One Crisis that’s Deadlier than any Pandemic: Climate Change

As the world fights Coronavirus, it feels as if climate change is being completely forgotten. This was supposed to be a year of action to accompany one prodigious decade, but plans have changed…again.

Here we are, more than six months into 2020, still grappling with Coronavirus (of course, countries like the U.S. are waist deep in it), so anyone with enough common sense can understand how most people’s minds have been preoccupied with the dangers and uncertainty that a pandemic brings. Unfortunately, as there are those who continue to deny and downplay Coronavirus, a still frightening number of people equally shrug off climate change. Many scientists have come to the consensus that this year, and perhaps 2021, serve as the last true window of correcting our course before the deadline to cut all emissions by half in 2030 arrives (https://time.com/5864692/climate-change-defining-moment).

It’s completely understandable that millions are striving to protect themselves and their loved ones from the novel virus. We must do everything possible to beat this crisis, so climate rallies, plans to participate in organizations like Sierra Club, outings, and other forms of service being canceled for safety were inevitable. However, that doesn’t mean we should totally shut our minds off from the bigger elephant looming over our world. The future of the planet depends on our actions now, and we can’t afford to put them off any longer. There’s still more we can do despite not having the ability to be physically interactive with one another as a concerned body of citizens.

We can donate to organizations, write to lawmakers regarding crucial environmental legislation (the Great American Outdoors Act passed recently with grassroots efforts playing a significant role), talk to others about climate change, adopt environmentally friendly behaviors, or write about it like I’m doing now. There’s no excuse for not taking any kind of action to help our environment during these trying times. Besides, our world is not going to correct itself like so many falsely believe, and science has just pointed such an alarming notion out.

In 1979, Jule Charney and his team published a paper aimed to study climate sensitivity levels in order to measure how human activity could lead to deleterious changes. They posited that, if carbon emissions doubled and pushed further away from pre-industrial levels, the planet could warm between 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius. The goal right now is to prevent global average temperatures of approaching 1.5 degrees Celsius. If we meet and/or exceed that mark, there’s a very good chance that Earth could enter a positive feedback loop where any kind of damage control on our end would be futile. This consequence would make climate change and its effects the new normal with no hope of going back.

A new study was just released in Reviews of Geophysics by a team of 25 scientists under the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) who’s work paints a bleaker picture (https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07). The data suggests, based on evidence from current trends, feedback affects, and retrospective lessons from the past, that a global average range of 2.6 to 3.9 degrees Celsius would be more realistic. So 1.5 degrees Celsius is now the least of our concerns. It’s already understood that irreversible damage has been done to the planet, but we still have a window to address worsening effects. If we are going to slip through the crack, then we must do it soon because there’s not much time left.

We’re witnessing swaths of the Amazon Rainforest being completely cleared out, being made worse under the anti-science agenda of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, wildfires charring Australia, California, and several other parts of the world, desert environments increasing due to rising average temperatures and unfettered human activity, the Siberian tundra surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, polar ice caps continuing to melt, and so many more omens. If humanity keeps allowing climate change to go on unabated, then these effects will never stop. The positive reinforcement loops can include greater cloud formation from rising temperatures that may ultimately trap more heat inside, ice caps thawing a little more each year due to less heat being able to be reflected from the planet’s surface, the loss of more biodiversity from both dire temperatures and the destruction of habitats, and rising sea levels thanks to melting caps/glaciers.

Too many people don’t understand that greenhouse gases, and their increase from carbon emissions, can’t leave our atmosphere, therefore cooking the surface of the earth in what could be compared to an oven. Life is baking from ever more intolerable heat while deadlier weather events take place in the troposphere. Warmer average temperatures spur longer and more unpredictable hurricane seasons, wildfires become more prevalent, droughts increase in range and duration, diseases become more widespread (pandemics will most likely become more common as well), food shortages will drive famine in several parts of the world, and drinking water will become scarce.

For possibly the greatest appeal to humans since that seems to be the only catalyst for any potential action, an article published by BBC in May explained that more than 3 billion people could regularly face extreme heat by 2070 if nothing is done about the existential threat (https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment). Specifically, larger ranges of the planet could experience average temperatures greater than 29 degrees Celsius or 84.2 degrees Fahrenheit, spelling disaster for those who already live in geographic areas that see extreme heat. This appalling reality will lead to massive migrations throughout the world as more try to escape uninhabitable environments and more man-made conflicts over resources will begin, especially for food and water. There will be less fertile land to grow crops, less shelter, and ultimately greater deaths from those dire conditions.

Humans and other animals contain what are called fundamental and realized niches in nature. Fundamental niches refer to the entire range of conditions that an organism is able to tolerate, and this can include temperatures in this case. Realized niches, on the other hand, are conditions that are considered optimal for activity or overall functioning. As global average temperatures substantially increase overtime, living things will move further away from both their realized and fundamental niches, in that order, before conditions become too harsh for life to be sustained. Some organisms enter a phase called cryptobiosis whenever conditions become too hostile for normal activity, but we and too many other species on Earth don’t have this option. Without a doubt, a great percentage of life will succumb to climate change if we don’t act.

All of these latest developments demonstrate that it’s beyond time for us to give up any preconceived notions that we’re the greatest species. This ideology is killing us and other life as we know it. It’s best that we give up ego for eco because, once we recognize that we’re only mere guests to Mother Earth and that we could be snuffed out only a few decades from now, we’ll hopefully get our act together. I’m not writing this article only for the sake of future generations, but I genuinely care about the vast biodiversity that exists. Every animal deserves to live and to have a chance to persist overtime. Our planet sustains us, offers so much beauty that’s beyond comprehension, and has much more to discover.

Not only does the planet provide us with everything we need, but we can be beneficial to the planet if we try. For everyone who reads this article, please take the time and spread the word about the importance of conservation so that we’ll have more people to fight for the future. Do everything possible to make a difference. NO action, great or small, will be too mundane.

In the end, for those of us who believe in evolution, we cannot wait for it to catch up. Evolution will surely come into the picture once more as the climate continues to change, but we must do everything possible to prevent any more damage. The destruction to the world is outpacing it, and the biosphere will not be able to adapt in time. I plead for everyone to do their part. We can’t keep putting this off! I firmly believe that this pandemic will be the last time that climate change solutions can be stalled. Either way, we need to pounce on this emergency now and in the same spirit as the Coronavirus pandemic.

I’m a graduate from LaGrange College with a B.S. in Biology, striving to be a conservationist and to help our planet.

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