Dear Earth: Part 1
Climate change is the greatest hubris in the history of the human race. For an advanced and conscious species- capable of so much knowledge, hope and understanding- to allow short-sighted greed, environmental ignorance and self-imposed destruction, for the sake of profit, to cloud our judgement and scientific knowledge, in favor of a dogmatic political ideology, stands as our most fundamental and species defining issue.
For corporations and governments to knowingly disregard, dismantle and attack any attempts at improving the quality of our air, drinking water, oceans and forests; to recklessly threaten and destroy the habitats of animal species in every part of our ecosystem; and to challenge attempts to mitigate the destruction of powerful natural disasters, will go down as the most profound ignorance and failure of our species.
Climate change does not exist in some far off place, or in some far off time, generations in the future and free from our concern in this present moment; the planet is burning now; fires are growing now; the oceans are rising now; storms are deadlier now; forests are dying now; pollution is thicker now; people are suffering now; the climate is changing now.
Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that the rising global temperatures are a direct result of human activities in burning fossil fuels, like CO2, a harmful greenhouse gas. Human beings have known about the heat trapping effects of fossil fuels since 1827. Greenhouse gases trap solar radiation in the atmosphere and reflect it back towards the Earth like the heat trapped under a blanket. The more fossil fuels that we extract from the ground and pump into the atmosphere, the thicker the blanket that shrouds the Earth becomes and the greater the temperatures will increase.
Greenhouse gases are absorbed and emitted by the planet, naturally, as part of the Earth’s carbon cycle, which keeps the planets ecosystem in equilibrium. Greenhouse gases help keep the Earth’s ecosystem at a hospitable temperature to sustain life. If there were no greenhouse gases, the Earth would be too cold for complex life to develop. With our current rapid rate of carbon extraction and global emission, however, CO2 levels are the highest that the Earth has sustained in 800,000 years.
Before the industrial revolution in the 1750s- regarded as the beginning of the planets global climate temperature increase- CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was 280 PPM (molecules of carbon per million), with sustainable levels around 400 PPM and below. Today, however, CO2 concentration is above 410 PPM, a 46 percent increase from the pre-industrial era levels and an unsustainable amount to maintain without planetary destruction, massive species extinction and societal collapse.
17 of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001; the decade from 2001-2010 was the warmest decade and the twentieth-century was the warmest century since record keeping began in 1880. Scientists from around the world agree that we must keep global average temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels to prevent a runaway greenhouse effect that kicks the planet into a perpetual warming cycle.
Current climate data shows that average global temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 Degrees Fahrenheit), which has plagued the planet with increasingly powerful storms, warmer ocean waters and more damaging wildfires over the last few decades. A warmer atmosphere contains more water vapor, a greenhouse gas which acts as a major fuel source for hurricanes and other types of tropical storms; as the storm builds up over warm ocean waters and in a warmer atmosphere, there exists a greater amount of energy for the storm to draw from.
Climate Change Facts
- Gases that contribute to the greenhouse gas effect: Water vapor, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (84 times more harmful than CO2, but less concentration in the atmosphere), sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).
- Human activities release over 35 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year.
- Since the beginning of the industrial revolution (1750s), the world’s oceans have absorbed 560 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.
- The U.S. is the #1 cumulative greenhouse gas emitter since the industrial revolution began.
- Over the past decade, the U.S. has decreased annual carbon dioxide emissions by 800 million tons.
- The six largest carbon emitters account for 60 percent of the world’s emissions: China, United States, India, Russia, Japan and Germany.
- Since the pre-industrial era, CO2 has increased in the atmosphere by 46 percent; methane by 150 percent; nitrous oxide by 20 percent. More than half of the increase in CO2 has occurred since 1970.
- Average U.S. temperature has risen 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years. Expected to rise 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 if we continue with current greenhouse gas emissions.
- Heat waves are one of the biggest climate killers.
- U.S. could save $200 billion per year by preventing deaths due to extreme temperatures.
