After hurricanes Harvey and Irma, people are talking about climate change, once again. In the last 10 years, we have increasingly seen movies and documentaries about the environment, how it has changed, how it will possibly continue to change and what we can or should do to stop negative impacts, adapt and survive. Why this trend? What is the message that these films want to get through? Is it that climate change, global warming and environmental degradation are for real? Unfortunately, that indeed is the message.
But wait, are these actually for real? Scientists the world over have published thousands of studies and papers on these subjects showing evidence that major changes are underway, despite others claiming that we shouldn’t worry so much. These conflicting conclusions make it difficult to reach a consensus about what nations should do. We must realize, though, that the real disagreement lies on whether these changes are human-induced, rather than if we will see “strange” natural phenomena in the future. Indeed, the Earth goes through cycles in order to keep balanced; climate change – cooling and warming – are only natural. Then, what’s the big deal? Why are governments, scientists, NGOs, etc., concerned about what the future beholds?
There are two sides to the so-called climate crisis. The “alarmists” argue that human activities since the Industrial Revolution (particularly fossil fuel consumption) have altered the atmosphere’s composition, that is, the carbon cycle has been shifted by injecting an “over-dose” of CO2 which cannot be reabsorbed to continue the cycle. As CO2 stays in the atmosphere the Earth warms up, causing sea level rise, forest fires, warmer winters, permafrost reduction, coral reef destruction, and more. On the other hand, the anti-climate-crisis scientists state that there is nothing abnormal about warming and that humans are not responsible for it. The Earth has gone through many Ice Ages in which glaciers and ice expand, making it difficult to sustain life. In between these Ice Ages, short interglacial (warm) periods occur, allowing life to thrive, then the Earth cools down again, and so on. So, according to this evidence, we are seeing a normal natural process.
During the last glaciation, carbon was compacted and stored under ice sheets, glaciers, and the seabed. The interglacial period that followed brought about higher temperatures and a “breathable” atmosphere, in which carbon used by plants and animals was recycled efficiently. In the last century, however, humans have released large quantities of the stored carbon, probably much more than what the atmosphere and living beings can handle, and at a higher rate than the natural cycle. Some say we have triggered extreme warming that will affect all life on Earth. In fact, global warming can bring on the next ice age, because the ocean currents would get disrupted due to ice melting in the poles. For instance, the warm Gulf Stream originates at the equator, goes up the North Atlantic Ocean where it cools, gets denser, sinks, and heads back south. Scientists fear that excess freshwater from the ice melt in Greenland could prevent the stream from sinking since it’s caused by salt in the water. With the Gulf Stream gone, the circulation of the global ocean currents would collapse, bringing extreme cooling. Actually, global cooling was announced in the 1960s as temperatures fell all over the world and winters were harsher, but a decade later the debate turned to global warming! Mind you that climate change is also affected by solar activity, the Earth’s axis and orbit, and continental drift.
So, what is true about all this? Well, what is absolutely true is that climate change or climate cycles are natural and have always existed. What is not so certain is whether we are in for climate cooling or warming, or both! Also, the degree to which human-induced warming is responsible for overall change is debatable. Are we doing the world a favor by making the climate warmer since a glaciation is near? Or are we digging our grave by accelerating the warming that will generate the cooling? It’s difficult to take a stance when you find scientific evidence for both premises.
However, what is clear to me is that our world is not what it used to be 50 or 100 years ago. Specifically, I’m referring to the state of our natural environment, that has deteriorated significantly as we have cut down forests, increased farmland, excavated more mines, dug bigger boreholes, overfished, depleted water resources, and generated more non-biodegradable waste. Is this scenario not scary enough to make us change our minds about why we should adopt a different lifestyle? Some experts’ climate scenarios are frightening, but we are already living a terrifying ecological situation! Whether we are approaching a climate catastrophe in 10 years or in a million years, our present state of affairs does not seem right.
There are many solutions to our consumption spree that is making the world a waste dump. Innovative ways of producing clean energy, of growing food responsibly, of mobilizing energy-efficiently, and of using resources intelligently have been proposed. For example, a company in Indonesia (Avani Eco) is making bags and other single-use products with cassava, cane sugar and other biodegradable materials to replace plastic. A Spanish woman is manufacturing fabrics (Piñatex) with pineapple leaves to be used in the textile industry. Leaf Republic in Germany is producing disposable plates with leaves. A Dutch student created a system to rid the oceans of plastic waste (The Ocean Cleanup). The list goes on. We must support these ideas and encourage reflexion about how we ought to live in order to prosper, not just survive, whether we are climate-disaster or anti-climate-disaster “believers” or should I say “practitioners”.