SUSTAINABILITY | 12.16.2020
Science cries out against climate change
Climate change is the 21st century’s biggest challenge. In order to grasp the full extent of the challenge and the importance of ramping up actions against global warming and its effects, all we have to do is listen to the science: either we act now or the consequences will be irreversible. Here are the three scientific reports that have most clearly called for accelerating action against climate change.
However, before we analyze them, it’s important to properly understand what this term means. Climate change is a global variation in the Earth’s climate and, although it occurs naturally, human activity—emissions from cars and factories, excessive use of water and other resources—has hit the accelerator so hard that the planet is already struggling to keep up.
This has multiple effects: global warming (the Earth’s rising temperature), unexpected flooding and droughts, erosion, loss of plant and wildlife species, etc. And the world of science grows increasingly concerned, as you’ll see below.
The urgency of action
More than 11,000 scientists from around the world sounded the alarm last year. In a report published in the scientific journal BioScience in November 2019, these experts from more than 153 countries were very clear: “Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat.” And they stated that if we don’t act now to tackle climate change then there will be “untold human suffering.”
As you can see, they are hardly optimistic. The situation is serious. Fossil fuel emissions are one of the main causes of global warming; the particles they emit saturate the atmosphere, trapping heat and triggering the infamous ‘greenhouse effect,’ which leads to global warming by increasing the Earth’s average temperature.
This report, which proposes urgent changes in the areas of energy, the economy and food, warns that rising temperatures entail other real dangers in addition to global warming. These include the loss of millions of lives from pollution-related illnesses—lung cancer, for example—the disappearance of thousands of oxygen-producing plant species, water scarcity and conflict over increasingly scarce natural resources.
The Earth’s temperature could increase by 3.2°C by the end of the century
Earlier this year, the Spanish Council of Ministers declared a climate emergency in a bid to tackle this crisis through a range measures. But this may not be enough. This report from the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) warns that all commitments agreed to by politicians at various summits, including the Paris Agreement, need to be multiplied by five if we don’t want the Earth’s temperature to rise by more than 3°C by the end of the century as a result of greenhouse effect.
“Countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due. They—and every city, region, business and individual—need to act now,” warns UNEP’s Executive Director Inger Andersen. “For ten years, the […] report has been sounding the alarm — and for ten years, the world has only increased its emissions.”
The goal of Agenda 2030 is to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2030. The report warns, however, that this can only be achieved if global emissions fall by 7.6 percent each year between 2020 and 2030. This is still possible, but governments must work much faster to reach the goal.
Our flora and fauna are in danger
Spain has more species of flora and fauna—otherwise known as biodiversity—than any other country in Europe and, simultaneously, it is the most vulnerable place on the continent, according to a report from the WWF. A total of 350 species are on the verge of extinction, including the Egyptian vulture, Iberian lynx and the Canary Islands juniper.
You may wonder what this has to do with climate change. The fact is, although it is not always apparent, we depend on animals much more than we think. The disappearance of biodiversity could jeopardize both our health and our food in five simple steps:
- Altering or destroying an ecosystem containing various species of flora and fauna can set off a domino effect that leads to the destruction of further species
- Fewer ecosystems means less protection from pests. This imbalance leads to more infestation and destruction of plant life. Invasive species alone are already responsible for 16 percent of all extinctions worldwide.
- The disappearance of plant species reduces forests’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide and generate oxygen, thus exacerbating the greenhouse effect
- The gradual loss of forests, which can no longer generate oxygen or filter rainwater into rivers and oceans, leads to a change in the water cycle. This translates less water for human consumption and increasingly dry areas, with less fertile soil.
- The greenhouse effect also leads to a rise in the Earth’s temperature. As you have seen, this endangers our rivers and oceans, which are responsible for regulating the planet’s different climates, and thus preventing major meteorological disasters (which are increasingly frequent).
Finally, the WWF report estimates that the 3°C rise in global temperature will increase the risk of extinction of between 20 percent and 30 percent of all species, heightening the intensity of the effects outlined above.
If these warnings give cause for concern, please remember that we can all play our small part to help curb climate change. Start by following the ‘three Rs’—reduce, reuse, and recycle—and putting these recommendations into practice in your day-to-day to start being a little more sustainable