- EPA estimates that Americans spend between $361.7 to $886.5 billion, each year, on health care services for conditions related to fossil fuel exposure (heart disease, cancer, neurological disorders).
- 20 to 30 percent of animal species are at risk with current 1.5 degree Celsius rise in average global temperature.
- Five of the top six companies on the Fortune 500 are in the Petroleum refining industry, including: BP, Exxon, Shell.
- Fossil fuel companies have claimed that CO2 emission would help alleviate world hunger by boosting crop production.
- ExxonMobil spent $16 million between 1998 and 2005 on groups that spread disinformation about climate science.
- The planets wealthiest one-billion people emit 60 percent of the greenhouse gases. The poorest three-billion people produce only 5 percent emissions.
- In 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense declared climate change a direct threat to national security.
- World Health Organization estimates that climate change will cause approximately 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stoke (38,000 due to heat exposure; 48,000 due to diarrhea; 60,000 due to malaria; 95,000 due to malnutrition).
- Globally, the number of weather related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. These disasters result in over 60,000 deaths per year (primarily in developing countries where 75-80 percent of damages from climate change occurs).
Global Greenhouse Gas Emission by Gas:
- CO2- Industrial process, deforestation, agriculture: 65%
- CO2- Forestry and other land use: 11%
- Methane- Agriculture, waste management, energy use: 16%
- Nitrous Oxide- Agriculture and fossil fuels: 6%
- F-Gases- Industrial processes, refrigeration, consumer products: 2%
The biggest contributor to global warming comes from the burning of coal for electricity and power. Coal is a potent greenhouse gas composed primarily of carbon, making it an extremely toxic chemical both for the environment and for human health. While coal produces only 30 percent of our electricity, it contributes 80 percent of all power plant carbon emission pollution. The majority of coal production is operating on industrial revolution momentum, spurred forth by greed, monopoly and government manipulation; also from environmental ignorance from a time with little-to-no knowledge of health and safety, and a lack of understanding about the damages of fossil fuels on human health.
When coal is burned it releases harmful toxins and pollutants into the air, including: Mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, arsenic, nitrogen oxide and various other metals. Not only do these toxins contribute to the increase in global temperatures, they also cause major health problems in the form of asthma and other breathing difficulties, heart problems, neurological disorders, cancer and death. Once coal is burned, it accumulates in the air and is absorbed into the ground where it seeps into lakes, ponds and other sources of water that contaminate our drinking water supply.
Coal power plants in the United States produce more than 100 million tons of coal ash every year. Responsible disposable of toxic products is expensive for fossil fuel companies; due to a lack of oversight, much of this toxic waste ends up in ponds and rivers. Over half of the coal ash dumps in the U.S. have no protective liners to prevent the deadly pollutants from flowing into our drinking water, fishing and swimming waters. These coal ash dumps are harmful to begin with, as particulates build up in the air and linger in the breathing air of nearby communities. 70 percent of these ash dumps are located near Native American reservations, low-income and minority communities where fossil fuel companies have less liability and an easier time receiving approval from the government to dispose of toxic waste.
Effects of Climate Change
The evidence of global warming is clear; whether or not climate change is occurring is no longer a primary focus of discussion among rational, observant and scientifically minded individuals. Unless your political or economic ideology will not allow you to believe, understand, or comprehend, in the slightest way, the reality of a planet that is drastically changing as a result of human activities, it is clear that human beings have set the Earth on a path towards planetary destruction, civil unrest and social instability.
For too long the average global citizen has had to suffer the consequences of a hotter planet with higher prices on finite resources; repeatedly lied to by governments and corporations about the causes and effects of climate change; and left out from any of the monetary gains from the sale of the planet. As the Earth’s atmosphere continues to heat up from the greenhouse gases that have already been emitted and the millions of tons that we continue to emit every day, the poorest among us will suffer most from increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes and other tropical storms, which use the high ocean temperatures and high water vapor temperatures in the atmosphere as a greater source of fuel to build more powerful storms.
