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California Department of Transportation, 2021, Earth Day Why Is Climate Change Important?

But i wanted to talk to you today just for a few minutes about why climate change is important, not, as i say, from a scientific perspective, but more from a social or social science perspective. So one of the things that scientists have talked about in the last number of decades is something called the great acceleration and the great acceleration you see graphically represented here where the world’s population is growing. The world’s economy is generally growing and using more resources, creating more pollution into the atmosphere, and you can see that, in terms of the graphs around earth system trends there rising concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and other people produced or anthropogenically produced greenhouse gases. Warming up the planet – and this has all sorts of impacts and doesn’t affect everywhere. Equally, in fact, there are huge differences geographically in terms of how places will be affected by climate change or climate disruption, but the great acceleration is this idea that, as a consequence of human induced environmental change, we’re seeing ecosystems around the world coming under pressure and increases In the pace of global environmental change, particularly around climate change and biodiversity loss, you’re all probably familiar with the wildfires last year in california and australia, for example, and some people have argued that these are portents of things to come. As the planet warms now there’s a difference between climate and weather, we can’t attribute a single event to a change in climate because you need to see the patterns and those need to be sustained through time, but nonetheless we’re beginning to get a sense of some of The increased impacts of climate change like hurricane katrina, like the wildfires in australia and california, and many other examples as well, and this speeding up of global environmental change, isn’t really surprising, because if you look at the statistics, 50 percent of all people produced greenhouse gas emissions Have been released in the last 25 years or so so part of this great acceleration and we’re burning the equivalent of 400 years of accumulated biological matter in a year.

So again it took 400 years of tree growth and plant growth and animal growth, for example, to create the oil and coal that were burning and putting the carbon dioxide resulting carbon dioxide up into the atmosphere. So you can see again the scale of what’s happening and it’s, not surprising that this is unsustainable, but some people are more responsible than others for the current conjuncture. So if you look, for example, at burundian emissions versus or compared to emissions per capita in the united states, people in the us give off 181 times more carbon dioxide every year than people in burundi. So people in burundi have a relatively negligible impact on the global earth atmosphere system, whereas that’s not the case for people living in rich countries like the us or ireland, for example, and some people have argued that really we shouldn’t be talking about climate change, because climate Implies a kind of stability or continuity, but maybe we should be talking about climate disruption or even departure where we lose the regularity of climate cycles and obviously that becomes problematic for a whole host of reasons, including to do with a loss of seasonality, which means that Agricultural growing seasons, for example, and harvests will be disrupted. As a consequence of that, and of course, the people who are most exposed to this around the world are people who are directly dependent on rainfall for their livelihoods, subsistence, small kid scale, farmers in africa, latin america, the caribbean or south asia, for example.

But we will all be impacted by the coming down of the so called green wall. The green wall was the idea that the people in the rich countries could insulate themselves from the effects of global over consumption and over production, but because of the pace and scale of what’s happening in terms of global environmental change and the dramatic losses in biodiversity and The speeding up of climate disruption or potentially departure we are all going to be exposed to the impacts of what we’re talking about currently and you don’t have to look very far to find statistics on this. On the left hand side there you’ll see some graphs produced by the international monastery fund, showing the trend lines in terms of disasters caused by heat waves, cyclones epidemics and wildfires. For example, you see the upward trend but again highly uneven in terms of the geographic distribution of these impacts or another way to look at it is at um through looking at reinsurance company payouts and reinsurance companies are the big companies that insure the insurance companies. If you like, and you can see there, this is a graph from the economist showing uh. The scale of payouts associated with natural catastrophes are so called natural catastrophes because in many cases, they’re actually human produced and the increasing trend line around these as well. And, as you see, the majority of the losses around the world actually aren’t insured. Unfortunately, if you look at some of the predictions from agencies like the us national intelligence director talking about india, he says for india.

