Dear Future Generations

“Sorry, future generations. Sorry we left you with our mess of a planet. Sorry, we were too caught up in our own doings to do… SOMETHING. Sorry we listened to people making excuses to do… NOTHING. I hope you forgive us, we just didn’t realize how special the earth was. We didn’t know what we had, until it was GONE.” – Prince Ea

OUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE

We all know that global warming is real and human-made and happening. However, there is some recent data that characterizes how urgent the situation has become recently and that therefore I want to draw your attention to.

1. WE HAVE UNDERESTIMATED THE SPEED OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND ARE NOW APPROACHING TIPPING POINTS IN THE CLIMATE SYSTEM

Research shows that the warming of the oceans, the thawing of ice shields and glaciers is happening much faster than originally thought (see herehere and here) and that the speed of atmospheric temperature change we are seeing is unprecented. within the last 2000 years.

 

A study from June 2019 found that permafrost soils in Canada have started to melt at a scale, that was projected to happen only 70 years later, in 2090. Thawing Permafrost soils in Siberia, Canada and Alaska are emitting methane, another greenhouse gas. That’s why they are considered tipping point elements in the climate system. Tipping points are thresholds in the earth’s climate, that, if overpassed, can send the earth into spirals of runaway climate change.

2. UNCHECKED CLIMATE CHANGE WILL WREAK HAVOC ON PLANET EARTH

Climate change has the potential to change the world as we knew it beyond recognition. The most obvious effects of an unchecked climate change are sea level rise by several metres, extreme weather events, causing increased frequencies of lethal heatwaves, floodings, droughts etc. On the one hand, this will put ecosystems under stress and exacerbate the extinction of species, which (besides their intrinsic value) have important functions for human life. On the other hand, food and water supply systems with rising temperatures, resulting in lower yields and problems to feed the world population.

 

A less talked-about fact is the social tensions that occur, when people have to leave their villages, cities or even countries due to rises in sea water level or diminishing livelihoods. Several island states will disappear in the next years and in Bangladesh, 30 million people in coastal regions will lose their homes until 2050. Climate change induced migration movements are likely to also put more wealthy societies under great pressure. And if natural resources like drinking water become more scarce or food production is affected, then this can contribute to the outbreak of violent conflicts, as discussed for the one in Darfur (Sudan).

Kalma internal displacement camp in Darfur, Sudan. Source: WFP

3. WE ARE SO RUNNING OUT OF TIME

Since the beginning of industrialization, we have seen a rise in global temperatures of about 1°C. Modern climate science is able to estimate the maximum amount of greenhouse gases that can  still be emitted, if global warming was not to exceed certain limits.

This “remaining carbon budget” is about 420 billion tons of CO2 for 1.5 °C and 1170°C for 2 °C. Taking international climate goals serious would mean to stretch the remaining carbon budget until the year 2100. However, at a the current emission rate, this budget will be used up in just 8 years (1.5°C) respectively 26 years (2 °C). See Mercator Research Institute‘s carbon clock.

4. EVERY BIT OF A DEGREE MATTERS

In December 2015, leader of all countries of the world signed a agreement to undertake measures to keep global warming “well below” 2°C, possibly 1.5°C until the year 2100. A major breakthrough for international climate dimoplacy which had previosly always talked of 2°C. However, current emission trends would lead to a much higher warming of 3 to 5°C and the promises of all countries to reduce of CO2 emissions will rather send us to a 3° warmer world. No one can really say what a warming of 3°C will mean for life on earth, but it should be clear, that compared to a 1.5 or 2.0 warmer world, it increases the probability of dangerous, disruptive climate change effects significantly.

Preventing vast parts of planet earth from becoming an unhabitable place requires immediate action and not giving up on the more ambitious 1.5 °C goal. Limiting the warming to 1.5 degress instead of only 2 degrees could mean to more than halve the number of people exposed to severe heat, halve the number of insect species going extinct and it could also decide the question whether wewill still have (some) corals in this world or not. For further differences, see he table below or click here

World Resources Institute: Half a Degree and a World Apart: The Difference in Climate Impacts Between 1.5˚C and 2˚C of Warming. https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/10/half-degree-and-world-apart-difference-climate-impacts-between-15-c-and-2-c-warming
"As citizens, we must prevent wrongdoing, because the world in which we all live, wrong-doer, wrong sufferer and spectator, is at stake."
Hannah Arendt
Political Theorist

Other burning questions

The protection of our climate is not everything, but without the protection of our climate, everything is nothing“, says German economist Niko Paech. Climate change has become a main drive for many other ecological problems and can therefore not be ignored by anyone who wants to talk seriously about a livable future for all beings on planet earth.

For instance, rising temperatures are putting ecosystems under stress and lead to higher extinction rates of species. Another example are weather extremes occuring more frequently, which can lead to both long periods of rain (floodings, crop failures, degradation of soils) and long periods without rain (drought, wild fires, crop failures). In some cases, the damages cause further greenhouse gas emissions, which then lead to an accelerated climate change.

Nonetheless, climate change is by far not the only ecological crises we are facing. In the following, I am naming some of the other ecological crises that need more attention as well.

Extinction of Life

The current extinction rate of species is 100 to 1000 times higher than natural, possibly leading to a new mass extinction. But not only are species going extinct, now existing species also face dramatic declines in population numbers. E.g. of all now-living mammals on earth, by now only 4 % are wild animals, the other 96 % are made up by livestock and humans.

Soil Degradation
and
groundwater pollution

Intensive agriculture is degrading vast parts of the world’s soils, leading to an increasing pressure on remaining arable land and rising greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. In my home country Germany about one third of the groundwater bodies are already contaminated with nitrates from intensive livestock.

Peak Phosphorus

Phosphorus is a chemical element that is essential for plants. It is a natural component of soils, but conventional, intensive agriculture has applied a wasteful use of this resource, so that it has to be mined and exported from the deposits constantly. Experts say, world production could reach a peak around the year 2030 and the deposits around the world could be exhausted in 50-100 years.

Plastic Pollution

Every year we dump about 8 million tons of plastic into the oceans, creating a whole continent of plastic waste, 50 times the size of Taiwan, 5 times the size of Germany, 1 time the size of Iran) . Going on likethis, projections show there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. This plastic is entering the food chains and is a major factor in killing marine life.

It's Our Choice

Effective action on climate change starts with understanding our own impact


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