This Community Voice commentary column by Chip Fletcher, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, ran on the Honolulu Civil Beat website on March 14, 2019.
Throughout my professional life I have made a point of keeping up with the latest scientific studies regarding climate change. Please forgive me, I have moved beyond pep talks, success stories, and encouraging individual and personal efforts at going green. We simply do not have time to cajole individuals—we need meaningful, widespread action, and it is urgent.
Our only hope lies in building a collaborative global effort to mitigate the impact of climate change. I live with this moral and ethical imperative—along with ecological grief and a world-class case of guilt—daily.
If we love our children more than we love ourselves, we have only one option: communal action. I understand that in preparation for World War II, the U.S. auto industry pivoted in only six months from making cars and trucks to manufacturing tanks and jeeps. Communal action is how we ended the horrendous mistake of the Vietnam War.
Global warming, climate change, ecocide, call it what you will; it all boils down to this, last year global carbon dioxide emissions rose 2.7 percent. We are speeding toward the precipice of irrevocable climate chaos. If we want to stop the brutal future we have set in motion we must decrease global carbon emissions by 50 percent per decade beginning now.
This is a critical time. We are poised on a tipping point. How we behave in the next decade will determine the nature of future human prosperity.
Temperature targets agreed to in the Paris Climate Accord translate into a finite planetary carbon budget. To achieve a 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, and a greater than 66 percent probability of meeting the 2 degrees Celsius target, global carbon dioxide emissions must peak no later than 2020, next year.
Gross emissions must decline thereafter from approximately 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year in 2020, to approximately 24 by 2030, approximately 14 by 2040, and approximately 5 by 2050. In other words, a roughly 50 percent cut in emissions each decade until 2050.
And then, we must exercise negative emissions. That is, we must launch a global effort to remove carbon dioxide from the air.
Rally planned Friday
Literally everything that we depend upon, from the air we breathe, freshwater and food, to transportation, shelter and security, are contingent on climate. Because of the fast pace at which the climate is changing, in many locations these requirements for human life teeter on the edge of sustainability. They are naturally adapted, or humanly engineered, to the climate of yesterday.
This Friday at 3 p.m., students and other concerned citizens will meet at the state Capitol to strike against global warming and to add strength to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. Please join us, our future depends on it.
If you need more information, here it is:
Compared to pre-industrial temperature, global warming is on track to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius in only a decade and 2 degrees Celsius before mid-century.
Although renewable energy is being delivered at an explosive pace, it currently only constitutes 4 percent of the global energy mix and is projected to rise no more than 25 percent over the next two decades.
Economists forecast that C02 emissions will continue to rise over the first half of this century as the demand for new energy in developing nations outpaces the deployment of renewable sources. A number of studies project the emergence time of 4 degrees Celsius warming in the decade of the 2080s.
Warming of 4 degrees Celsius is a global emergency and belies regional impacts. The strongest warming will appear in the Arctic, with 8-12 degrees Celsius warming in most areas. This is well past the threshold of unstoppable melting on the Greenland Ice sheet—dooming a majority of the world’s cities, including Honolulu.
By the time global temperature increases 2 degrees Celsius, the combined effect of heat and humidity will turn summer into one long heat wave. Temperature will exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) every year in many parts of Asia, Australia, Northern Africa, South and North America.
But if we let temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius, a severe scenario develops. Scientists predict that a new “super-heatwave” will appear with temperatures peaking at above 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit). Large parts of the planet become unlivable including densely populated areas such as the U.S. East Coast, coastal China, large parts of India and South America.
Continental land areas will continue to warm faster than the oceans, and great swaths of tropical and subtropical land areas will see deepening drought. By 2030, global water requirements will exceed sustainable water supplies by 40 percent.
Food staples grown under higher C02 levels expected by mid-century have up to 17 percent less protein, zinc, vitamin B complex and iron. By 2050, an additional 300 million people will be malnourished, an additional 1.4 billion women and children are likely to have iron deficiency.
Food and water shortages can lead to violent conflict, displacing families from their homelands. Worldwide, we already see a sharp rise in the share of forcibly displaced populations; nearly 1 in 100 people seek asylum today. This is a humanitarian crisis that leads to political chaos, a rise in authoritarian governments, closed borders, separated families and multiple forms of human tragedy.
Global warming, expanding human communities, industrialized agriculture and deforestation threaten the foundation of the natural world. Studies of the ocean report a 2 percent decrease in dissolved oxygen since 1950, rising heat content at all depths, and global acidification. A study of nearly 1,000 species from all types of environments found 47 percent are already locally extinct due to climate change. The world’s reefs are expected to experience annual bleaching by mid-century, a clear ticket to extinction.
One scientific paper, co-authored by an astonishing 15,000 scientists, warned that “Humans have pushed Earth’s ecosystems to their breaking point and are well on the way to ruining the planet.”
All this doom and gloom has even produced a new form of psychosis—ecological grief— characterized by intense feeling of grief as people suffer climate-related losses to valued species, ecosystems and landscapes.
How can you not join us—it is the moral and ethical action of the day!