Our research indicates, the practical effects of climate change will be manageable by new delhi through 2030., beyond 2030 india’s ability to cope will be reduced by declining agricultural productivity, decreasing water supplies and increasing pressures from cross border migration into the country. So there are some worrying assessments again, countries that are richer, have more resources and are able to push more mitigation and adaptation measures in place than poorer countries, but for poorer countries whose budgets are very constrained. Obviously, this is going to put increasing pressure on their government budgets, in addition to resulting in all sorts of social dislocations and pain for people. So global climate disruption is an existential threat to humanity, both directly so there’s, something called the wet bulb. Temperature and large portions of the earth may become uninhabitable because, when the wet bulb temperature rises above the mid 30 celsius, apparently with certain amounts of humidity, it becomes impossible to live in these places and through indirect channels, such as the loss of biodiversity. We all depend on plants and animals to feed us and for all sorts of ecosystem services like pollinating of plants by bees, for example. One of the worrying things is that there are tipping points coming up, so the melting of the tundra in russia, for example, could release huge amounts of methane and that will speed up again the pace of global environmental change. So this so called positive feedback loop, where one change sets off a bigger change and you get into a kind of vicious circle of feedback if you like, even though it’s positive, because it’s dv so called positive, because it’s deviation amplifying there are justice implications for this.

So, for example, the countries as i mentioned that have done the least to create this problem, often will pay the highest price, even though some of them have made great strides in terms of greening their own energy systems. So i read the other day, for example, that 93 of kenya’s electric electricity is now generated from renewable sources. There are gender impacts and gender injustice impacts associated with this as well. If the climate heats up, for example, in many sub saharan african countries, it’s often women who are tasked or assigned the role of fetching water for the household, if they have to walk further to get that water again. That will create additional forms of gender injustice and then there’s, intergenerational and inter species injustice. So the fact that we are consuming the world’s resources now may mean that future generations won’t be able to live at adequate or desirable standards of living and obviously, with the the huge kind of potential mass extinctions that we may be on the cusp of associated with Climate disruption there’s also an inter species, injustice associated with this type of global environmental change. So, just to finish up in terms of solutions um, as i’ve mentioned, some countries, including ireland, have made very substantial progress in greening their energy systems. And now the government has a climate bill which again is going to deepen this change and as uh decommissioning, coal fired, uh power plants and uh a variety of other initiatives in order to green our energy and transport system.

There are voluntary initiatives like carbon offsetting when you buy a flight. These can be important, although it’s important, to know exactly how the carbon is offset. In some cases, carbon plantations in the global south have um displaced local people from their lands and livelihoods. So again, creating new forms of injustice, even under the guise of something progressive like carbon offsetting by growing uh additional trees, contraction and convergence is something that is talked about. That is that countries around the world need to contract their anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and that we need to converge towards a global low average. So apparently, the earth atmosphere system could absorb about two tons of carbon dioxide per person per year, even with more than seven billion people on the planet. Now. But if you’re looking at countries like ireland or the us we’re producing 18 20 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year, which is totally unsustainable, so particularly the high emitting countries, uh countries like the us, china, which is the world’s biggest emitter, need to shrink the Amount uh that they emit and also we need to converge on a sustainable, uh, greenhouse gas emission uh budget, if you like, or some people talk about net zero getting to net zero now in terms of the gen, the justice implications um. Some people also argued that, well, you know, europe and north america were able to grow their economies on the back of carbon. Intensive development and shouldn’t poorer countries be allowed to do that now, and one idea around this is the idea of relative decoupling that poorer countries should be allowed a greater budget as they grow their economies, because their overall historical contribution has been very low to date.

To date, and some people in fact argue that we need to completely rethink the global economic system and that economic growth, or particularly the type of uh untrammeled economic growth, that we’ve had over the last number of decades isn’t sustainable. And we actually need to think about reducing our resource intensity, degrowing, the economy, while still maintaining human welfare and livelihoods. Of course, that is a big ask, but there are many progressive initiatives around this, like the paris climate change accords or the sustainable development goals, for example. So i will leave it there.

What do you think?

Written by freotech

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California Department of Transportation, 2021, Earth Day [Global Insight] California Senator on global partnerships and green recovery

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