Guest post by Christina Woodard*
A conscious effort is needed by everyone to reduce our impact on the environment. Climate change will be one of the most serious issues facing us over the next few decades, with CO2 one of the key contributors. The negative impacts include:
- coastal erosion
- loss and change of habitats
- increased ranges of infectious diseases
- destruction of coral reefs
- increased extreme weather events
to name a few.
Reducing deforestation, finding efficient and alternative energy sources that are sustainable and placing limits on current emissions are all key to reducing global emissions. There are already several countries leading the way having 100% of electrical generation from renewables with others rapidly following in their footsteps. Improvements in the UK are already underway, with the contribution of coal to electricity generation down to just 9% in 2016. On April 21st 2017, Britain had its first period of 24 hours with no coal fired generation.
Aware of the threats which face us all, 200 parties signed up to the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015. Unfortunately one country has already pulled out and many are not likely to achieve their pledges. It is also thought that currently only 3 European countries are truly meeting their pledges. Unfortunately, the agreement is non-binding and has no penalties in place for not trying hard enough. The USA ,with 10% of the world’s population but contributing approximately 50% of CO2 emissions, made a decision this month (June 2017) to pull out of the Paris agreement – as they ramped up oil production to 9.1 million barrels a day. Unless these countries can look at the wider picture, it makes it difficult to suggest using or investing in renewable energy sources when there is a cheap energy source available in the form of oil.
2016 was the first time the annual atmospheric carbon levels exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm). This historic event was the globally agreed ‘tipping point’, where, like a glass of red wine spilt on a new white rug, the atmospheric changes would be irreversible. A shocking monthly high of 410 ppm in March 2017 indicates that we are not heading in the right direction.
Global levels for carbon dioxide (CO2) have always naturally fluctuated but the increased level of CO2 caused by humans since the industrial revolution is the main cause of anthropogenic climate change. The 400 ppm levels mentioned above are 25% higher than the levels measured 50 years ago.
Since then, our ever-growing population, with its ever-growing demand for food and energy for homes, vehicles, businesses and cities have resulted in exploitation of our fossil fuels. When coal, oil and natural gas are burned these release high levels of atmospheric carbon. Deforestation by humans for mining, agriculture, ranching, infrastructure and settlements has exacerbated the issue as the earth’s ability to remove carbon dioxide naturally via plant respiration is depleted.
We are already experiencing the effects of climate change. Global atmospheric temperatures and extreme weather events are increasing, climatic and local weather patterns are changing, oceans are warming causing thermal expansion and coastal flooding, frozen water stores are receding or thawing. In permafrost, this is a big problem as trapped methane (a greenhouse gas and big contributor to climate change) is released.
In 2010, Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed that future global warming should be limited to below 2.0 °C relative to the pre-industrial level. This figure was revised to 1.5 °C in the 2015 Paris Agreement but the current trajectory of emissions is not in line with limiting global warming to below 1.5 or even 2 °C. We have already breached the 1°C mark in 2015, and many feel that it would be difficult to maintain a temperature rise below 2.7°C even if the climate pledges were adhered to.
Whilst we can’t reduce the level of atmospheric CO2, in our lifetime at least, we can mitigate the climatic effects by lessening the emissions we each produce. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) stated in 2014 that “Mitigation is a public good; climate change is a case of the tragedy of the commons. Effective climate change mitigation will not be achieved if each agent (individual, institution or country) acts independently in its own selfish interest”. Clearly, the for need mitigating emissions needs to start with all humans, at an individual level, working collectively with other humans to do the same.
But what are our individual emissions? World bank 2013 data cites the US at 16.4 tons per person per year, and the UK and Tanzania at 7.1 and 0.2 tons per person respectively. Researching your carbon footprint based on your own energy use is the first step towards educating how we as individuals can mitigate against climate change. Examples include:
- Choose energy that comes from renewable sources for your home and/or business
- Reduce your water usage
- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – Reduce food waste for example, buy less or use scraps as compost rather than sending to landfill sites; reuse packaging whenever you can, recycle plastics in particular as they derive from oil, a carbon source.
- Increase the energy efficiency in your home and place of work; for example, improving insulation, remote heating, energy efficient bulbs and draft excluders.
- Change from use of gas for cooking and heating to use of electricity ???? (this is only the case if electricity is produced using renewable sources. If using coal powered energy generation it is not as environmentally friendly as using mains gas in the UK.
- Increasing afforestation by planting more trees and plants.
This isn’t the usual ‘save the planet’ rhetoric. Our planet has been around for 4.5 billion years and has endured hotter and colder periods than in the present day. What is at stake is life on earth as we know it. To preserve both human life and biodiversity, every human must commit to reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions (and not just 180 small countries/states). The Doomsday Clock is an analogy for the likelihood of human-caused global catastrophe, and was largely represented as nuclear war, however, in 2007 climate change was added (nuclear war or climate change beginning seen as the two biggest threats to humanity). It was reset in January 2017 to 2½ minutes to midnight, due to the rise of nationalism, the Trump Administrations view of climate change in the US, and the current nuclear modernisations. The only other time that it has been closer (2 minutes to midnight) was in 1952 when both the US and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear weapons.
*Please note that the views are that of the author, not necessarily that of en-form.
Christina Woodard is a highly knowledgeable environmental writer who enjoys writing informative posts on climate change, global worming, rising temperatures, and constantly increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Apart from sharing the latest information on environmental problems she enjoys reading and traveling.
For more information on all of these issues, the author recommends readers visit Envirodat.