Writing a piece on climate change solutions is not an easy task. There is a lot of information to cover and simultaneously, many intertwined problems and thematics to understand. The following is the introduction of a series I will publish over the next year. The purpose is to identify and compile the steps that any of us can undertake to make significant change happen, figuring out the larger picture of our climate crises resolution, for you to act. But firstly, what is happening on our Earth that is so alarming?
Here is a little story. My friend Victoria used to live in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago 1300 km from the North Pole. There, you carry a rifle with you at all times outside of the city, as there are more Polar bears than people roaming these lands. You could cross paths with those inhabitants while on your Sunday hike. In Svalbard, Summer temperatures are no greater than 12 ℃. It is a cold region. However, last July, on the 26th, the capital Longyearbyen reached 21.7 ℃, a temperature disrupting the natural, local, way of life. Phenomenons like this have occurred continuously across the globe—every year reaching the biggest, the hottest, or the coldest, the most violent episode to date until the coming year will break another record. All indicators are red. Climate change, induced by rising temperatures is now difficult to ignore, and the situation on the planet is worsening. Biodiversity, water resources, forests, soils, entire ecosystems are falling apart, life as we know it is slowing disintegrating. No doubt, humans are next on the list.
Global warming is a simple problem. Its main trigger is the overproduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and simultaneously the destruction, and depletion of the natural resources regulating these gases, mainly the oceans, rainforests and topsoil—a result of our current capitalism based economy and industrial system, overconsuming natural resources, reducing Earth's ability to mitigate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Our economic system, born out of the industrial revolution at the end of the nineteenth century, is shaped by human minds. Humans think in terms of now, a mindset where long-term equals a lifetime, one generation. Under this economic model, there is no "seven-generation planning" like the Iroquois used to do, no models of stewardship and sustainability beyond a lifespan. And this is incompatible with the long-time of the Earth.
The oxygen dioxide and other greenhouse gases variations are a story playing out over a millennium. In the past centuries, global warming happened on the planet as a natural occurrence due to variation in solar activities and volcano manifestations. After all, the Vikings discovered the Arctic during the Medieval Warm Period, 300 years ago and called it Greenland for a reason. However, modern civilisation has disrupted climate courses in less than 100 years. The trouble is coming from this time frame. Because Nature's way is a long-term commitment, even if human activities drastically drop, stopping carbon dioxide release in the atmosphere, the results will take ten, twenty or thirty years to affect—consequences of such disruptions lasting for thousands of years. And the political representation and corporate organisations affecting the situation don't seem to measure accurately the risks involved in playing with climate.
Despite the evidence, climate-skepticism is live. The Obs'COP 2019, an international poll conducted globally last year, shows that around a third of the population does not believe that humans are responsible for climate change to any degree, or even in the reality of climate change. Political representation reflects this position, the ruling class being more of an impediment to change than a driver for transformation. Still, the defiance towards climate change science, fuelled by the misinformation of a few, and the cynicism on science uncertainty are thankfully fading. Today the scientific consensus about the origins of climate change is one hundred per cent. The entire body of studies, over 11 000 researches, recent and independent, without exception, come to the same general conclusions—humans activities are responsible for enhancing global warming.
The debate gradually pivots on how to ponder the disaster into a manageable territory, and prepare for an uncertain future. Preventing environmental breakdown and systemic collapse is about challenging our most profound and least-examined belief. Take the carbon footprint, putting on people's shoulders their accountability of producing carbon emissions. The carbon footprint concept that gained popularity in the 2000s was heavily pushed by BP, one of the major emitters of carbon emissions, through an advertising campaign—the same way the beverage and packaging giants, Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch did with plastic pollution in the Seventies. Pollution becomes your problem and not the liability of the industry responsible for creating the issue in the first place. These are two cases of ordinary, deeply engraved notions and tools for a better environment, promoted by governments that are pushed by problematics industries because they fit their agenda. And for the same reasons, we hear more about plastic recycling than agroforestry.
In 2016, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned policymakers that we had twelve years to engage in the reforms keeping global warming under 1.5 ℃. End of 2020, with just eight years left to engage, the leading countries of this modern civilisation didn't take any significant steps for change, quite the opposite—it seems industrial lobbies have never been whispering so intensely to government ears watch. France, for example, and their massive step-back on pesticides ban. And no plan for a system's reform. These issues should be the subject of lively conversations everywhere. It is time, as individuals, to question our place on this planet, the system we are living within, who is it designed for. Some things are not working, so what can WE do for a safer future?
I don't have all the answers, but this question requires a shift in mindset and in willingness to change your actions, and here I want to share with you the bigger picture that helps us navigate change and dictate our choices. Let's return to Svalbard for a minute. Melting ice is not ideal for the local Polar bears. We have known that for a long time and clearly, leaders and corporates don't care. Yet there is something else. Ice melting is not excellent either for cemeteries. It turns out that in such a region dead bodies are buried in the permafrost, the frozen soil beneath the ice. They never rot; instead, they freeze. Some who passed away in the 1918's, still carry the Spanish flu, a deadly virus well alive in the frozen ground, and the risk of dispersion is real. Similar virus dispersion happened elsewhere, and Covid-19 demonstrated that in this global world, there is no boundary for a deadly virus. According to this study, the cost of climate change will be as high as 3.6% of GDP. A "healthy" economy being around 2% to 3% growth, the math quickly demonstrates what the economy will be financing, to the detriment of the people's well-being, including stakeholders. Every single soul will be affected, no matter where we live.
We need to push our representation, encourage our community, and improve ourselves, to significantly slow down global warming and look forward to a liveable future. The series will be divided between the two essential aspects of change, firstly cultural, political shift, then the personal journey towards low-carbon, sustainable living. Next month, we will start with understanding why and how we can influence our policymakers.