The man clutched his parched throat.
Hydration had become a fantasy, food a fiction. He couldn’t remember the last time he ate a real meal around a table.
Those days were gone.
Around him the other refugees coughed and stumbled along desperately trying to escape the destroyed home they had once known on empty stomachs and dry throats.
But they were the lucky ones. They had lived through the relentless floods and fires and natural disasters that had killed so many others.
Life had become hell. But at least they were still alive.
This is not the plot for a science fiction movie or a story from the Bible, though it may sound like one. This is not an alarmist or ambulance chasing.
This is the future. And for an increasing many, that bleak future is inching closer and closer to the present each ad every day.
This picture painted may foretell doom and gloom, but there is still hope.
Earth’s leaders have 25 years to prevent the peril of climate change.
“This is the future. And for an increasing many, that bleak future is inching closer and closer to the present each and every day.”
25 years to implement a policy to tame the rising tides. 25 years to invent and innovate to treat the Earth’s hyperthermia. 25 years to prevent passing the dreaded “point of no return” where not even the greatest policy or invention could prevent environmental destruction.
So what is this dreaded “point of no return” that scientists warn humanity about? According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the “point of no return” is when the Earth reaches 450 parts per million in the concentration of carbon dioxide. The earth’s current concentration is a little over 400ppm, or about 50ppm higher than what NASA deems to be a safe level. When the earth reaches the critical 450ppm threshold there will be a less than a 50 percent chance of the Earth’s leaders stabilizing the climate at a 2 degrees Celsius global average temperature increase, the maximum established by 195 signatories of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement.
If leaders fail to stabilize the average global temperature increase it could do irreversible damage to the climate, hence the so-called “point of no return.” A 2009 report by the Global Humanitarian Forum concluded that 300,000 people will die each year as a result of climate change, and cost the economy $125 billion for the same time period. The GHF also believes these figures may be too conservative.
What to do now
After reaching a scientific consensus on climate change, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s scientists turned to what humanity could do about it. The outlook was bleak. The problem wasn’t just isolated to the remote third world—it had spread to the highly populated, developed countries from coast to coast. The world’s leaders started to take note. Policy began to take shape—agreements forged between nations, climate change pacts established.
In their 2014 report, the IPCC specified two types of policy—adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation is implementing policy to protect individuals and resources from the harmful effects of climate such as the installation of technologies to help natural disaster prone areas or the collection of rainwater in storage containers to prepare for drought. Adaptation helps in the short term by addressing basic issues such as keeping people safe, protecting crops from floods and extreme heat and saving animals from extinction. But these measures do little to fix the problem, they only assuage it. As Al Gore wrote in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance, adaptation represents a “kind of laziness, an arrogant faith in our ability to react in time to save our skins.”
Mitigation attacks the root problems of climate change, mainly by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. These can include measures as small as encouraging individuals to bike to work, or large-scale as major investments in renewable energy sources such as solar or nuclear power. These measures more directly affect the problem of climate change but carry more negative consequences in the short term—fossil fuel workers will lose jobs, countries could lose substantial sources of wealth and the conventional sources of energy humanity relies on will be curtailed or eliminated. But without these measures the problems could be compounded a hundred times over—species extinction will become widespread, food will become scarce across the globe and humanity could lose the ability to implement adaptation measures.
“(Adaptation represents) a kind of laziness, an arrogant faith in our ability to react in time to save our skins.”
-Al Gore, Earth in the Balance
Neither of these two methods can be used by themselves—they have to work in tandem to achieve the desired outcomes for humanity. These two methods also must rest upon a strong foundation—stable governments, innovative technology and policy combined together and individuals attempting to live sustainably within their personal spheres.
With strong, informed leaders and a well-informed population humanity’s capacity to solve the world’s literal biggest problem is unparalleled. It can be seen in the governments of all levels in all areas who are implementing sustainability plans for their communities. It can be seen in individuals who chose to invest their income in forward-facing technology like solar panels and electric vehicles. It can be seen in the innovators who power these informed choices and humans the capacity to hope for a better tomorrow. The earth needs more of these people and more of their information—without it humanity charts a course to its destruction, with it humans pave the road to flourishing in the future.
The Earth may be on a dangerous path, but it hasn’t reached the point of no return yet, and if Earth’s leaders can take advantage of the next 25 years, it never will.