There is this maxim and it goes like this: In order to know where you’re going, you must first know where you are and where you’ve been. Installment 1 dove into climate change’s and global warming’s past, basically touching upon the main points and in a concise manner. Today’s discussion centers on only one outcome: saving the planet and perpetuating the human race.
Not just that, but also being able to maintain a good quality of life. How to achieve that in the here-and-now and in the future will both be explored. Directly applicable here is this second maxim: “Failure is not an option.”
The world’s 7.5 billion people face a titanic challenge every day. This is all about survival. There are potential and real threats to that survival coming from outer space (for example, asteroids colliding with earth) as well as from those originating right here on earth: Famine, pestilence, conflict, weather, climate and pollution. What’s extraordinary is how far humanity has come. Life is not something to take for granted. We must work at it. COVID-19 has taught us that.
In the context of the environment in which we exist, stability must be maintained. It’s a delicate balance. Climate change/global warming is today’s great environmental disruptor or, if you will, influencer.
You might be surprised to know that global warming (gw) is not new. In fact, it has a history. All throughout history there has been climate, weather, temperature fluctuations or, alternatively, variability. The world over time has experienced what are referred to as “hot house” and “ice house” periods. The difference this time is the degree of warming experienced over the relatively brief space of time that it has: a rise of 1.1 degrees Celsius (1.9 degrees Fahrenheit) in about 270 years’ time between 1750 and today, the sharpest climb being from 1970 on.
We can’t just assume this time around global warming will resolve itself as it evidently has in the past; in this case it is reportedly us, through our continued burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas), that is at least partly responsible. The rate at which humans are pumping carbon dioxide, methane, sulfur hexafluouride and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere sort of mirrors the rate of temperature rise in that the increases appear to be proportional to each other. The rates of each have accelerated over time.
Carbon unequivocally being the biggest culprit has the longest-lasting impact. Which is why there is so much focus, energy and effort to remove it from the air – not all of it, mind you, but that which we are responsible for putting there. It should be noted that the carbon that has been introduced into the air from the process of burning fossil fuels didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It came from somewhere. That somewhere? The ground: That which was extracted from within it.
Which would explain the big push to retard releases of carbon into the atmosphere, but, as well, to remove what we are putting there.
Both approaches are far easier said than done because in the case of the first (i.e. slowing releases), on-the-ground behaviors must change. Serious cutbacks in fossil-fuel burning is the only way this can be achieved.
And, as to the second case (To wit: carbon extraction), methods to remove the carbon from the atmosphere and inject it into basalt beneath the surface of the ground and/or identify different uses for it, should be pursued. There has even been talk of geoengineering as in introducing vast quantities of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere located above the troposphere which contains the lower atmosphere, such providing a barrier to block some solar radiation from the sun from reaching the earth’s surface, the thinking here is that this will help cool the planet down.
All of that seems to be way off into the future and if it’s to have any meaningful and measurable impact, these processes must be scaled up substantially. On the bright side, it is good that we are thinking about these ideas now.
Fixing the fixable
The other big push across the globe is to keep the buried carbon, well, buried so as to stop the extraction or, if not that, then to scale the unearthing of carbon back.
The consensus appears to be to reach a 50-percent reduction in ground-based carbon extraction by year 2035 and to reach zero removal by 2050, purportedly, to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (C) at the end of the 21st century.
In California, which is mandated by law to reduce human-contributed greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a level whereby all such GHGs entering the air over a given stretch of time, the identical amount in the same span of time, must also be removed – this approach otherwise known as net zero, a goal that must be reached by 2045, five years before the goal put before rest of the world. All of which means the world will have its work cut out.
That all said, there are important and effective steps that can be taken right now. Such as increasing production and sales of electric and near-zero-emissions vehicles. Overall in the U.S., yearly electric vehicle sales is hovering at nearly 2 percent. In addition, supporting infrastructure must be provided in order to meet the anticipated future demand. Some $65 billion has been allocated for this in the latest infrastructure bill that has only just recently been approved by the Senate in Congress.
Along these lines and where it makes sense we should encourage less driving. That means more emphasis placed on car-sharing and carpooling, alternative travel like walking, biking, use of transit and concepts like high-speed rail. Transit includes a host of such technologies as personal and group rapid transit, both automated and electric. And, cities could get in the habit of developing more vertically and less horizontally as a means of cutting back on sprawl, reducing the numbers of miles driven, saving valuable resources, and helping improve air quality and, by extension, health and quality of life.
Furthermore, increase efficiencies and reduce waste in business, energy, industrial and manufacturing sectors. Moreover, further utilization of cleaner- and clean-energy generation should be encouraged, which means greater reliance on renewable energy resources should be stressed as well.
All of which can go far and do much to lower the amount of GHGs entering the air, helping to facilitate a stoppage and reversal of the human-induced factor in the climate change/global warming equation.
There is more on this subject that can be accessed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report titled: “Code Red For Humanity,” released Aug. 9, 2021.
– Alan Kandel
All material copyright 2021.