By Andrew Hayes
From oceans engulfing islands to increases in pestilence, wildfires, storm surges and extinction rates, the predicted effects of a global rise of 2 degrees Celsius are a concern that should strike fear in all people, Republican or Democrat, wealthy or on welfare, in those who deny human responsibility for rising temperatures or those who avidly lobby for deeper environmental concern. According to a recent report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), preventing global warming from creating a rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius increase from pre-industrial times to 2040 is imperative to reduce the possibilities of an ecological and human crisis.
Lewis & Clark prides itself on being a sustainable campus: we just divested from fossil fuels and ended our support for one of the main contributors to the climate problem. However, change and influence at this level will do little to cause meaningful changes and contributions to a future solution.
The threat of rising sea levels due to melting ice caps may not be particularly daunting to those who do not live in coastal regions, but the more immediate and inevitable increase in the power and devastation of storm surges may be reason for more Americans to rethink their apathy towards rising climate change. According to the National Climate Assessment (NCA), there has already been “a substantial increase in most measures of Atlantic hurricane activity since the early 1980s.”
As global warming causes the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to deteriorate, the amount of available freshwater will diminish. The IPCC report states that “depending on future socioeconomic conditions, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to 2 degrees Celsius, may reduce the proportion of the world population exposed to a climate-change induced increase in water stress by up to 50 percent.”
Additionally, if temperatures exceed a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase, the threat of net reductions in corn, rice, wheat production and other cereal crops may lead to a food crisis for nations worldwide, particularly in the Global South. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the human population is expected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050, 2.4 billion above the current population. The food shortage, in combination with rising populations, could result in a global famine much more grave than the food crisis today.
Worst case scenario: the world lacks the available water and food supplies to support the growing population, disease outbreaks worsen, islands and coastal cities become submerged in the ocean, wildfires and droughts destroy the balance of ecosystems, the ozone layer deteriorates and the sixth mass extinction comes into fruition.
Best case scenario: international government bodies convene to finally face the problem of global warming seriously, renewable energy sources become appropriately funded, industrial consumptive practices undergo reform and perhaps humanity manages to undo some of the effects of centuries of systematic destruction that have already taken place on Earth.
However, according to the Washington Post, only two countries fully comply with the standards of the 2015 Paris Agreement. President Donald Trump’s choice to withdraw from the agreement and his support for the coal and fossil fuel industries suggest there is little reason to think that human-influenced global warming will slow down. Whether we will be able to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius is a question only time and technology will be able to answer. The immensity of the cultural and socioeconomic reforms necessary the looming crisis of the 2018 IPCC report is almost incomprehensible. We can only hope that our world leaders take their heads out of the sand and confront the fact that if they do not act now, their visions of leading the world to progress and equity may lead us instead to the wasteland of death and suffering that they have been warned of time and time again.