As if we’re not going through enough with the pandemic, the resultant economic crisis, and the new (to some) awareness of systemic racism making its way into America’s consciousness, the greatest threat to the world–the climate crisis–has not paused.
As we have been distracted by these major events over the last four months, we have pushed the climate crisis to the middle pages of the newspaper at best.
But like the swimmer in “Jaws” enjoying her moonlight swim, oblivious to the big shark below, we are forgetting the biggest menace to our survival: the climate crisis. I’m glad that people have started calling it a crisis, because the way things are going, the changes will soon be irreversible.
As ocean ice melts, it loses its reflectivity, and darker waters absorb more heat. In the arctic regions, methane that is frozen in the ground melts and releases gas that is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. There will be a tipping point sometime in the near future; we just don’t know for sure when it will be. When we get there, no treatment, vaccine, or fiscal stimulus will be able to alter our course.
It is estimated that over 80% of the world’s population lives within sixty miles of the oceans. That may seem unimportant to people in Colorado, but climate change is affecting us here as well. Drought, wildfires, excessive heat, pestilence (in the form of insects that weren’t here before), loss of habitat for wildlife, and increased illnesses caused by pollution are some of the consequences.
Some believe that we could be saved by technology. Build large umbrellas in space to deflect some of the sun’s rays. Have planes spray reflective particles in the upper atmosphere to cool off the planet. Or, one of my favorites, plant a trillion trees to absorb carbon dioxide.
Consider how industrialized nations might utilize geo-engineering. One approach is to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by having huge fans running over chemicals that will bond with the carbon. But what would power these fans? Using solar, wind, or even nuclear energy to power this effort would be helpful. But the technology so far is for small-scale units, so removing sufficient amounts of CO2 could take generations.
In any kind of global engineering plan, there would be winners and losers. If we reduced the amount of sunlight reaching Earth, some countries and regions would benefit, while others would face consequences to the detriment of their populations.
Some people and politicians recognized four months ago that we would soon be in the midst of a terrible pandemic, and social distancing, hand washing, and masks became the norm for most people. In a few short weeks, most people took safety measures. These drastic measures allowed for some containment of the virus. In that sense, people around the world adapted to the immediacy and craziness of this crisis. This showed us that we can meet a challenge when we must.
I suspect that as world leaders finally see and act on the climate emergency, the entire planet will take action that will curtail our use fossil fuels. But our planet will not respond to behavioral changes as quickly as COVID-19 does. You can’t expect an aircraft carrier to turn on a dime. It will take us years to change course on climate, and minor human behavioral modifications won’t be enough. There will be little allowance for second chances. The time to act is now.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this Opinion Column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any staff member, contribution writer or the Lyons Recorder.