Bill Knight | Humans aren’t hopeless on climate change



Earth is at a “doom and bloom” point.

While news almost daily reports dangers such as ozone threats to corn crops (University of Illinois reported last month), positives occur like the Pasta Straw (produced from bucatini by the U.K.’s Stroodles company to replace plastic straws).

No, all is not lost with the environment – at least, not yet.

The Big Picture: the climate emergency and its effects are happening faster than forecast, according to the Sept. 25 report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose scientists detailed the latest understanding of the crisis, its causes, how people will be affected, and what we can do to avoid disaster.

Meanwhile, David Wallace-Wells, author of this year’s “The Uninhabitable Earth,” said:

  • 2019’s extreme weather “is our own doing,”
  • there’s a big gap between research and how news media report climate change, and
  • more must and can be done.

“We’re seeing that climate-change impacts are already happening,” said Columbia University Professor Ben Orlove, a lead author of IPPC’s newest study.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “Global emissions are increasing; temperatures are rising. The consequences for oceans, forests, weather patterns, biodiversity, food production, water, jobs and, ultimately, lives, are dire and set to get much worse. The science is undeniable.”

IPCC’s report predicts the world in 2100: what things could be like if little changes and what the world could be if people do something.

If society ignores the emergency and maintains a status quo, harmful effects will increase to unprecedented levels, but “the report does not prescribe telling anyone what to do,” Orlove added. “We show the consequences.”

Francesco Femia, co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security, has summarized an approach if survival is possible: “Manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable.”

Our species isn’t helpless, and therefore shouldn’t feel hopeless. However, change is required.

After all, says Wallace-Wells – who’s not fatalistic – the future could go either way.

“The next decade could contain more warming and more suffering, or less warming and less suffering,” he said.

Even if the emergency isn’t eliminated, adjustments can make it less threatening.

“You can see it’s a much, much rosier picture with perhaps less than a meter of sea level rise even centuries out into the future, and that’s something that I think we can all probably deal with and tolerate,” commented Robert DeCanto, a lead author on the report’s polar regions chapter.

Already, more than 70 countries pledged to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, said Guterres, adding that asset managers administering about half the world’s capital investments (some $34 trillion) called for carbon fuels to be priced realistically and phased out.

In places ranging from West Virginia to Brazil, ambitious tree-planting programs are underway.

Last year, the European Union banned single-use plastics by 2021, realizing that patches of plastic garbage float in the Atlantic, Pacific and even the Arctic Oceans to such an extent that in the next century the seas might have more plastic and micro-plastic by weight than fish.

This spring, Maine and Maryland banned throwaway polystyrene-foam containers, as did cities such as Los Angeles, Miami Beach, New York and Seattle. Polystyrene (Styrofoam) is seemingly everywhere (although it’s used for an average of 12 minutes, and Americans alone discard the equivalent of 82 Styrofoam cups a year, according to the Illinois Public Research Group), it’s made from fossil fuels, isn’t biodegradable, can’t be recycled and can kill animals that mistake it for food.

Reform faces opposition from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which encourages state lawmakers to pass “pre-emption” laws overriding local ordinances, but things can be done by individuals, or by groups, whether neighborhoods or governments, Orlove added.

“There are things that people can do in their homes, in their communities, in their countries and around the globe,” he said.

For instance, students Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao developed a way to use chemicals to break down un-recyclable plastics. The pair founded BioCellection four years ago, when they were 21. Funded in part by a UCLA institute and partnering with San Jose, Calif., their operation breaks down plastics into compounds that can be used to make clothing, carpet, etc. Recognized last year by Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30” feature, Yao and Wang this year moved into a new facility in Menlo Park, Calif.

Greta Thunberg, the teen whose led global demonstrations supporting a dramatic, worldwide response to humanity’s extinction risk, challenges us.

“I know so many people who feel hopeless,” she said in a conversation with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “and they ask me, ‘What should I do?’

“And I say: ‘Act. Do something.’”

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