Climate Change Effects: We’ve Got 12 Years
By this point, who hasn’t heard about climate change or global warming?
Even worse, who hasn’t seen firsthand the impact of global warming?
I just discovered last night the newest projection on global devastation due to climate change and rising sea levels
So with the beginning of a new year, I thought this might be a good time to bring awareness to the climate change effects and how to reduce carbon emissions that you could start implementing right now. Time is a luxury we do not have.
The Paris Agreement
Have you heard about the Paris Agreement that opened for signature on Earth Day in 2016?
The Paris Agreement is gathering all nations under a common cause to make ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. Part of the mission is to keep climate change at below 2 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels and pursue more efforts to keep it below 1.5. Additionally, the Paris Agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with climate change impacts.
To achieve these goals, the Agreement is putting in place a new technology framework and enhanced capacity building framework to support action by the most vulnerable and developing countries to align them with their objectives. The Agreement requires that all nations put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” and strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes regularly reporting from nations on their emissions and implementation efforts. (1)
Shooting for 1.5 Celcius in 12 Years
The world is already feeling the impact. Our planet has already warmed by 1C from preindustrial levels. After the devastating hurricanes in the US and forest fires in the Arctic, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stressed in Oct. 2018 that we have 12 years to keep the climate change from rising over 1.5 Celcius. Even a half degree more, will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat, and poverty that will be felt by hundreds of millions of people.
Why target 1.5 instead of 2C? How much difference can half a degree make?
If temperatures are kept to 1.5C:
- By 2100, global sea levels will be 10cm lower than at 2C.
- Extreme heatwaves will be experienced by 14% of the world’s population at least once every 5 years but that figure rises to more than a third of the planet at 2C.
- Artic sea ice would remain during most summers but ice free summers are ten times more likely at 2C. Thus, this would lead to a greater loss of habitat for whales, polar bears, seals, and sea birds.
- Coral reefs will decline by 70-90% but will virtually disappear if temperatures reach 2C.
- The part of the population exposed to water stress will be 50% lower than at 2C.
- Food scarcity would be less of a problem and fewer people in poor countries would be at risk for climate-related poverty (we are talking hundreds of millions here).
- At 1.5C the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress could be 50% lower than at 2C, it notes. Food scarcity would be less of a problem and hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in poor countries, would be at risk of climate-related poverty.
- At 2C, extremely hot days (at 122F or 50C) will become common resulting in more heat-related deaths and forest fires.
- Insects, which are necessary for pollination of crops, and plants are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitats.
- Oceans are already suffering from higher acidity and deficient oxygen levels due to climate change. At 2C, 3 million tons from fisheries would be lost as opposed to only half that at 1.5C. (2)
Can We Change the Course of Things?
A 2011 report from the Copenhagen Diagnosis clarifies that even if we take action now in reducing our carbon emissions, we cannot stop the climate change that has already begun. Carbon already has an incredibly long lifespan of at least 100 or more years. And although much of this carbon is absorbed by the oceans, at least 25% of that will still be lingering in our atmosphere 1,000 years from now according to scientist, David Archer. (3)
However, we can still mitigate the rise in temperature by taking steps to reduce and eventually completely eliminate human carbon emissions. The IPCC states that these changes are completely feasible and affordable even if they target the more ambitious end of the Paris Agreement pledge. Even better news is that we already have the technology needed to start reducing carbon.
They state that carbon will have to be pulled out of the air by machines and stored underground. Likewise, billions of trees need to be planted and people might have to make the difficult choices between using land for food or energy crops.
Unfortunately, the political arena has not been taking the clamorous cry from the scientific community seriously. Donald Trump has promised to withdraw the US, the world’s biggest source of historical emissions, from the accord and in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro has threatened to do the same and open the Amazon rainforest to agribusiness.
What Can I Do to Make a Difference?
Many people may feel that they can make little to no difference in climate change but the IPCC states it is quite the opposite.
The author’s of the report state that changes must be made in four key parts of society: energy generation, land use, cities, and industry. The biggest impact that you can make to help work toward reducing carbon emissions is to change your lifestyle and consumption patterns to more sustainable alternatives specifically in areas you can control such as modes of transportation, buildings you inhabit, and food preferences.
In transportation, IPCC suggests consumers to shift toward more sustainable choices like car sharing, hybrid, and electric cars. The report looks at using more efficient modes like swapping cars, trucks, and planes to buses and trains.
With buildings, using energy efficient appliances and air conditioners as well as smart thermostats.
In diets, it is suggested to consume about 30% less animal products. Eating less meat is a great way to overhaul agricultural and land-use practices including protecting forests. The livestock industry is estimated to account for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions globally (more than direct emissions from the transport sector). (4)
Moving Towards Zero Waste
The above list is a great starting point in taking your consumer power and using it to reduce our global emissions impact. But there’s another consumer practice that could greatly help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quicker and would cost you less money to implement than buying a new air conditioner or car: producing less trash.
Moving toward a zero waste lifestyle and encouraging businesses to do likewise by supporting ones that have already implemented zero waste policies, would significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere.
Landfill gas is a natural byproduct of decomposition of organic materials in landfills. This gas is approximately 50% methane and 50% carbon dioxide. Methane is 28-36 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere but has a much shorter lifespan than carbon (12 years vs. 100 or more years for carbon).
In 2010, our landfills released 800 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in the form of methane with the US holding the highest amount at 130 million or possibly more. (5)
If efforts were to be made now to reduce short-lived climate pollutants like methane, we could reduce warming by half a degree in 2040 according to the UN Environment Programme. So by reducing the amount of methane in the air would greatly improve overall air quality and reduce climate change at least to buy us more time to solve the other bigger problem.
Not sure how to start moving towards a zero waste lifestyle?
The best place to start this practice is by reducing food waste and composting food scraps and yard materials. And you can start doing these things right now. If you’d like to learn more ways to go zero waste, my next post will cover this topic so just hang tight a little longer.
I really hope you found this post helpful. With the stark realization that we cannot stop this global climate change from happening, there is hope that with the changes we make now can mitigate the worst results from happening. We can still raise our children and their children to know the planet as we do. But these changes must begin now.
So how about you make the New Year’s resolution with me to start changing our households to zero waste?
Let’s use our consumer power to move our nations towards a zero waste and sustainable lifestyle. Because this issue belongs to everyone.
If you have any questions on the effects of climate change or have other resources or information you would like to share, please leave me a comment below.
I look forward to going zero waste together!