Though the bulk of the damaging effects of the climate crisis are decades away, it is already “an emergency,” said Dr. Danny Harvey, a professor of geography at the University of Toronto, in a keynote speech.
“The time we have left is very short,” he continued, “compared to the time required to take the actions needed to avert otherwise inevitable catastrophic consequences.”
Harvey was speaking at a forum held by Science for Peace on January 14. The event was free and open to the public, attracting almost 200 attendees to Innis Town Hall.
What society needs to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations
Discussing solutions to the crisis, Harvey said, “We have to change the entire energy system. And not just that, we have to change social norms and values and the way people think, and that’s perhaps even harder… In fact, in many respects, it’s already too late.”
Displaying graphs of industrial carbon dioxide emissions in the past decades, Harvey pointed out that despite discussions of regulations and solutions, emission levels have maintained a steep and steady increase.
Harvey spoke about the need to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations and, ultimately, the climate. He discussed the need to decrease net emissions to zero in order to keep warming to below two degrees. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, this must occur by 2050. While a zero fossil fuel emission target will likely not be reached for a long time, negative emissions, such as reforestation, building up soil carbon, or directing capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide can be used to compensate for emissions.
Reduced costs and advancements in wind and solar energy will also help the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. According to Harvey, major reforms of the electricity system are required to completely adopt clean energy. From an engineering standpoint, the required technology is well on its way, and the changes may be attainable within 30 or 40 years.
Harvey also pointed out the need to change our current economy and industrial production process, but noted that this will be a complicated process that will also require behavioural shifts away from current mindsets of consumption and unlimited growth.
The importance of individual action
Whereas issues of energy and the economy largely involve systemic changes, individual action is also crucial, according to Harvey.
Diets, in particular, account for a significant fraction of global emissions, he explained. A 2018 research study has shown that meat consumption is disproportionately responsible for these emissions, compared to other sources of food.
Sustainable solutions such as clean energy still require resources — thus, our individual decisions to reduce consumption, purchase products to last in the long term, and use resources efficiently, should work in conjunction with systemic changes, and further reduce our environmental impact.