Writing this, I am actually sitting in my teenage room back at my parents' house, hiding away from the heat wave that took over both my apartment and the entire Europe. In the light of recent tragic events that happened in Greece, I thought it was a good moment to talk about what Greece case had really give us a glimpse of. And that is a global and overwhelming problem of climate change that, as we will later find out, is strongly linked to the core of economy and consequently government action (or rather lack of it) to reduce climate risks.
Let's start with basics. What is a climate change? It is a significant shift in the pattern of weather, and related changes in oceans, land surfaces and ice sheets, which occurs over longer period of time. It is basically a dramatic rise in an average surface temperatures on Earth. Opinions differ as to whether this condition is reversible. Some claim that the process cannot be reversed but it can be stopped. Others, that we are past beyond the tipping point where it becomes irreversible. Either way we definitely reached a critical point from where there will be no turning back unless we take action ourselves both individually and collectively.
Why is the temperature on Earth rising? Climate scientists argue that the cause of current global warming is human abnormal expansion of greenhouse gases namely:
You may ask, ok so which is one is the worst? And the answer would of course be carbon dioxide. It important, however to realize that is it is not a CO2 as such that is to blame but rather human activities that over centuries have altered the natural distribution of greenhouse gases and led to its abnormal levels in the atmosphere. The emission of carbon dioxide has increased more than three times since the Industrial Revolution. It is because our modern economy is based on energy that comes from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil. In the process, carbon is produced which then combines with oxygen in the air to make CO2. Together with other greenhouse gases, it forms a molecule layer that traps the heat in our atmosphere. Under normal circumstances this heat, coming directly from the sunlight, would be radiated back to the space but instead is absorbed by the greenhouse gases and re-emitted back to the Earth surface causing it to warm up.
The problem and the threat of climate change is more complex that you think. One, because it is global. It affects everyone and everywhere. Some problems are local and they do not matter all that much. They can be fixed 'on the spot'. This one is different. The magnitude of its reach is beyond our immediate control and the stakes are really high. Second, is because it is slow paced. We do not see a dramatic change day by day but it is happening. Slowly but surely. Yes, we are warned. Told that we are reaching our limits, crossing boundaries of safety. Sometimes, we might even take a moment to reflect when we hear something in the news - like we did with wildfires in Greece. Maybe we connect some dots. But wrapped up in our day-to-day responsibilities, we forget just as quickly as we turn the page of our morning newspaper. Third, and perhaps the most challenging, is that energy lies at the foundation of our modern economy. Fossil fuels are the drivers of market power and the true essence of the climate change problem at the same time. Oil industry, for example, generates massive revenues and profits. It is a little wonder why governments are so resistant when it comes to change. And believe me, it is not about living without electricity now. It is simply about balance, thinking where and how do we use our resources and is there a way to cut it. Finally, it is about seeking alternatives and making small choices that together add up to the positive change.
Another dimension of the problem is that the consequences of global warming vary from region to region. Some areas might become dryer, some wetter. Some may benefit from the change (ex. increased precipitation), others may not be able to adapt. Also, the negative impact that a given country has on the expansion of greenhouse gases, varies across nations. It affects all countries but they do not contribute to its effect to the same extent. And so, countries with high population and high levels of industrialization like US, contribute to the devastating outcomes more significantly than let's say - Uganda or other poorer parts of the world, where using energy from fossil fuels is still not very common. In that sense, our individual actions and decisions contribute to the widening of global inequality gap with some countries victimized and others reaping benefits of the ignorance which we live in.
Last but not least the problem is that it is inter-generational. What we do now matters because it will surely take its toll in the future. Maybe it is a wake up call for us to think outside of the box and beyond our circle of family and friends. As abstract as it can be, let's think about people that will live on our Earth in the next 10, 20 or 50 years. They have the same right to enjoy the quality of life as we do right now. It comes down, of course, to a personal decision, as to whether we are willing to give up a little bit of our comfort, a little bit of our time and effort to fight for a better future. Future that might not be our own but that is created right here, right now by a mere act of kindness and selflessness that can literally change people's lives.
Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs asks in his article (A Proposal For Climate Justice, Oct 2012):
"Who owes what to whom as we confront more climate disasters as well as the rising costs of mitigation and adaptation?". I would say we owe respect to the nature, equal chances to others as we are living now, and justice to the generations yet to come.