I can easily make an argument for 2018 being the year the world seemed to finally awaken to the very real threat that climate change poses.
Two important factors behind this awakening are our children (and grandchildren) and the weather.
Regarding the first factor, a fundamental part of human DNA is that we care about our children and grandchildren on a deeply emotional level. For the first time, I’ve had friends who are expressing concern about the world their offspring may be living in 30 or 40 years from now.
As for the weather factor, I’m well aware that whenever someone comments on a severe weather event— flooding, hurricane, drought — climate skeptics jump to point out that weather is always variable. We all experience local weather events. We don’t experience global climate firsthand. But the unusual, increasing severity, and sometimes plain weirdness, of local weather has been getting a lot of attention in recent years.
The increasing acceptance of human-caused climate change raised several alarming flags in 2018. Here are some of the most recent.
In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report that stated almost no countries have been meeting their goals to limit their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030. Most alarming, this report stated that the world has only 12 years to cut its CO2 emissions by half to avoid catastrophic consequences.
Last month, the independent research firm Rhodium Group reported that, after three years of declining CO2 emissions in the United States, in 2018, the emissions rose by 3.4 percent, based on preliminary estimates. This was surprising because it occurred even with a reduction in the burning of coal.
Also this January, an analysis in the journal Science found that the world’s oceans are heating up at a rate 40 percent faster than had been forecast only five years earlier. Because oceans absorb an estimated 93 percent of the excess heat produced by increasing greenhouse gases this provides additional evidence of global warming. Warmer ocean water is thought to be a major reason for the increase in massive, destructive hurricanes.
And, on the political front, the current administration in Washington is doing whatever it can to re-vitalize the coal industry and bring more fossil fuels to market rather than promote clean, renewable energy.
Nevertheless, reasons for hope can be found.
According to UN News, at least 57 countries have managed to bring their greenhouse gas emissions down to levels required to limit global warming. Further, recognizing the potential for fiscal initiatives to affect human behavior, 51 countries including Canada have either implemented or plan to implement carbon pricing policies, such as Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s carbon fee and dividend proposal.
Last December, diplomats from nearly 200 countries met in Katrice, Poland and agreed on a “rulebook” to start putting the 2015 Paris Agreement into practice. The new rules lay out how governments will measure, report on, and verify their emissions-cutting efforts. While the rulebook is far from ideal, it is considered a major step in ensuring that the Paris Agreement gets widespread implementation.
Research scientists are pursuing at least six strategies for carbon capture and removal from the atmosphere. Such research had been opposed by some environmentalists fearing that people would think that technology would eliminate the need to reduce production of CO2 emissions. But it is now well understood that, even if all future CO2 emissions were eliminated, the Earth will continue to warm for decades. So some carbon capture will be necessary to rein in climate change. Six strategies to remove atmospheric CO2, including reforestation and direct air capture and underground sequestration, are neatly summarized in the January issue of Scientific American, in an article titled “The Last Resort.” None of them are yet remotely close to becoming a climate change “silver bullet.”
At the end of the 2018 Congressional term, the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763) was introduced into the House and Senate. It would establish a progressive fee on carbon emissions. The money collected from the fee would be returned as a monthly dividend to Americans to use as they wish.
The bill has been reintroduced in the House this spring and it’s hoped it will be reintroduced in the Senate as well. If signed into law, it would reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent in the first 12 years. That’s what we need, and now. Call, write, or email your U.S. representative and senators and urge them to support or co-sponsor this bill.
Climate change should alarm us, but there are reasons for hope and ways we can be part of the solution.