What 2019 Taught Us About the Climate Crisis
We’re at an interesting time in modern history. Futurists have made bold predictions about the world for decades.
Today, however, we have the chance to validate these claims with actual data. Climate models have been around since the 70s. And the story they tell is not a very favorable one.
A study by NASA shows that these climate models are actually quite reliable as the predictions have begun to come true. An evaluation of these models predicting the Earth’s average surface temperatures presented in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows just how relevant these studies have been.
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The team was led by Zeke Hausfather of the University of California, Berkeley and studied the climate models developed between 1970 and 2007.
Hausfather’s team compared 17 of these models and their projections of global average temperature to actual climate changes. The temperature data they used comes from many reliable sources, such as NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) time series.
The comparison revealed that 10 of the climate model predictions closely matched the observed data. If you further account for factors that drive climate change such as CO2 concentration, the number increases to 14.
What is climate change?
Global warming is defined as the rise in the average temperature of Earth over a larger time period. The more relevant term today is ‘climate-crisis’.
It urges aggressive climate change mitigation, which is the set of actions we can take to limit the rate of global warming and its adverse effects.
Al Gore, the former vice-president of the US, popularized the usage of this term by stating, "If we're going solve the climate crisis, we've got to... change the laws and the policies…”
What the future looks like?
The reality of the climate crisis can no longer be denied.
- Earth’s temperature is increasing at an alarming rate. While it is a welcome change in some colder regions, it is not favorable in many.
- This increase in temperature will, in turn, lead to more water evaporation and precipitation. This will also increase the humidity. Again, it might be favorable in some places but not everywhere.
- What’s more, higher humidity will further increase global warming as the water-vapor traps the sun’s heat.
- If it increases further, the melting glaciers and ice will cause the sea level to increase. This will be worsened by the expansion of the volume of the ocean water due to heat.
- These conditions will disturb the natural vegetation of an area, improving the yield for some plants while deteriorating in others.
The key indicators of the global climate crisis
The change is visible in global temperature rise, warming oceans and melting of ice. These are parameters that we can measure.
But the extreme events such as hurricanes also indicate what we are doing to our planet. The occurrence of such disasters has increased drastically over the last 50 years.
When the ice melts, the greenhouse gases trapped in the ice also escape into the atmosphere further aggravating the problem.
Another associated problem is that of ocean acidification. CO2 dissolves in the ocean water to create acids that can be devastating for aquatic lifeforms.
The release of oxides of sulfur also causes similar problems such as acid rains that damage many crops every year.
The role of an individual
The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen from 280 parts per million to 400 ppm since the advent of the industrial revolution.
A consensus was drawn by a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from different countries at the United Nations. It says that there's a 95 percent chance that human activities have led to global warming over the past 50.
Much of this is due to the carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide released by humans directly or through industrial activity.
People are beginning to take steps to cut carbon dioxide production, and opting for clean energy. Many organizations are pushing for renewable energy production.
At the same time efforts are being made to cut the efficiency and consumption rates.
Other emissions that need to be cut are water-vapor, methane, Nitrous oxide, and Chlorofluorocarbons.
As individuals, we can follow the simple idea of reuse-reduce-recycle. As a society, however, our responsibilities are more diverse.
Many governments are just waking up to the urgency of the climate crisis and society, through activism and self-education needs to push this movement forward.
Last September, Secretary-General António Guterres convened a Climate Summit, bringing world leaders together to facilitate climate action and ambition. He named Luis Alfonso de Alba, a former Mexican diplomat, his Special Envoy.
The Summit targeted heavy industry, nature-based solutions, and climate finance. This is in anticipation of the 2020 UN climate conference.
His closing remarks were, “You have delivered a boost in momentum, cooperation, and ambition. But we have a long way to go.”
Key environment laws
164 countries have laws to guide the mitigation process. But the US makes for a special case as the world’s leader in greenhouse emissions.
We are used to a certain lifestyle which is unsustainable. The sad reality is that no government will address this.
Further, countries trying to imitate this lifestyle are drawn into this cycle of emissions.
The first US law to address this issue was the Clean Air Act of 1963. It is a federal law aiming to control air pollution on a national level.
More recently, the Clean Power Plan 2015, developed under the 1963 Clean Air Act establishes state targets for carbon emissions reductions.
2019 was the year climate activism got its break. And the people driving this cause forward are the youth of the country who are expressing their anguish through activism.
It is quite apt to see the situation as a gamble on their futures by politicians who won’t even live to see the consequences.
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Some suffering at the hands of the environment is inevitable, but further deterioration can be prevented by taking the right measures. The problem is that we think we still have time.
The current predicament should be a wake-up call to people who are still putting it off. Saving the environment is our responsibility.
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.