A warmer global climate creates an atmosphere that collects, retains and drops more water. As these climate disasters increase in magnitude, citizens of the Earth are left with the debt, both to the planet as an entire interconnected ecosystem, and to the financial and biological health and wellbeing of every individual. In the United States, in particular, damages expand in size and increase in cost with a warmer climate, leaving the country with more destruction, including: Higher food prices as a result of decreased agricultural yields from drastic temperature changes that prevent crops from growing; water damage to coastal cities as a result of rising sea levels, forcing entire communities to relocate and fight for land that is already occupied; longer and more deadly heat waves in larger areas of the country, leading to higher energy bill costs and increased number of deaths from heat stroke in communities that are unable to afford or are unprepared to make it through dangerously high temperatures; longer wildfire seasons in dry Western states as a result longer draughts, leading to higher prices and restrictions on water consumption and usage; increased medical costs from individuals suffering from the effects of poisonous air pollution near greenhouse gas emitting factories; injuries from natural disasters; significant costs to repair damages to roads and infrastructure; rise in crime due to civil unrest from a country where, not only the poorest families, but also average middle class families cannot afford to meet the high prices of a warming climate without the necessary support from a government that continues to choose the financial interests of billion dollar carbon emitting corporations over the health of the planet and its people.
Biggest Contributors to Greenhouse Gas Emissions:
- Electricity Generation: Coal and Gas- 29%
- Transportation: Oil and Gas- 27%
- Industry: Oil and Chemicals- 21%
- Commercial and Residential: Heating Oil- 12%
- Deforestation: Agriculture/Livestock- 10%
- Forests: Absorb CO2- (-11%)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Union of Concerned Scientists
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established under the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization in 1988 in order to study and report on the effects of greenhouse gas emission and the resulting climate change. Comprised of 195 countries and hundreds of independent scientists from around the world, the panel represents the largest scientific body for assessing climate change risks and outcomes of greenhouse gas emission. The panel does not conduct its own climate research, but assesses the work of thousands of international scientists to gather evidence of climate change and any scientific, technical and socioeconomic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis and risk of human induced climate change.
The panel meets every five to seven years and provides the world’s governments with an assessment on the impacts and risks of climate change, options to mitigate, and advice on adaption and survival on a warmer planet. IPCC reports go through a rigorous review process to eliminate any uncertainty and to maintain objectivity in order to prevent any politicized ideology from corrupting the facts of their scientifically tested results. Their reports must be signed off by all member organizations before publication. A rigorous review process based on scientific evidence is a concept that few American politicians have discovered.
World Climate Accords
Though more attentive and progressive than in the past, the world’s governments continue to fall into holes of corruption, greed, political red tape and inefficient bureaucracy when confronting the reality of climate change, its effects on the planet, the damages that a warmer climate causes in the present time, and the potential impacts it will have on generations in the near and far future. World governments and fossil fuel emitting corporations form a symbiotic and parasitic relationship; neither can exist on the global stage without the other at this current time. Governments have relied on fossil fuels for hundreds of years without understanding or addressing the damage that carbon emission inflicts on the Earth’s ecosystem.
Not until recently have governments started to confront the seriousness of climate change with agreements to cut back on carbon emissions and increase investment and implementation of efficient and renewable energy alternatives. These climate accords set specific limits on carbon emissions for countries and provide time limits to meet these standards in order to prevent further global climate temperature increase. Unfortunately, these climate accords are not legally binding, meaning that governments have the ultimate authority in deciding whether or not to meet these standards of the reduction of carbon emissions. It will take more than a non-binding verbal agreement before there are any meaningful changes in the way that our planet emits dangerous fossil fuels and consumes energy. Until that time, governments must rely on the climate accords of the past and hope that they are able to move us away from fossil fuel emission and potential planetary collapse and towards a renewable energy future.
First drafted on December 11, 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol stands as the first acknowledgement and attempt by the world’s governments to implement a plan to reduce carbon emissions and prevent the climate from warming. From the start of the protocol, the European Union and 37 other industrialized countries promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to five percent below 1990 levels between the years 2008 and 2012; their second commitment was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent below 1990 levels between 2013 and 2020.
