Transformative Change or Bust

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            Climate change is the largest challenge humanity has ever faced. The problem and solution in its essence are simple: humans are emitting too greenhouse gasses and need to stop these emissions. However, in reality it is exponentially more complicated. The ability to emit greenhouse gasses in unlimited qualities has been built into the fabric of modern society and the global economy, yet, these emissions also threaten to destroy both. The notion of ‘dangerous’ climate change can mean something completely different for each person trying to quantify it; it changes based on region, capacity to adapt, perceptions on the science and so on. For the purposes of this essay dangerous climate change is already happening, at a one-degree increase in global temperatures, and unacceptably dangerous climate change is anything beyond this. Incremental changes in policy and reforms are inherently unable to avoid dangerous circumstances because it is already happening; there is no time to wait for gradual shifts and transitions to a clean energy economy and society. Transformative and radical changes in the way and how much humans consume energy are necessary just to avoid even more dangerousclimate change.

Currently there has already been an observed increase of almost one degree in world temperatures, with roughly 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There has been relative international consensus, with an agreement to review decision later, that a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius is an acceptable amount of climate change to avoid “dangerous” effects. Thomas Lovejoy, a highly respected biologist, has said that based on what he has observed already in terms of ocean acidification, changes in annual cycles, temperature, precipitation and these effects of biology and biological diversity, the idea of two degrees is to much. He noted that anywhere one looks, “the finger prints of climate change” is visible. Just looking at the Burning Embers Graph, created by the IPCC, risk is created with any amount of temperature change. However, if we quantify dangerous change as beginning with the “high risk” category, that begins after one degree and the “very high” category begins right after two degrees. Climate change has already had measurable consequences such water availability, extreme weather events (such as hurricanes and typhoons) that have impacted human health and safety, and an increase in severity and number of wildfires as well as heat waves.[i] While these impacts have not affected each region and every community equally, clearly the world is already at a stage of dangerous climate change for many.

IPCC AR5 projected global average surface temperature changes in a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red) and low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; blue).
IPCC AR5 projected global average surface temperature changes in a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red) and low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; blue).

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With the realization that the world is already experiencing ‘dangerous’ climate change, the most aggressively climate-resilient pathway must be chosen. A report by the Worldwatch Institute noted that a transformational, “transition is essential if we are to achieve emissions reductions on the scale that the IPCC says is required by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 2-degrees Celsius.”[ii] The report later specifies that a least eighty-percent below 2000 levels, is required. This signifies a truly revolutionary change in energy consumption for such a short time scale, particularly considering this is based off a goal of two degrees, not just one.

Yet, that does not mean it is not possible. According to the same report by the Worldwatch Institute necessary transformational change is viable in the coming two decades (to achieve the 2050 goal) if a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy is used. In the “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Summary for Policymakers” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said with high confidence that, “Transformations in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-resilient pathways.”[iii] Transformational changes require mitigation actions on these four levels immediately, through a rapid growth in clean energy implementation and use, a drastically more energy efficient society and economy and the strong political force to promote and implement these changes.

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An effective strategy of mitigation a few decades ago, before climate change was acutely visible, would have involved incremental changes and gradual policy reform to slowly create a low-carbon economy. However, humanity is no longer in this position. The future security of the world depends on avoiding any and all amounts of dangerous climate change. The ability to do this will directly rely on the collective ability to create rapid transformative change that drastically reduces current greenhouse gas emissions.

 

 

Work Cited:

Sawin, Janet, and William Moomaw. “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by             2030.” Worldwatch Report (2009): 5-39. Print.

 

“Summary for Policymakers.” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and             Vulnerability (2014): 3-30. Print.

 

[i] “Summary for Policymakers.” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and             Vulnerability (2014): 3-30. Print.

[ii] Sawin watch 24

[iii] “Summary for Policymakers” 29

Sustainable Development Reborn From The Ashes of Climate Change

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From the predicted heat waves lasting for 100 years to the Arctic Ice melting by 2080 to islands in Pacific being completely submerged, climate change’s projected future outcomes seem dire. The pressing issues generated from climate change poses serious threats for millions around the globe. However, the projected gloomy future could further the development in sustainability. Sustainable energy is often seen as alternative energy source, but in order to counteract climate change, a transition away from a fossil fuel based energy system is needed. Although climate change is inherently destructive, the dangers from climate change have furthered development in for sustainability and depending on future negotiations, the prospects for sustainable development should be accelerated due to an increased demand for alternative energy.

First of all, if climate change did not result in significant risks or simply did not exist, there would be not necessarily be a need to develop sustainable energy. Unfortunately, the human-induced green house gas emissions result in an imbalance in Earth’s climate systems.  This imbalance has called for reform in many different sanctions in climate change negotiations. As policies become more restrictive with CO2 emissions, the demand for alternative energy sources should increase because there will be a need to utilize less carbon intensive energy sources. In areas where the current global energy system is lacking, renewable energy is well suited. For example, sustainable energy’s benefits range from: providing energy to some of the poorest regions to improving human health to creating new jobs. In particular, the major benefit is that it avoids adding more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which will have long-term benefits in counteracting climate change. The wide array of benefits from sustainable energy and the increase in demand for sustainable energy to achieve climate goals has resulted in climate change furthering development in sustainability.

Although the energy demand is currently concentrated on carbon emitting sources, the risks from climate changes have already resulted in a shift towards renewables and projected outcomes indicate advancement in renewables. Specifically, a trend towards renewables has already begun for renewable shares have “jumped from 5% in 2003 to 23% in 2008” (Sawin and Moomaw 2009). In addition, areas ranging in size and location are implementing sustainable developments by increasing energy efficiency and utilizing renewables. The current increasing trends are projected to extend seen in the global energy scenarios that show “a gradual shift to renewables” and hypothetically, “a transformation or step-change in how the world produces and uses energy” (Sawin and Moomaw 2009). In order to meet the suggested climate change emissions targets in the IPCC, a need for renewable energy may increase.

It is key to note that climate change will negatively impact various aspects, which includes the development of sustainability.  The threats from climate change are and will cause economic, social and political strain. Due to finances, some developed nations will be less vulnerable and have the funds to further sustainability. Whereas, some developing nations do not have the funds to invest in expensive sustainable resources and need to focus available funds to alleviate climate change damage, limiting sustainable development.  Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help solve the issues around implementing sustainability. One strategy is implementing a carbon tax, which would raise fuel prices and encourage the transition to alternative energy.  Another possible strategy is for developed nations to provide finances for sustainable development in developing regions. An additional strategy is ratifying more aggressive short and long-term policies that will help eliminate the support for fossil fuels. Overall, sustainability has is weaknesses, but it is necessary in transitioning away from fossil fuel emissions.

The need for sustainable development would not be as pressing if our current fossil fuel energy system did not have lasting and negative impacts on the planet. Climate change could undermine economic and social goals, but if negotiations are successful there could be a development in sustainability.  As conditions worsen, there will hopefully be more stringent carbon emission reductions. Hence, if future negotiations are progressive there could be a movement towards further developing suitability and moving away from carbon-emitting energy sources.

Work Cited

Sawin & Moomaw, Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.