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The Urgent Need For Climate Action – OpEd

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One reason why the Glasgow Climate Conference (October-November 2021) failed so miserably to produce urgently needed climate action was that humans tend to react to what is close to them. Money to pay the rent is urgent, while a climate catastrophe seems to be a distant threat.

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A second reason is cultural inertia. All of us find it very difficult to make rapid changes in our lifestyles. Our educational and political systems also change very slowly. Automobile factories take a long time to build, and they continue to produce petroleum-driven vehicles. Many people earn their livings from the fossil fuel industry.

Finally, avoiding a climate catastrophe is an international problem. Historically, industrialized countries have been responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions, and people in less developed countries, such as India, feel that they therefore have a right to use their abundant coal to raise the standard of living and to combat poverty.

Warnings from the Antarctic and Arctic regions

Although the worst effects of catastrophic climate change lie in the distant future, there are recent warnings that tell us that a climate disaster may be nearer than we thought. The Arctic and Antarctic regions are warming more than twice as fast as the remainder of the world.

In the Antarctic region, the vast Thwaites glacier, sometimes called “the Doomsday Glacier”, has recently exhibited so many cracks that scientists fear that it may shatter into small pieces like a windscreen. If this happens, the event may trigger the collapse of other nearby glaciers through a mechanism called “Marine Ice Cliff Instability”. This could mean several meters of sea level rise, threatening all coastal cities throughout the world.

Other warnings come from the Arctic. For example, a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded at the Siberian town of Verkhovansk, 70 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, and this reading has been confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Such a temperature would be more appropriate for Spain or Italy.

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Observers on top of the Greenland ice sheet can see water pouring from summer lakes into crevasses that reach all the way to the bottom of the sheet. This water acts as a lubricant, speeding the flow of the entire ice sheet towards the sea.

The Arctic Ocean will soon be entirely ice-free during one or two months of the year. This will initiate a feedback loop involving the albedo effect: Ice reflects sunlight, while dark sea water absorbs heat from the sun, leading to further warming of the Arctic Ocean.

Another serious warning comes from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The most recent IPCC report warns us that without urgent action, climate change may soon be beyond our ability to adapt. 

The Keeling Curve

The Keeling Curve measures the atmospheric concentration of CO2 at the Mount Loa observatory in Hawaii. The concentration passed 400 parts per million in 2013, and it is not only still rising but rising at an accelerated rate. Scientists say that the CO2 concentration level has not been this high for at least 2 million years.

What will happen if we fail in our efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change? Then, in the long run, most of the earth’s surface will become uninhabitable. Many species of plants and animals, unable to move, will become extinct. Humans may survive, but the global population of humans will be very much reduced by heat death, famine and wars.

We need urgent and radical action

For all these reasons, it is urgent that we take drastic climate action while there is still time to do so.

Let us remember Greta Thunberg’s words, “We need hope, of course we do, but the one thing that we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.”

So let us act with urgency, for the sake of future generations, and for the sake of our beautiful planet.

What actions must we take?

  1. The extraction of fossil fuels must stop. Currently China and India make massive use of coal. Countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia extract and export oil and natural gas. The Canadian Tar Sands project contributes enormously to greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States, the Biden Administration, although pledged to climate action, auctions off petroleum drilling rights , both offshore and in the Arctic.
  2. Subsidies for fossil fuel corporations must stop. A recent report found that these corporations received 5.9 trillion dollars in subsidies in 2020.
  3. Renewable energy projects must be encouraged and supported. The Green New Deal visualises governmental action analogous to FDR’s New Deal to build urgently needed renewable energy structure. Renewable energy is now generally cheaper than energy derived from fossil fuels, but governmental help is still needed.

* John Scales Avery (born in 1933 in Lebanon to American parents) is a theoretical chemist noted for his research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. Since the early 1990s, Avery has been an active World peace activist. During these years, he was part of a group associated with the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

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