A provision in the protocol required at least 55 countries to sign onto the agreement and for those countries to account for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions before the plan could go into effect. Unfortunately, the worlds three biggest polluters- the United States, China and India- either were exempt from the accord or never signed on, meaning the protocol never went into full effect. Any progress in greenhouse gas reduction made by countries that signed onto the agreement was quickly wiped out by the emissions from the planets three biggest polluters. To this day, 193 countries have signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, but the limits set in the agreement are now outdated and replaced with higher standards in more recent global protocols.
The next attempt by world governments to curb greenhouse gas emissions occurred on December 18, 2009, at the United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. Countries that signed onto the Copenhagen Accord pledged to limit global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial temperature levels (scientists agree that a 2 degree Celsius increase in average global temperatures could cause the Earth to fall into an irreversible runaway greenhouse effect).
Member countries that signed onto the plan agreed to keep CO2 levels in the atmosphere below 450PPM (400PPM seen as sustainable). The plan, however, fails to set specific standards for legal carbon emissions and falls well short of the goal of limiting global temperature increase, as the plan is not legally binding, meaning countries can choose whether or not they follow the details in the plan. Under this premise, the plan stands as little more than a superficial band-aid solution and verbal marketing tool for wealthy countries and the biggest carbon emitters to pretend that they are making the necessary changes to prevent further climate warming.
Developed and industrialized countries agreed to pay $100 billion a year by 2020 as part of the accord to assist poor countries that suffer the most damage from climate change and are unable to afford the necessary repairs. Many locations- like Puerto Rico, after the hurricanes in 2017- become uninhabitable after climate disasters or require tens to hundreds of billions of dollars in food, aid, shelter, medical assistance, and repairs before they are able to recover and return to their lives as they were before.
Studies estimate that climate disasters could force anywhere from 150 million to 700 million people to emigrate from their homes and countries by 2050 to seek safety and shelter elsewhere. This human relocation may lead to a massive refugee crisis like the ones seen today from the wars in the Middle East, but on a global scale. When this occurs, it will be up to wealthy and industrialized nations with the resources to provide for those that require aid, food and shelter. If wealthy countries and governments choose greed, power and dominance over global unity, responsibility and human compassion, this may lead to further planetary instability, civil unrest and potentially, a world war to fight over the remaining natural resources.
Paris Climate Agreement
The most recent and significant attempt at combating climate change comes from the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France on December 12, 2015. Countries that signed onto this agreement pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025, with the goal of keeping average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Participating countries agreed to determine, plan and reconvene every five years to report on their efforts to reduce carbon emissions and evaluate the progress made by each respective government. The agreement went into full effect on October, 5, 2016, after 55 countries contributing to at least 55 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions signed on.
There are 195 countries on planet Earth. As of 2018, 194 of these countries have agreed to the terms laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement, including Russia, Syria, Iran and North Korea. These countries agree to the initial climate change prevention provisions laid out in the plan with the goal of preventing global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The only country on Earth to not sign onto the Paris Climate Agreement also happens to be the world’s biggest polluter and greenhouse gas emitter; the United States backed out of the plan on June 1, 2017, citing that the terms in the plan would undermine the U.S. economy and put the country at a permanent disadvantage on the global market. Sixty percent of American’s oppose the decision to back out of the Paris Agreement. Many cities and states in the U.S. have created their own plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to subvert the federal governments corrupt authority.
Once again, this climate plan is not legally binding. A withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement is little more than a distracting political sideshow. The earliest possible withdrawal date is not until November 4, 2020, meaning that the United States is still obligated to report its progress in reducing carbon emissions to the United Nations assembly. Critics of the Paris Climate Agreement argue that the plan does not go far enough in efforts at reducing emissions to prevent a 2 degree Celsius global temperature increase. Even if all the countries managed to reduce carbon emissions by the agreed to date, the Earth’s temperature will continue to increase from the time that it will take for the atmosphere to adjust to the CO2 that has already been pumped into the air. Part 2