Climate: Crossing the line of caution
The infamous Hiroshima bomb dropped by President Truman on Japan had caused expansive devastation. With the burst temperature estimated at approximately 1 million-degree Celsius, the firestorm incinerated everything within 6,000 feet of ground zero. The ensuing blast killed 60,000- 80,000 people instantly and mortally injured further 50,000. The reverberations of that horrific day are felt by the Japanese people even today - and the devastating physical outcomes are likely to continue to haunt us for several decades.
Despite this inhumane episode, it took almost 75 years to establish the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty that is signed by most countries today - a worrying precedent that policy may often be formed at a time much later than it should.
This large-scale destruction bought forth the realization that all deliberate human action - especially extreme ones - need to be thoroughly scrutinized to prevent future generations from dealing with similar ramifications.
The world today has already heated up 1.2°C since the pre-industrial era. This is a shockingly exponential rate - and while the math alone may not translate the worry it deserves to garner, it is equivalent to the oceans absorbing the heat of 5 Hiroshima atomic bombs being dropped into it every second.
There is no dearth of startling comparisons such as this.
However, we as a society cannot be cornered into being concerned about the consequences of our actions - although it is noteworthy that there is little individualistic responsibility that can cause a dent in these harrowing circumstances. It is also crucial to remember that perceptions are largely based by the collective narratives of the immediate culture we live in.
In his book 'Don't even think about it', author George Marshall breaks down several reasons why individuals who have specifically been the targets of climate-based calamities prefer digging their heels in and focusing on the solidarity offered by community instead of rallying for change. It is also easier to process tangible social issues rather than an abstract future catastrophe. Furthermore, attitudes about climate change fit into a larger matrix of values, politics, and lifestyles. It is therefore not very easy to fathom the steps an individual could possibly take to make a significant impact. There is a tsunami of information (and disinformation) available at ease, and the immediate rational decision to keep it at bay is perfectly comprehensible. This may relay into an impending sense of doom - the elephant being too big to bite. However, not every doomsday scenario has to translate into an existential risk.
All we require is a little refocus.
An issue as all-encompassing and complex as climate change can only be managed through a set of policies that are strictly imposed. The description of what success means to combat global warming, alas, does not have a simple interpretation either. Like most intricate social issues, the pedagogy differs from the practice and post ruthless exploitation, nature does not abide by the consequences fairly either. The after effects of this manmade trade are not felt equally around the world: the richest countries represent only 16% of the world's population but account for almost 40% of all CO2 emissions.
Regardless of the unequal aftermath that may currently be visible, global warming is one of the primary problems that can only be combated by equal and enthusiastic coordination from all countries - large and small.
The last decade has seen wide-scale focus on climate change. There is greater literacy now about the harmful effects of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions than there was in the decades preceding it. While there is growing anxiety amongst the youth regarding this issue - it has also translated into a call to action.
History has also been proof that if implemented correctly, preventive measures can have a cascading positive influence on the future. One of the leading examples of this visible change has been the banning of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) under the Montreal Protocol in 1987. If not for this convention, the level of CO₂ in the atmosphere would have increased 40 to 50 percent over today’s level — causing an additional 0.8°C of global warming.
This is over half of our current global goal for a net-neutral world in 2050. The Paris Agreement was adopted by 196 Parties in order to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. Limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C requires reaching net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and reducing global emissions by approximately 50 percent in 2030, compared with 2010 levels. Limiting the increase in temperature to 2°C means net zero CO2 emissions should be reached by 2070, and global emissions should be reduced by 25 percent by 2030.
While this temperature difference may not seem like much at first glance, every fraction of a degree counts because the impacts of climate change increase with rising temperature in a nonlinear way. For instance, while an increase of 1.5°C would expose 245 million people to a new or aggravated water shortage, this number becomes 490 million at +2°C. Similarly, 150 million deaths due to air pollution could be avoided at 1.5°C over 2°C.
This makes a huge difference.
The fight against climate change is guaranteed to be exigent but there is no plan B. The hope one has into life being established on Mars, or any other planet for that matter, can be left up to individualistic determination - but even the most sanguine person will be forced to agree it cannot come at the cost of allowing the earth to corrode. While we as individuals may not be able to dictate policy or influence reforms that have a direct impact, there is inestimable power in dispelling disinformation and curating our worldview based primarily on facts.
At this point in time, we may consider ourselves lucky to still have in our grasp the spirit of cautious optimism for the future. If judiciously utilized by humanity, it may bring forth a turnabout for this planet that pushes the boundaries of what even science will consider an almost miracle.
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