On the 17th of July 2022, storms ripped off roofs and trees in Canterbury, destroying parts of power infrastructure, and leaving hundreds of people facing dark, cold nights. A few days later, residents of Christchurch found their streets flooded with water - an obvious outcome when a storm brings a month’s rainfall in just 24 hours. Similar events are happening in other places in New Zealand, with emergencies being declared and ferries being disrupted.
But it is not just New Zealand that is facing this - entire houses have floated away after a flood struck Yellowstone national park in the western U.S. Around the same time, hail storms are battering parts of Europe and heat waves are killing people in Southeast Asia and U.S. For instance, parts of India witnessed nearly 50 degrees Celcius on some days.
Some may say such events have occurred in the past, and while that is true, the concern is the frequency and intensity of these events. We’ve all heard people around us talk about how the summers were easier a few years ago or how the rains were timely and predictable.
The good news is, that most of us will survive through this year’s storms and heat waves. The bad news is, it is going to keep getting worse - a lot worse.
Climate Change - An Undeniable Reality
In 1969, some students and faculty at MIT founded the ‘Union of Concerned Scientists’, a non-profit organization that advocates climate action. In 1997, 1,700 scientists from the UCS wrote a letter titled “Warning to Humanity”, outlining the threats of climate change. In 2017 again, 15,000 scientists wrote another desperate letter saying it might be now or never to avoid catastrophic climate.
The UCS has always comprised of some of the greatest scientists - Nobel laureates, Harvard and MIT faculty and graduates, etc. It is also the recipient of some of the highest climate action grants, and yet, many of us don’t know about it, or the hundreds of other climate organizations working relentlessly to create awareness.
Most of us think of climate change as just another hashtag, buried under a thousand other news about celebrity break-ups and whatnot.
2022 - A Crucial Year for Climate Action
The year 2022 saw a lot of ‘firsts’. For the first time, Australia matched its hottest ever reliably recorded temperature, at 50.7 degrees Celcius. For the first time, 100% artificial snow was used in a Winter Olympics tournament, held in Beijing. For the first time, the largest ever annual increase in methane (the most dangerous greenhouse gas) was recorded since systematic measurements began in 1983. The list does not end here, but you get the point.
Other, severe weather events are also at its peak, as we already saw. In April, a new flagship report by the UN stated that harmful carbon emissions have never been higher in human history and that the world is on a “fast track” to disaster, with scientists arguing that it’s ‘now or never’ to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. This is grave, and in the words of the UN chief, “This is not fiction or exaggeration”.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) also issued this year’s report on the climate crisis, and it does not look good. While worldwide it was decided to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by 2100, the report says we may cross the mark in just 20 years!
Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group II report was quoted saying “...we have to act, we need a whole of society approach, no one can be left out, no household, no businesses, no government…”
What Happens Next?
From this point, there are two ways things can go. One - we finally realize the gravity of the problem, and we change how we live. We use less resources and generate less waste because we know it is key to our children’s full, healthy lives on this planet. Two - we shake our head with disappointment, and then go about our day as if nothing happened.
If the majority of us choose number one, we may have a chance at keeping this planet as habitable as it is right now (although there’s still no guarantee - some say we may be at a point of no return already).
If we choose option number two, many of the most densely populated cities worldwide will be underwater - New York, Mumbai, Amsterdam, Venice, and more. Heat waves, floods, fires will have claimed an incredible number of lives, and humanity may just be able to survive in sparse pockets around the world, in not-so-comfortable conditions.
This may sound like apocalyptic fiction, but it is the most scientific prediction of what will happen, and what has started to happen.
Imagine one piece of furniture in your house catching fire. If you are wise, you will know that containing that fire means saving the house.
Climate change is the same. Unlike popular perception, it is not a future event. It is happening right now, and claiming lives this very moment. One study shows that 85% of population lives in areas affected by climate change. Another states that five million deaths annually are linked to climate change - and remember, this will get worse.
How much time do we have left? You might ask. Well, the fire just jumped from one chair to another. So we’re already late, but we might manage to save the house, if we start NOW.