The global temperature continues to rise steadily toward 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to a report released Oct. 8 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C,” the report stated. “Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.”
Warming to this 1.5°C threshold will have significant consequences, but should global temperatures reach 2°C or more, even more severe impacts will result, many of which will likely prove irreversible.
John Weaver, chairman of the John Ray Initiative in the United Kingdom, former principal of the South Wales Baptist College and an EthicsDaily.com contributor, spoke about the report’s findings on BBC Radio’s “All Things Considered” program.
“It’s predicted that, by the end of the century, if we do nothing about fossil fuel emissions in the form of carbon dioxide, then the global surface temperature will rise to three or four degrees above the pre-industrial level. And this would be disastrous,” he said.
“Some of the scientists would say that the ‘tipping point’ will come in 2020,” Weaver noted, while explaining the importance of immediate, decisive action. “And so, if we haven’t drastically reduced our carbon dioxide and methane emissions by 2020, then we may well see changes in climate, which are irreversible.”
Such serious, long-term impacts should concern us all and lead to swift, decisive action to mitigate climate change impacts, particularly because the IPCC report offers qualified hope for limiting negative consequences if substantive action is taken now.
Sadly, I fear that the world has grown used to reports about the negative impacts of climate change and our sense of urgency has been dulled.
Couple that with comments by influential Southern Baptist leaders in the U.S. who are dismissive of the report, and I fear our ever-shrinking window of opportunity might close before substantive change is made.
“Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system, such as sea level rise, with associated impacts (high confidence), but these emissions alone are unlikely to cause global warming of 1.5°C,” the IPCC report said. “Reaching and sustaining net-zero global anthropogenic CO2 emissions and declining net non-CO2 radiative forcing would halt anthropogenic global warming on multi-decadal timescales (high confidence).”
The key phrases are “to the present” and “net-zero global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.”
“To the present” indicates that while humanity has often acted from a myopic outlook regarding the long-term impacts of our so-called “development” and “progress,” if we change our approach substantially, then there is a path to keep global temperature increases under the 1.5°C threshold.
“Net-zero global anthropogenic CO2 emissions” happen when the amount of CO2 emitted by humanity is offset by CO2 mitigation efforts.
The commitments made in the COP21 “Paris Agreement” in December 2015 will not achieve “net-zero” in time to avoid surpassing the 1.5°C threshold.
Achieving this goal will require further widespread and fundamental changes to “business as usual” in order to achieve a necessary 45 percent reduction from 2010 levels of human-produced CO2 over the next decade in order to reach “net zero” by 2050.
“Such mitigation pathways are characterized by energy-demand reductions, decarbonization of electricity and other fuels, electrification of energy end use, deep reductions in agricultural emissions, and some form of [carbon dioxide removal] CDR with carbon storage on land or sequestration in geological reservoirs,” the report stated.
While this will require action on the part of government and industry leaders worldwide, the average person or family should not use this as an excuse for inaction.
In a global marketplace, consumers can influence trends and decisions at higher levels, so changing our individual mindset and consumption practices can influence and persuade governments and industries to become better stewards of our collective future.
What are a few practical ways we can help work toward a better future for our planet (while encouraging leaders to act on larger-scale changes)? Here are three suggestions from my context in the U.S.:
1. Help reduce CO2 emissions by using public transit whenever possible, avoiding situations where your car “idles” for a long time and planning car trips (in and out of town) to maximize efficiency. This will not only save you money on fuel, but also lower CO2 emissions.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “The average passenger vehicle emits about 404 grams of CO2 per mile,” which results in “about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year” being emitted by a typical passenger vehicle annually.
According to the most recent U.S. Transportation Department data from 2014, just over 260 million motor vehicles are registered nationwide. If half of this total emit the estimated 4.6 metric tons of CO2 annually, nearly 600 million tons of CO2 would enter the atmosphere each year.
2. Become conscious about the amount of household waste you produce and find ways to reduce the volume.
A World Bank publication released in September reported that “an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide – equivalent (CO2-equivalent) greenhouse gas emissions were generated from solid waste management in 2016. This is about 5 percent of global emissions. Without improvements in the sector, solid waste-related emissions are anticipated to increase to 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2- equivalent by 2050.”
3. For those with yards to maintain, try using more manual, electric or battery-powered equipment and fewer gas-powered tools.
A 2015 EPA report estimated that around 121 million pieces of gas-powered lawn equipment were in use in 2011 (expected to increase to 136 million by 2018), accounting for 12 percent of all CO2 emissions in the U.S.
Such suggestions might seem inconsequential, as we can feel overwhelmed when faced with addressing global temperature increases and we can think that nothing we do matters.
The reality is that the little choices and actions add up to larger trends – both positive and negative.
Yes, government and industry leaders must act, but that doesn’t dismiss the rest of us from our roles and responsibilities.
Seeking to “green” our households, worship spaces and businesses is not an insignificant or token gesture.
Not only can we do our part to reduce negative environmental impacts by adjusting our individual lifestyles, but we will also be advocating with our lives for the type of change that we want our world’s leaders to take, lending more credibility to our calls for them to act.