Hold onto your hats — climate change is about to get very real unless we do something about it very quickly. Reports coming out each year predicting the dire effects of climate change have prompted scientists, politicians, leaders of corporations, and average citizens to think of solutions to global environmental catastrophes. Everything from banning plastic straws to eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels has been proposed.

We’ve also seen the rise of many greener alternatives to products that have been harming the environment. And yet despite decades of greener practices, climate change has only been getting worse. The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) discovered that mass extinctions, unprecedented natural disasters, and an atmospheric temperature increase of up to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit could happen as early as 2040.

The 6 Cures for Climate Change

The solution? We need to focus on the SIX most important issues if we want to cure climate change for good. Picking up litter and using compostable straws are helpful practices, but they aren’t going to halt a potential environmental apocalypse.

The IPCC report stated, “One of the key messages that come out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes… The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5ºC are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate.”

Here are the SIX main issues we need to focus on:

1. Protect the Plankton

One of the most essential parts of the marine food chain is phytoplankton. These small but mighty single-celled organisms are responsible for half of the ocean’s oxygen supply. The concern with climate change is that it results in warmer oceans — which spells trouble for phytoplankton. Just how much trouble? We’ve seen a 40% decrease in the amount of phytoplankton since the 1950s. Since phytoplankton are the main food source for many marine animals, the decline of their population will affect the entire oceanic system. Beyond affecting fisheries and marine economies for humans, the decrease in phytoplankton will also trap more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The proposals for saving the plankton are complex and are not without possible unintended consequences. Ideas range from using geoengineering to artificially cool the planet, to seeding the ocean to stimulate phytoplankton growth, to using pipes that would simulate the kind of churning that large fish and whales used to be responsible for (before their own numbers started dying out). Concerns include the risk of acidifying the ocean, the unpredictability of introducing new organisms and minerals during seeding, and altering the ecosystem in other unknown ways. Yet if something isn’t done soon, the alternative is that the plankton may die out.

Since many mysteries remain about the biology, behaviors, and functions of plankton, one of the things we can do immediately is- require governments to share scientific data and plankton research. By working together, scientists will have a much clearer understanding of how to save the plankton and maintain harmony in our oceans.

2. Stop Taking Fossil Fuels out of the Ground

Drilling, fracking, and mining are negatively impacting the planet in numerous ways. The effects are so numerous, in fact, that we’re not even aware of all the unintended consequences currently at play. Until recently, seismologists were unaware that fracking would result in earthquakes — even in regions where earthquakes should not occur. It was the lobbying of citizens whose homes were being affected that brought the issue to attention.

The main culprit affecting climate change, however, is the pollution generated from taking fossil fuels out of the ground. The release of methane and black carbon, damage from oil spills, disruption of wildlife, increased flooding due to erosion, and the effects of light pollution all have various consequences for the environment.

Concerned citizens are already forcing governments to enact change. The pressure has caused many European countries have banned fracking altogether. After years of pressure from grassroots coalitions, Belize became the first country to reject all offshore oil drilling in 2018. Change is happening and it’s the banding together of average citizens that are making it happen. We just need every country to get on board.

3. Stop Clearcutting Forests

Deforestation has a two-fold impact on climate change: clearcutting both destroys CO2-absorbing trees and also emits large amounts of greenhouse gases in the process. Trees absorb our carbon emissions, making them one of our greatest allies in the fight to halt global warming. The survival of humanity will in large part hinge on the survival of our forests.

Beyond affecting the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, clearcutting also destroys ecosystems, leads to erosion and flash flooding, eradicates biodiversity, and pollutes water supplies. Despite the outcry from environmental groups and concerned citizens, global deforestation reached a record 29.7 million hectares — a 51% increase in tree cover loss from the year before.

Since the biggest cause of deforestation is agriculture, one solution is to change agricultural practices. The lumber industry is another factor and could be replaced by alternatives such as bamboo and hemp. Some people and organizations are taking the matter into their own hands and are pioneering reforestation and tree planting projects. People like Antonio Vicente — whose story went viral in 2017 after it was discovered that he had single-handedly replanted 50,000 trees on his 31-hectare property — figure, why wait? The time to replant is now and we don’t need permission in order to get started.

