The Other Curve
Donna Kirk and Jennifer Christie at her Art for Animals event earlier in the year.
We were unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, and the price is high. The price for not being prepared for the climate crisis is even higher. It’s time for real action. The nonpartisan Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes the world’s best climate scientists, issued a special report that warns us to limit global mean surface temperature (global warming) to 1.5 degrees Centigrade over pre-industrial temperatures. Exceeding this would result in mass extinction, loss of polar ice sheets, increased violent storms, and catastrophic sea level rises.
It’s More Than Weather
The Earth’s climate has been extraordinarily stable which is partially why humans have done so well. A stable climate has enabled the development of agriculture and the advancement of civilizations around the world. Life on Earth has enjoyed relative stability for millennia due to the thin layer of gasses that are trapped by Earth’s gravity, our atmosphere. Scientists have measured Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels from ice cores and have data going back over 800,000 years. The level of CO2 has been relatively stable, even through multiple ice ages and warm periods. CO2 concentrations have not been more than 300ppm for more than 3 million years, until now. CO2 levels began rising dramatically with the use of fossil fuels and reached 407 ppm in 2018 and continue to increase. And as a result, the global mean temperature is rising fast. That means processes such as wind and ocean currents, seasonal temperatures, and precipitation patterns, are also changing so rapidly that life on Earth cannot adapt quickly enough.
Life on Earth adapts through genetic variation as a result of environmental interaction and natural selection; it takes a long time. There are species that are so specifically evolved that they can be found in only one place on Earth, such as the Golden Toad of Costa Rica’s cloud forests. Even widely dispersed species, like the Monarch Butterfly, have intricately adapted life cycles that depend on environmental stability of their habitats. One significant change could wipe them out. Imagine if the overwintering habitat of the Monarch disappeared one year due to climate change or if a reef system that was spawning habitat for fish was gone….an entire species could be wiped out very quickly. That is beginning to happen now. As a biologist, this makes me deeply sad. As a mother, I worry about my children’s future. As an Earthling, I begin to feel the weight of the gravest sin. Life on Earth is intricately connected; what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.
Droughts and Floods cause Economic and National Security Disasters Local weather and precipitation will change as the climate changes. Some places will become desert while others will flood. As a result, people will migrate and crops will fail. If all the ice in Greenland melts, ocean levels will rise 25 feet and coastal cities will be underwater, not to mention the world’s greatest ice mass in Antarctica. The economic implications are also enormous. The Department of Defense already recognizes Climate Change as a top threat to national security. As wells dry up and entire communities become unlivable, borders and boundaries will be tested.
Time Scientists in the Journal of Nature recently called for urgent actions as they identified nine climate tipping points that are at high risk of collapse, including polar ice sheets and the Amazon Rainforest. These tipping points, once gone, are irreversible. These tipping points can serve as feedback loops which can amplify warming. For example, the loss of the Amazon Rainforest would mean losing the greatest carboncapture system in the world. The melting of the ice sheets put water into the atmosphere (also a greenhouse gas) and reduce reflection of solar radiation thereby causing even more heat to be trapped by the atmosphere. We are running out of time. Whether disrupting food sources, destroying ecosystems, extreme weather, or fueling wars, climate change will cause the planet to become unlivable if we do not eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels.
Our Biggest Problem is also our Greatest Opportunity
Now is the time to re-invent our economy and energy systems to solve the climate crisis for future generations. The cost of doing nothing is life on Earth. The good news is that we can transform our economy and our future if we take real action now. Solving the climate crisis will also create tens of millions of jobs. Think about it: everything from our energy systems to our infrastructure needs updated. That is a lot of work and jobs! After the COVID-19 crisis, those jobs will be needed.
Scientists warned us to be prepared for a pandemic, and have been telling us for decades about the climate crisis. We have been forced to make rapid changes under severe circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic. We still have the opportunity to plan and innovate the necessary changes to address the climate crisis. Let’s choose to be wiser and more prepared.
For more information about Jennifer Christie, visit JenniferForIndiana.com.