COVID-19 showed us how challenging a crisis could be. For the climate crisis, though, there is no vaccine.
It is frustrating when anything stronger than us takes away our rights. COVID-19 thought us a hard lesson when it forced us to stay in lockdown for weeks or months. I don’t believe anyone enjoyed it, even though we were in the comfort of our homes; we still had food, air to breathe, electricity, internet.
The coronavirus is still an open wound. It takes precious lives every day. Nonetheless, we are confident humankind will survive it. It will heal, albeit leaving a scar in human history.
Conversely, the virus responsible for the climate crisis is humankind itself. And that’s why the wound is not healing; we cannot get rid of the infection. Until now, the world is treating global warmth, mostly with symptomatic support and palliative care. We are far from a cure, and we are playing a dangerous game with an hourglass that does not tells us how much time we have left.
A recent climate report from the Australian's Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO shows alarming numbers about the climate. It focuses on Australia, but we all know that the causes and consequences are all over the globe. A few highlights from the report:
- Temperature is increasing. 2019 was the warmest year on record. 2013–2019 are all in the rank of warmest years.
- There is an increase in the annual frequency of dangerous fire weather days.
- The most economically active areas of the country have a decline in rainfall in more than 10%.
- Heavy rainfall events are becoming more intense.
- There is also a decline in streamflow.
- Sea surface temperatures have risen. The warmest year on record was 2016 and eight of the ten warmest years on record occurring since 2010. The issue is killing the marine ecosystem, especially the Great Barrier and the Ningaloo reefs.
- The ocean is acidifying, and the process is accelerating.
- Atmospheric CO₂ still increases year over year.
Reduced emissions because of COVID-19 will likely reduce CO₂ accumulation in the atmosphere by only about 0.2 ppm throughout 2020.
The CO₂ level in 2019 was 410 ppm. Pre-industrial concentration was 278 ppm.
The excess of energy and CO₂ is absorbed by the ocean and atmosphere, affecting the ecosystem and potentially making it less habitable by living beings (including us). Even if you don't appreciate marine life, you should care about food. Currently, we produce 155 million tonnes of seafood each year (as a reference, global wheat production is about 764 million tonnes). If we poison the ocean (by heating and acidification), the world may have less 155 million tonnes of food available for the population. Moreover, what other grave issues may arise from the death of the oceans?
According to Friedlingstein et al. 2020 (apud Global Carbon Budget), 86.3% of CO₂ emission comes from fossil fuel and industry. Land-use change is responsible for 13.6% and, if we check the results of the Australian report (on page 21), the emission from land-use change is substantially stable in the last decade. Thus, there is no doubt the main villain of climate is emissions from fossil fuel and industry.
If we look at the greenhouse gas emissions by sector, we notice that 73.2% comes from the Energy industry. Industrial consumption is responsible for 24.2%, transport for 16.2%, and commercial and residential use for 17.5%.
There is no doubt that industry development is vital for the global economy. However, we don’t need to turn off our factories to save the planet. Analysing the reports from CSIRO and Global Carbon Project, it’s clear that:
Doing simple assumptions, if we only use clean energy sources, there is a potential to return to CO₂ levels we used to have between 1950 and 1970.
We have to stop using fossil fuels. There is hope. Still, we need to change.
I hope my post doesn't look too alarming. It's important to know where we are to plan for the future. There is a lot to do in order to protect the environment for future generations. You can start with your own house and family habits. For example, avoiding plastic and consuming consciously. Little things help. Nevertheless, we also need to fight for the big targets.
Society needs to demand clean energy.
That's how we will push the market in the right direction.
If you enjoyed reading, please leave a comment. Also, if you want to keep in touch and receive my newsletter with diverse content including data science, environment, sci-fi and geek culture, please subscribe here.