A recent study suggests that as Earth’s vital signs appear to be weakening, humans are proceeding business-as-usual into our and our planet’s own scorching climate death. While the history of human-caused climate change is relatively short given the Earth’s lifespan, it has also been occurring for longer than many may realize.
Background: History and Climate Change
The now well known “Greenhouse effect” was initially theorized in the early 1800s, though not referred to by name until much later. Although the seeds of understanding how we were negatively affecting the Earth’s climate were planted relatively early, convincing the scientific community and the public of its validity would take significantly longer- with some even today still denying the crisis’ existence.
It wasn’t until the 1980s when climate change began to demand more of the world’s attention, with the summer of 1988 being the hottest on record at the time- a record that has since been broken several times over. Around the same time, more and more studies were coming to the conclusion that global ice caps were melting and the ocean was rising as a result. Present day efforts towards combating climate change are at all time highs, climate strikes are cropping up more and more and many are rallying behind the activism of young leaders such as Greta Thunberg. However, experts argue that it may not be enough.
Analysis: Climate Change, Business as Usual
A recent study led by researchers at Oregon State has shown that the “business-as-usual” attitude towards climate change is causing Earth’s environmental vital signs to continue to worsen, and drawing the climate disaster even closer. Since 2019, the study says, there has been an extreme increase in natural disasters and climate abnormalities. These include large floodings, wildfires, heat waves, extreme thunderstorms, and having the last five years being the five hottest in recorded history.
Also supporting the study is a slew of recent freak natural events, such as severe flooding throughout western Europe, killing hundreds. Despite efforts to combat climate change in recent years, including a rise in renewable energy and lack of subsidies on fossil fuels, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit record highs the last two years.
“Without a plan for rapid decarbonization and large-scale investments in natural climate solutions, these climate change indicators will continue to worsen, pushing our essential ecosystems past the point of recovery.” said Dr. Philip Duffy, co-author of the study. The research uses the health of environments such as the Amazon or coral reefs as vital signs for Earth’s climate, with the former losing record high amounts of forest and the latter being slowly drained of life by rapid ocean acidification.
The study comes after a year of significant decrease in human activity due to the coronavirus pandemic, and shows that even great changes in global human behavior are too not enough to alleviate the climate crisis. They conclude that policy changes, including acts such as a tax on carbon and a complete phasing out of fossil fuels, as well as education will help address the root causes of the issue.
Outlook: Planning for Tomorrow
While the findings of studies such as this one are depressing without a doubt, they were not conducted for that reason. Warnings on the climate crisis have been around for as long as many can remember, and the original deadlines given to our planet are drawing closer and closer.
While it is unlikely that you will wake up tomorrow and suddenly every nation and corporation on Earth will make the switch to renewable energy and phase out all environmental pollution entirely, it is also unlikely that the world will just flat out end.
Humans can work wonders, especially when there is a significant monetary incentive to do so. It is important to maintain a level of concern and awareness about issues like climate change, and going forward, to work to ensure that Earth remains a habitable planet for future generations.
Liam Stewart is a junior at NYU studying Journalism and Political Science. He is currently covering Science, Space, and Technology at The Debrief.