4. Plant more trees in large numbers

These beasts have many amazing benefits such as give off oxygen that we all need to breathe. Trees eat CO2 for breakfast which is good for the environment. Trees reduce the amount of stormwater runoff, which reduces erosion and pollution in our waterways and may reduce the effects of flooding. Many species of wildlife depend on trees for habitat. Trees provide food, protection, and homes for many birds and mammals. There have been a few efforts to get this effort underway.

One effort is Africa’s Great Green Wall, or more formally The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative to improve life and resilience in the drylands that surround the Sahara.

While we are at it, why not get technology involved? Recently, there has been technology introduced. For example, a drone that can plant up to 100,000 trees a day. Now we are talking!

Sadly, tree planting work suffers from a major mismatch between ambition and effort. 

Furthermore, there’s so much CO2 in the atmosphere planting trees can’t be the only solution, we need to work on all six efforts concurrently.

5. Stop Pumping CO2 into the Atmosphere

The IPCC report determined that in order to prevent 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, we need to reduce global emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and 100% by 2050. The reduction is so dramatic that many are rightfully concerned that it will not be politically or economically possible. Governments and corporations have vested financial interests in maintaining the use of fossil fuels and other practices that pump CO2 into the atmosphere. Despite the grave consequences, the International Energy Agency (IEA) determined that global emissions rose to an all-time high in 2017.

While some countries experienced a decline in their contribution to energy-related CO2 emissions, the overall global increase proves that all countries need to collectively reduce emissions in order to cure climate change. Part of the issue in 2017 was that global energy demand grew by 2.1%, with fossil fuels meeting over 70% of the new demand. Considering that CO2 emissions cause warming oceans, an increase in the Earth’s surface temperature, acid rain, and harmful increases in air pollutants, fossil fuels cannot be the answer for meeting global energy demands.

The solution requires a dramatic decrease in CO2 emissions. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar must lead the way and replace fossil fuels by at least 70% to 80% by 2050. Wind and solar energy corporations are already understanding the economic benefits that can be gained, but without government support, fossil fuel companies will continue to hinder any progress.

6. Take CO2 out of the Atmosphere

In 2016 CO2 levels in the atmosphere surpassed the symbolic 400 parts per million thresholds. The long-term effects of this increase are already having devastating consequences. Record heat waves, an increase in wildfires and flash floods, and air pollution that is causing numerous health problems in both humans and animals are just some of the current effects. At this point, it is not enough to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere — CO2 must be sucked out of the atmosphere as well.

Making direct air capture as affordable has been suggested as the key and will require advancements in technology. While they are not without possible unintended consequences, technology such as lab-made minerals that turn carbon dioxide into magnesite and direct air capture facilities are already underway.

Of course, there is always the timeless, more natural way to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere — planting more trees. Technology isn’t always the answer. Planting trees is affordable (and even free), is accessible to all, and any unintended consequences would be minimal. Plus, it would have the added benefits of combating deforestation and compensating for the declining supply of plankton.

What You Can Do to Help

As a global citizen, you can put pressure on government agencies and corporate influencers to implement the following SIX necessary cures for climate change. Environmental organizations, nonprofits, grassroots coalitions, local communities, and conscientious corporations are all needed to continue forcing the issue for an immediate change.

The real change needs to come from big governments, big money, and big corporations. And it’s the collective influence of united citizens that can accelerate the move to a more sustainable world. Use the power of your dollars, start implementing your own solutions, and exercise your right to vote. Also, plant a tree!

While the unintended consequences of technology need to be considered, the urgency to solve the issue of climate change must not be ignored. The SIX cures for climate change are all interconnected. Without implementing all SIX changes, we will not see the intended results. If you’re interested in being part of the conversation and connecting with a community of thinkers and doers who are coming together to form solutions, join us in San Francisco on October 29-30 for UCOT 2018. Together, we can enact the immediate changes required to mitigate climate change and move toward a greener, sustainable future.