The Line Just Got Thinner
The recent special report from the United Nations I.P.C.C. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) indicates that destructive consequences from global warming are happening sooner than predicted. The thin red line in the sand that we set for ourselves just got thinner.
Back in 2015, the line coming out of the Paris climate agreement was to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. But this recent report out from South Korea indicates that we need to rachet up that line, to staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius, by 2040, just to prevent the most severe effects of global warming—destruction of coral reef habitat, food and water shortages, and severe weather.
We’ve been keeping track of the earth’s temperature for quite a while now, through multiple indicators, which show unprecedented warming. That’s the easy part. What we must do about it, when, and who’s going to pay for it are the sticky parts. The problem is, we can’t wait.
The transformation to clean energy is an epic undertaking, as is converting industrial and agricultural policy to regulate emissions. These are not easy arrangements to make. They call for leaders willing to act, and cooperation among nations, and even with the best of intentions, results take time. It could take forty years by some estimations for any policy change to show signs of effect. But as the South Korea report indicates, we need to act now.
Time Lag and Taking Control
What’s often overlooked is that we can take matters into our own hands to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the U.S. Those of us living in the most affluent of nations produce the most greenhouse gas, and thus have the biggest impact. Our habits effect the world the most. So when we take personal action, change is driven from the bottom up, without having to wait for representatives at the top to get a grip on climate change.
On top of the waiting game is a time lag before we experience the effects of our increasing greenhouse gas emissions—what we are living through now is our gas-emitting habits from the 1980’s and ‘90’s, and what we are doing now, spewing out even more emissions since then, won’t be felt until well into the 2040’s and ‘50’s. This lag makes it even harder for government leaders to muster policy change.
This lag between global warming cause and effect is also one of the most significant reasons to take personal responsibility. For instance, what we eat is one of the biggest determinants of our emissions. The more animal foods in our diet, the more waste and greenhouse gas emissions generated, (and also the more disease correlated). Further, consider that processing foods, (and you can’t get more processed than converting plants through animals into food), demands more energy, and also diminishes the nutrient value of food. Added to our eating pattern is how we get around, and the efficiency of our home and workplace.
If you could save the world from the wrath of warmer temperatures, severe weather events, and suffering ocean life, and protect a thirsty planet with limited resources for a growing population, wouldn’t you take some moderate steps to do so? Well you can. And you must.
Indicators and Actions
Here are ten indicators of global warming from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), followed by ten actions that each of us can take to control the climate, as explained in the upcoming book Climate Party! It’s up to us to take action, and we can’t wait any longer.
10 Indicators of Global Warming
- Land surface air temperature as measured by weather
- Sea surface temperature.
As with land temperatures, the longest record goes back to 1850 and the
last decade is warmest.
- Air temperature over the oceans
- Lower troposphere temperature as measured by satellites for
around 50 years. By any of these measures, the 2000s was the warmest
decade and each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the
- Ocean heat content, for which records go back
over half a century. More than 90 percent of the extra heat from global warming is going into
the oceans and contributing to a rise.
- Sea level. Tide gauge records go back to 1870, and sea
level has risen at an accelerating rate.
- Specific humidity,
which has risen in tandem with temperatures.
- Glaciers. 2009 was the 19th consecutive year in which
there was a net loss of ice from glaciers worldwide.
- Northern Hemisphere snow cover, which has also decreased in
the most dramatic change of all has been in Arctic sea ice. Satellite measurements are available back to
1979 and reliable shipping records back to 1953. September sea ice extent has shrunk by 35 percent
Personal Actions to Curb Climate Change
1. Go plant-based with your diet—the less animal foods in your diet, and more whole plant, the more efficient, the less resources used, and the least environmental degradation.
2. VOTE – Elect officials who will implement climate change policy, work for it globally, and prioritize greenhouse gas emissions control, particularly in agriculture including eliminating subsidies for the biggest culprits – animal foods.
3. Buy green power—choose the renewable energy options from your electricity provider, or opt for Renewable Energy Certificates.
4. Never buy a gas-powered car again. In fact, don’t own a car; it indicates largest GHG emissions over a lifetime.
5. Bike instead of drive; carpool; take public transit.
6. Buy carbon offsets to compensate for your personal greenhouse gas emissions.
7. Reuse instead of buy new whenever possible; recycle; and BUY recycled goods.
8. Don’t waste food, especially animal foods which demand the most water and energy input.
9. Aim for energy efficiency: live in smaller dwellings, install solar panels on rooftops, change light bulbs to efficiency ones; turn off lights and electronics when not in use.
10. Avoid 2-day delivery. It keeps from bundling local deliveries together in one truck run, and thus puts more trucks on the road. Opt for No Rush Shipping.
· Shop at farmers markets, join a farm-share; buy local and organic.
· Never use a plastic bag again; commit to avoiding plastic, particularly disposables —bags, straws, cups, containers, packaging – they all waste energy.
By Kathy Pollard, M.S.
1. Climate Change: The 40 Year Delay Between Cause and Effect. https://skepticalscience.com/Climate-Change-The-40-Year-Delay-Between-Cause-and-Effect.html
2. Global greenhouse gas emissions increased 75% since 1970. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agecy. http://www.pbl.nl/en/dossiers/Climatechange/TrendGHGemissions1990-2004.