By Kristin Cho
Image Credit: Petra Wendeler
Climate change is a nonlinear problem. Projections on climate change are unpredictable and probabilistic because of the many uncertain factors and their interactions. And we humans—by burning exceeding amounts of fossil fuels and chopping down green areas—are causing the average air temperatures to constantly and erratically rise, enhancing the greenhouse effect. From extreme weather conditions threatening food production to rising sea levels, the impacts of climate change are ubiquitous. The scientific investigation into climate change dates back to the mid 19th century when ice ages and natural phenomena were first suspected, and the natural greenhouse effect was discovered. Scientist Svante Arrhenius discovered the relationship between carbon dioxide emissions and the warming of the earth. The problems surrounding climate change have been at the forefront for 30 years, yet why haven’t we still fixed this?
The natural greenhouse effect occurs when insolation reaches earth, some of it is reflected back to space and the rest is radiated as infrared energy. This energy warms the atmosphere of the Earth and is thus crucial for life. However, due to the enhanced greenhouse effect and rise of carbon dioxide volumes, oceans are getting hotter and becoming more acidic, unprecedented weather patterns are becoming a threat to agriculture and natural habitats which are degrading. The vicious cycle of the positive feedback loops is only expediting and aggravating the problems.
Why is climate change such a difficult problem to solve? There are many reasons, from disinformation campaigns of major energy companies to the technical and economical difficulty of completely replacing fossil fuels. An example is corporations in the U.S., in particular fossil fuel industries, discrediting the scientific consensus of climate change. It all began with Exxon Mobil exploiting people and their opinions on climate change to save the company’s profits. An internal report of the company’s own scientists in 1987 confirmed that carbon emissions were increasing the atmospheric temperature. Realizing this problem, Exxon Mobil began strongly putting forward a multi-million-dollar misinformation campaign to cast doubt on the science. As time passed, many more corporations joined this movement against science. Companies constantly tried to find methods to cloud the truth, and ultimately these efforts have shaped public and political opinion. However, a big reason starts with the thought process. The medial prefrontal cortex of your brain lights up the most when thinking about yourself and dims when the connection with yourself becomes less direct or relevant. In addition, the farther away you imagine from the present, the weaker the activation. We aren’t wired to empathize with our descendants. Climate change demands action right now to avert devastations that will be more costly and profoundly felt. But the sacrifice of the present for the future seems unappealing for most people as ignoring climate change in the short term is beneficial and convenient for most individuals.
The world’s affluent nations are most responsible for this global problem, but the consequences are most profoundly experienced by the poorest nations. Subsequent to the Paris Agreement, there were unmet demands as a result of apathy. Climate change is an energy issue. We need to leverage sustainable technology through the acceleration of electrification and initiation of a net-zero carbon world. Still, individuals can put an effort in reducing their carbon footprint by decreasing single-use plastic, changing their diet to a more plant-based one, and using public transportation over cars.
Without drastic action today, the successive impacts mentioned will become much more difficult to solve. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released a report on the 1.5ºC target, concluding that global emissions need to reach net zero before 2050 to gain a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 1.5ºC. Before it is too late, action must be taken.