature will cause the melting of the Arctic Ice sheets. This will further release the carbon stored in this ice. To put it into perspective, the Arctic ice stores approximately 6 Petagrams of CO2. This is equivalent to 6000 Gigatonnes. The total human emission is approximately 40 Gigatonnes. This means that if all the Arctic ice was to melt; over 150 times more CO2 will be released as compared to current annual human emission. With climate change, the rate of melting of Arctic Sea Ice will increase releasing more and CO2 into the environment.

Additionally, a lot of carbon is stored in the ocean beds as methane. Methane is over 30 times more potent than CO2. With an increase in temperature this methane will start getting released too.

Once this negative feedback loop is set into motion, mankind’s ability to resolve climate change will be greatly hampered. Things will escalate and keep escalating at a breath-taking pace and there will be nothing we can do about it. Today, we can dictate the changes we want and implement them, as soon, it will just not be possible.

Climate Change Will Be Unequally Distributed

One of the biggest issues in tackling climate change is that the impact of it will be felt unequally. There will be regions in the world, such as the tropics, which will bear a bulk of the consequences. There will be other regions that actually benefit from climate change in the short term. 

Even within a country, the impact will be unequal depending on a person’s economic position. The rich will have a much higher ability to mitigate these dangers when compared to the poor. The underprivileged section of the society will face the maximum dangers and their ability to cope with these will be hampered without the creation of proper social nets.

What makes the task all the more challenging is that the countries that will face most of this wrath actually have done very little to cause this problem and the countries that have caused most of the problems actually have the ability to mitigate some of the dangers or they may actually stand to gain from climate change in the short run.

Climate Change is Democratic

“Even if the future of the world is decided in your absence, it does not mean that you will be spared the consequences.”

Dr Yuval Noah Harari

When your country goes to an election, even if you have voted for the losing candidate, you are still affected by the decisions of the winning candidate. Climate change is something similar. It does not matter if the question keeps you awake at night or not. It doesn’t matter whether you do something about it or not. In the end, if we are not successful in changing the course of humanity, we will all pay the price, the ones who lay in bed awake worried about the dangers out there and the ones who slept peacefully. 

Given the scale of the challenge and the need of the hour, it is now imperative that you and I do our bit for the environment. Small incremental actions are not good enough. We need to ask for more. We need to ask our leaders to lead mass-scale changes into the fabric of human civilization. We need to demand our leaders to create policies and laws that will prioritize environmental sustainability. We need to lead these changes today. We need to remember that what unites us is so much more than what divides us.

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