“It is worse, much worse, than you think.” Welcome to Earth Day, 2020 edition. For future Friday, we are exploring the 2020s and beyond as it relates to the environmental movement.
Are we talking about coronavirus? No, we’re talking about climate change.
That quote comes from David Wallace-Wells, the author of The Uninhabitable Earth.
Emissions today and tomorrow
As of April 22nd, carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations stood at 415.60 parts per million. Given the tight correlation between atmospheric carbon concentrations and global temperatures, we can effectively use that magical number as a proxy for anthropogenic climate change.
Since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 concentrations have continued to rise, prompting notable climate change. But most of that increase has occurred over the last half century. We caused this problem in a matter of only a few decades, so why couldn’t we fix it in that time too?
In 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report indicating we only had 12 years to keep global temperature rise from surpassing the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal set out in the Paris Agreement. Keeping in step with our commitments would require that countries cut their CO2 emissions down by 45% by 2030 and to ZERO by 2050. That means ZERO emissions from cars, power plants, homes, and more. OH MY.
Earth Day beyond 2020
But experts and activists alike believe we can make this shift. Just look at Project Drawdown’s list of 100 of the most effective solutions to solving climate change. All of the necessary tools and technologies to solve the climate crisis are already sitting in society’s toolbox. All we need is the political will and the collective strength to push those in power to upend the status quo and opt for transformative change.
After all, we have made transformative global changes in the interest of our collective preservation before. In the 20th century we had two world wars and numerous close calls with nuclear bombs. Just look at what people around the world are doing today. We shelter alone with the hope of a better, safer future that we can enjoy together. We are an incredibly resilient species, and we need to harness that resilience – and ingenuity – now more than ever.
If we continue with business as usual and push past the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold, human civilization may look unrecognizable only a few decades from now. One-third of all plant and animal species might be extinct by 2070. Biblical floods might become commonplace. Rainforests might turn into deserts. Sea level rise might force millions of people to flee for higher ground. Famine and thirst might spread, driven by water shortages.
Notice the operative word in each of those sentences: might. Here at the Sustainable Review, we take a cautiously optimistic view that we can undo the biggest mess we’ve ever created. We believe in the power of collective action to rise above humanity’s worst challenges. As we like to say, we strive to encourage eco-centric decisions rather than ego-centric decisions.
Going greener in 2020
Going green could and almost certainly will transform our society in so many positive ways. In spite of the gravity of the climate crisis, we have an incredible opportunity to revolutionize life around the world.
How might we go about that? And what would a greener future look like? Let’s imagine it through the lens of 2020 Earth Day.
We would start by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Not tomorrow, not in a year. Now. If we did this, we would…
- Decarbonize primary modes of transportation – particularly planes, trains, and automobiles – to ensure clean, accessible, and efficient movement around the world.
- Reform our food production system, generating less animal products and implementing regenerative practices that enliven the biosphere rather than deplete it.
- Stop reckless deforestation, keeping stored carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and ensuring ecosystem stability.
But it would go far beyond that. If we address the climate crisis, we will also remedy a host of other simmering but critical issues on a global scale.
Will all of the above happen? Who knows. Can it happen? Of course. And that’s the key.
Climate crisis in the future
The climate crisis is an unparalleled threat. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or disheartened. Frankly, it’s natural to lament how we’ve treated our planet and how hopeless it feels to live life as if there’s nothing worth fighting to preserve.
But just as we made this mess, we can clean it up. And ‘we’ is made up of you and me. We includes individuals, consumers, universities, businesses, organizations, governments, and other entities. People and institutions are thinking global and acting local.
Cities have high levels of energy consumption and waste production, making them an optimal site for emissions reduction efforts. They also hold meaningful sway over heavy emissions sectors, including land development, waste management, and energy consumption. In Australia, local governments have influence over half of all the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Local governments are on board to do what’s necessary and reduce emissions.
Coming together to make change
Even when the going gets tough, people are coming together to address the gravity of this crisis. When Trump removed the United States from the Paris Agreement, U.S. citizens made it clear that climate solutions were a continued priority. State and local governments, mayors, tribes, healthcare organizations, faith groups, universities, and businesses joined the We are Still In coalition to signal their commitment to solving climate change. 2019 brought us the largest Global Climate Strike in world history, when 40 million people took the streets to show their support.
30 years ago, prominent astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that engineers controlling the Voyager 1 spacecraft take an image of the spacecraft’s last glance at our planet before escaping our solar system. From four billion miles away, Earth appears as a pale blue dot, a tiny point of light in the middle of scattered light rays.
In his book Pale Blue Dot, Sagan reflected on the meaning of that photo. Below is part of an excerpt from that book.
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
As we conclude Earth Day 2020, we hope you can find some inspiration to make a positive impact on the world around you. Every day, take a moment to express gratitude for the bounty provided by our planet. And think about what you can do to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot.