UN Climate Change Report: An Overview

Preface: My approach and intentions when writing this article were completely scientific and politically unbiased.

Does visiting the Great Barrier Reef, Fiji, Panama or Madagascar interest you?  Me too.  Unfortunately, because of climate change, overpopulation and mass consumption, these beautiful, natural places will be tainted by human activities, soon rendering them dead.  Half of the Great Barrier Reef is already considered dead.  Plant and animal species will go extinct because of the human way of living.  Who wants to see a half-dead bleached coral ecosystem or an island at risk of flooding and natural disasters?  If humans continue to live the way we do now, the natural ecosystem, which we do not and have never rightfully owned, will die and take millions of species, including humans, along with it.

If you have not had the chance to read the United Nations Climate Change Report, below I paraphrased the main points.

Shifting weather patterns threaten food production, especially in island and coastal communities.  Rising sea levels increase the risk of catastrophic flooding.  If [we] do not act now, fixing global environmental issues later will be more difficult and costlier than if we act now.  Greenhouse gases occur naturally and are increased by over-consumption and overpopulation.  Deforestation is a harmful process to animals and the environment.  Industrialization pollutes the Earth and increases greenhouse gases.  The concentration of gases is directly linked to the average global temperature of Earth, and concentration is rising steadily along with temperatures since the Industrial Revolution.  The most abundant greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide: a product of burning fossil fuels.  The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] published their sixth assessment report in March 2017.  This report is 330 pages and addressed the decision and outline of the social report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.  They divided the report into six chapters.  Data from 2013 concluded that climate change is real and human activities are the main cause.  If global temperature raises two degrees Celsius, the Earth will experience irreversible changes in major ecosystems such as dramatic warming or drying to ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest and Arctic tundra.  With this temperature increase, warming of water supplies will cause reduced access to water and drought for generations.  All coral reefs and glacial ice will be lost at an increase of two degrees.  From 1880 to 2012, the average global temperature raised 0.85 degrees Celsius.  From 1901 to 2010, the sea level has risen 19 cm due to warming and ice melting.  By 2100, the global temperature will rise 1 to 2 degrees Celsius putting that the Earth well over a sustainable temperature.  The average sea level is predicted to reach 40 to 63 cm.  Even if emissions are stopped, climate change will continue, but in a greatly smaller magnitude.  To limit global warming would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities.  Global net carbon dioxide emissions caused by humans needs to fall by 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero in 2050.  The Kyoto Protocol legally binds 197 countries in agreement to reduce emissions; the first commitment period lasted from 2008 to 2012, and the second period goes from 2013 to 2020.  The famous Paris Agreement, signed on Earth Day 2016, included 175 countries.  Its goal is to strengthen global awareness of climate change, work towards a low carbon future and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable future.  There will be a climate summit in September 2019, where Secretary General António Guterres will implore countries in the United Nations to make reducing climate change their primary focus; reduce emissions in the US and China; call upon world leaders to report what they are doing, what they intend to do and what needs to change to reach international, sustainable goals.

Overpopulation

Population in the United States alone has grown 18.7 million since 2010.  In this time, world population grew by 1.042 billion.  Currently, we are around 8 billion people on this planet, but the Earth can only sustain a global population of 2 billion.  Let that sink in: 2 billion.  When will the growth come to a much-needed stop?

Mass Consumption

It is simple to stop mass consumption on a personal level: cut back on your personal intake.  No one needs the newest phone every year.  No one needs two cars.  No one needs extra guac on their burrito.  No one needs straws.  The grand problem now arises on a corporate level: corporations and structural entities need to cut back on their intake.  By this, I mean companies should limit production on excess supplies and materials; the government should limit funding on nonrenewable and destructive resources like fossil fuels; and everyone needs to stop producing, producing, producing.  Over 11 million tons of recyclable clothing, shoes and textiles make their way into landfills each year.  Production only depletes the Earth’s natural resources, which no one owns.

Destruction of Natural Resources

Progressive destruction of natural resources like the Great Barrier Reef, the Ocean and the Amazon Rainforest are 100 percent man-made.  Irreversible damage brought on by global warming, greenhouse gases and fishing (just so humans can eat dead meat) are the main causes that half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead.  Statistically, every minute, one garbage truck worth of plastic is dumped into the ocean.  By 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish (by weight).  To put that into perspective, there are roughly 10,000 to 25,000 blue whales in the ocean, each weighing about 200 tons.  If plastic matched this weight alone, the ocean would have 2 to 5 million tons of plastic in it by 2050.  Disposing of waste in natural resources is not the only problem.  Depleting resources to make items like plastic, shirts and coffee cups also wastes a lot of energy and resources.  Right now, you are wearing a shirt.  But did you know it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce one shirt?  This amount of water translates to one gallon of water per day for 713 days, 340 showers or 26 loads of dishes.  That is a lot of wasted water just so you can rep “Supreme”.

Greenhouse Gases

The concentration of gases is directly linked to the average global temperature of Earth, and concentration is rising steadily along with global temperature since the Industrial Revolution.  The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, which is a product of burning fossil fuels.  If you have ears, I am confident that you heard this fact before.  But what does that mean?  The United States gets 81 percent of its energy from burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas.  The results are heated homes, running cars and buses, technology power and electricity.  To obtain these resources calls for land degradation and fracking, which only harms the land, kills animal habitats and spills oil in the ocean.  One of the side effects of burning includes air pollution in the form of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.  While we cannot see the air in Pittsburgh, contrary to the 1940s black air pollution, we are still being exposed to pollution.  91 percent of the population lives in an area where air quality exceeds the World Health Organization’s limits.  The solution seems simple: stop burning fossil fuels.  It is that easy, but a new problem arises: where do we obtain 81 percent of our total energy?

Local Representatives

Data from 2013 concluded that climate change is real, and humans are the cause, yet the current President (sadly still Trump) denies this fact?  I understand that some people are uneducated, but how uneducated can they be to deny science?  Below are some quotes Trump has made over the years on global warming:

-“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. ‘manufacturing non-competitive’” (2012)

-“We should be focused on magnificently clean and healthy air and not distracted by the expensive hoax that is global warming!” (2013): is he too uneducated to know that the two issues are related?

-“POLAR ICE CAPS are at an all time high, the POLAR BEAR population has never been stronger. Where the hell is global warming?” (2014): by 2013 there were four polar bear populations labeled as declining under current trend, and in 2018 the species is still declining mainly in Canada and Alaska

-“Record low temperatures and massive amounts of snow. Where the hell is GLOBAL WARMING?” (2015)

-“I believe in clean air. Immaculate air. But I don't believe in climate change” (2015): what does immaculate air even mean?

Trump is not the only problematic politician who denies science.  Below is a list of politicians that deny climate change:

-Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma - R)

-Lisa Murkowski (Alaska - R)

-Fred Upton (Michigan - R)

-Rob Bishop (Utah - R)

-Mitch Mcconnell (Kentucky - R)

-John Cornyn (Texas - R)

-John Thune (South Dakota - R)

-John Barrasso (Wyoming - R)

-Roy Blunt (Missouri - R)

-John Boehner (Ohio - R)

-Kevin Mccarthy (California - R)

-Steve Scalise (Louisiana - R)

-Cathy Rodgers (Washington - R)

-Greg Walden (Oregon - R)

-Luke Messer (Indiana - R)

-Marco Rubio (Florida - R)

-Rand Paul (Kentucky - R)

-Paul Ryan (Wisconsin - R)

-Ted Cruz (Texas - R)

A few interesting observations from this list: they are all republican, they are all men (except two), they are all white, the age ranges from 47 to 83 years and 21 percent are named “John”.  (To the democrats reading, look out if you meet a white John.)  It is not just individual politicians that harbor dangerous and incorrect thoughts about climate change, the entire republican party shows a general trend towards less legislation on environmental protection and a general denial that environmental problems exist.  21 percent of republicans and 52 percent of democrats believe that people’s individual effort to reduce carbon emissions can make a difference.  70 percent of democrats and only 15 percent of republicans trust that climate scientists have accurate information about the causes of climate change and understand the causes very well.  To me, this shows a general trend that republicans are uneducated, white males that think the Earth is fine when the data clearly disagrees, and global warming is real.  To put these statistics into a local perspective, Pennsylvania has 18 districts with each district (except district two, and the vacant fifteenth and seventh) having a white male representative.  There are six democrat and ten republican representatives.

Two Degrees Celsius

The Earth is going to become two degrees Celsius warmer by 2100, but what will actually happen?  At this time, if we still exist, the Earth will experience irreversible changes in major ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef (134,634 miles squared), the Amazon Rainforest (2.124 million miles squared) and the Arctic Tundra (accounts for 20 percent of Earth’s surface).  Specifically, the Reef will die and wipe out more than 2,081 marine species, the Amazon will face drying then a major loss of species and flora, and the Tundra will face dramatic warming then a major loss of species and a decrease in glacial ice.  Similar to how the Earth can only sustain a population two billion, the Earth cannot sustain a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius.  Only 0.01 of species that ever existed are alive today, and humans are no different.  We will go extinct, it all depends on when our own practices kill us: humans, and all other life forms, will go extinct because of humans.  This will occur in the sixth extinction, most likely when the Earth reaches this warming of two degrees Celsius.

Carbon Footprint

The report said “….to limit global warming would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities.”  There is too much data to convey within each of these topics, however there are general and vague sustainable solutions to each one.  Since professional literature can be extremely broad and vague, I will be direct and include one example of a sustainable solution for each topic.

Land: stop developing spaces for buildings and human-use, instead create more green-spaces and parks.

Energy: use less energy on an individual level, and on a large-scale only efficiently use energy during production or business hours.

Industry: produce less, overall use less.

Buildings: stop building nonessential or superfluous buildings, if something must be created, the workers should use sustainable products and space-saving architecture (or advanced architecture skills, like biomimicry).

Transport: utilize public transport, limit flying, try carpooling, invest in a bike and walk if you can.

Cities: use less, overall do less.

The market should not dictate the usage of resources or output of production, instead the amount of resources should dictate the structure of the market.  This would entail a switch from capitalism to a new, environmentally-friendly, efficient methodology.  The topics discussed above contribute greatly to the human carbon footprint.  In the report, it said “….CO2 emissions need to fall by 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.”  That is each of us: we all need to reduce our individual carbon footprint.  This carbon footprint calculator totals your carbon emissions based on travel, housing and secondary expenses.  To offset the average individual’s annual emissions of 8 million tons, this would require planting 167,000 trees because they only absorb 48 pounds of CO2 per year.  While this seems unattainable, imagine the difference one person could make by planting ten trees per year.  It may be small, but at least it’s a start.  Unfortunately, the real people suffering from large carbon footprints are those in developing or poor countries like China and India.  They are the real producers of the materials we use daily.  In America, we only see the retail side of consumerism.  But in these countries, they face pollution, low pay wages, and the detrimental, resource-depleting, wasteful side of consumerism.  It makes sense why many countries have a stigma that America is fat, wasteful and overconsume, they make everything for us for those exact reasons.  Processed foods

owned by companies like Nestle are made in India, and cause obesity, high cholesterol and hypertension.  Straws are made in the US but are not sustainable or truly purposeful, then almost 100 percent end up in the ocean or in the choking throat of an aquatic animal.

Conclusion

If humans continue to live the way we do now, the natural ecosystem, which we do not and have never rightfully owned, will die and take millions of species, including humans, along with it.  If we wait to fix known environmental issues, they will become more difficult and costlier to fix than if we act now.  Personally, what I did not like about the 330-page report by the UNIPCC, was that it was like any other professional or governmental piece of literature: it was vague and does not call for any specific, real action.  The report may have addressed climate change, desertification, land degradation, food security and greenhouse gas effects, but there was no clear call to action; that is why I write.  All countries need new legislation that gives the environmental protective right and puts a hold on destructive production methods such as burning fossil fuels and fracking.  My tone is direct and cold (unlike the Earth) but when discussing environmental issues, what other choice do I have?  Facing environmental issues directly with a realist perspective and understanding that there is an active resistance (such as climate change deniers and big oil companies) I have to be bold in my writing, similar to the UN report.  Overall, I do not want to see the sixth mass extinction.  I do have the best intentions and want a sustainable, safe future for all species, even dolphins (this is my form of comic relief because I hate dolphins).

 

Here is the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, full speech on climate change.

This is a quiz to see how climate change affects your pet’s health.

This is my personal suggestion to watch An Inconvenient Truth, made in 2006.

 

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

Photo Credits: cover, 1, 2 and 3 are screenshots from the UN website