The Advent of Irreversible Damage From Climate Change

By Alex van Daalen, G12

The Climate Clock is ticking, and the global community is continually inching towards the depletion of its carbon budget. As we continue to reap the benefits of the industrial revolution, the consequent carbon emissions continue to pose detrimental effects on the Earth’s climate. An accumulation of scientific work over the past century has led to the conclusion that the amount of emissions being pumped into the atmosphere is clearly unsustainable. Now, as we continue to push the limits of consumption on a global scale, we start to not only become aware of the issue at hand, but begin to feel the real impacts of a changing climate and its brutal consequences.

What is the problem?

There are many natural causes for climate change with evidence from geological research which has shown many periods in Earth’s history when global warming and cooling has occurred, but it’s the rapid rate and magnitude of change that we face today that is a concern across the world. 

Human activity since the dawn of mankind has had considerable effects on the surrounding environment and ecosystems in which people settled and developed. Today’s environmental issues stem from the massive scale of human activity on a global level, and is further magnified by the potency of the pollution produced by the things we consume and the way we live. Global emissions can be expressed by four factors and their relationship to each other: population size, economic growth, energy intensity and our carbon footprint. 

People around the world need necessity goods such as food, shelter and clothing as well as luxury products like the electronic devices we use on a daily basis. The global population is expected to rise to 8.55 billion by 2030 and top off at 11.2 billion at the end of the century, meaning consumption is expected to continue to rise in the near future. Massive investment into healthcare, education and contraception are possible ways to reduce the rate of growth especially in developing countries; however, the effects of such investment will take time before the impacts are seen. A problem that is largely unavoidable is the global agenda for economic growth. People are richer than they ever have been before, and many today benefit from high standards of living. The world’s wealth has been increasing and continues to increase as a result of economic growth which is a dominant factor in all political systems seen across the globe. Richer developed countries account for higher per capita emissions than less developed ones, but even if developed countries reduce their emissions, we cannot expect developing countries to stop their progress towards becoming developed as well. Thus, we will continue to see industrialisation in places around the world. Innovative technologies have made machines more and more efficient, but even this comes with its drawbacks. As machines become increasingly efficient and cheaper to operate, we are likely to use them more which can quickly result in previous levels of emissions. 

These factors contributing to climate change are well known, but the unshakeable complex issues are rooted deeply in our social and political systems. People are stronger as a collective unit, and our complex social organisations are also what gives humans the ability to take on huge endeavours which one person alone would not imagine undertaking. But the hope for the global community to work together in order to combat the climate crisis seems to diminish year after year of ineffective action by corporations and governments around the world. 

There is plenty of development in the field of green energy with the Green Technology and Sustainability Market expected to be valued at $44.61 billion by 2026. Certain countries around the world have made progress towards sustainable energy generation, predominantly hydropower which accounts for north of 4000TWh energy produced. There is still a long way to go to replace conventional fossil fuels, but we can certainly not make the transition without making the necessary personal sacrifices and investments needed for a liveable future. 

All in all, preventing life threatening climate change depends on how we as a species tackle these complicated issues. We should not, however, be too pessimistic about the future of our planet. Even in the face of the daunting prospect of human extinction, we can still embrace a belief in human ingenuity to work towards a sustainable future on Earth, and be optimistic about our ability to tackle climate change before there is nothing left to save.

To read more about what you can do to help the climate crisis, visit our Instagram page, @thegrapevineispp!

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