As the pandemic sends the world into panic, the earth continues to burn. Experts fear signs of worsening climate change are being ignored.
As the world focuses its attention on a lethal pandemic, another global crisis is slipping through the cracks.
While countries around the globe went into lockdown, and economies slowly ground to a standstill, the effects of climate change, though often forgotten, still loomed. Pictures of dazzlingly blue, pollution-free skies depicting a picture of an earth that was “recovering” during the lockdown spread false hope.
The reality is starkly different: Experts fear if we continue to ignore the warning signs of climate change, the earth will inch its way toward complete collapse.
The blue sky lie
Many people are under the optimistic opinion that with global lockdowns at a never-before scale in place, the earth can breathe a much-needed sigh of relief and begin overturning the effects of human-caused climate change. And indeed, Covid-19 lockdowns have resulted in dramatic drops in global CO2 emission levels, with the IEA predicting a drop of 8% this year. But experts say celebrations are premature. In order to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, an annual decrease of at least 7.6% must be maintained over the next decade. In fact, according to Norwegian climate researcher Glen Peters, even a 10% drop this year is well within natural variability and will not make a lasting impact.
Further crushing this hopeful but unfounded image of a recuperating earth, data points at an accelerating rate of climate breakdown. The year 2020 seems to be characterized by a string of record-breaking climate news—and not good news. Only last week, temperature hit a record high of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in a small, usually frigid town in Russia, an astounding 32 degrees higher than the average for the season. The melting of the Arctic ice cap made headlines earlier this season when spiking temperatures in the region kickstarted an earlier than usual ice melt season. And human-induced global warming triggered a moderate dry spell to turn into the second-worst drought the U.S. has seen in the past 1,200 years.
Short of a mass migration of humanity, nearly a third of the world’s population may be living in Sahara-like climates by 2070.
Studies suggest that short of a mass migration of humanity, nearly a third of the world’s population may be living in Sahara-like climates by 2070. Life-threatening levels of heat and humidity, which were not expected to emerge until well after the mid-21st century, have already surfaced in the Persian Gulf and Indus River Valley, one study found. The study also reports that bouts of severe heat and humidity have nearly doubled in occurrence since 1979.
Worse, recent data suggests tropical forests—the guardian angels of the earth—aren’t executing their role as carbon sinks as well as they used to. Higher temperatures, droughts, and deforestation are most likely to blame. In the past decade, these forests absorbed 21 billion metric tons, one-third less CO2 than they did in the 1990s. To put this number into perspective, that is approximately how much CO2 France, Germany, and the U.K. together release in 10 years.
Earth on the brink
“This is decades ahead of even the most pessimistic climate models,” one of the study’s authors, Simon Lewis, told The Guardian.
And if that’s not enough, experts believe that we are closer to the tipping point of impending collapse than was once thought. Data warns that once kicked into motion, the total breakdown of large, but crucial ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest and Caribbean coral reefs, may take only a few decades.
|NASA visualization showing rapid decline in perennial Arctic sea ice|
Human interference has disrupted the earth’s natural cycles, precipitating a spiraling reaction of climate change, and control seems to be slipping from our grasp.
But all hope is not lost—yet. Scientists warn that Covid-19 has brought the world to a crossroads—once the immediate health crisis is over, the world will have a tough choice to make. Governments and policy makers can choose to gravitate toward cheap but dirty energy sources like oil to revive their economies (which is the slippery path Donald Trump seems to be intent on going down). Or they can spearhead a revolutionary shift to clean energy sources, creating a greener, post-Covid future for the world. If we don’t tackle climate change head on now, we lose a huge opportunity—perhaps our last. As Canadian climate activist Mike Hudema puts simply, “there is no planet B.”