Climate change is no longer just a problem for the future. It is happening, and it is only getting worse. For decades, scientists have warned us about the impacts our choices and actions will have, and every year, governments and corporations have decided to do nothing, or at least not enough.
In the past year, we’ve seen just how disastrous the impacts of climate change are. From droughts and heat waves across Europe to floods and mass migrations in Asia to a surge in hurricanes and tornadoes in North America, it is clear that things are only getting worse.
We have had treaties like the Paris Agreement — a legally binding international treaty to mitigate climate change signed in 2016 — between major world powers to address climate change, but barely any member states are on track to reach the agreed-upon goals. Corporations, meanwhile, have continued their tirade upon the environment, tearing up rainforests, destroying marine life, and releasing overwhelming amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
With the lack of effort on many fronts in mitigating the effects and future impacts of climate change, it may seem as though there is nothing we can do — that all hope is lost and we might as well continue our lives as usual.
However, many climate activists and experts argue that we have the resources to fight climate change, but a lack of focus on the issue by governments is holding us back.
So how can we take steps in the fight against climate change, and are these changes even feasible?
Renewable and nuclear energy
Probably the most evident means we have of slowing down our carbon emissions into the atmosphere comes in the form of renewable or nuclear energies.
According to reports by the United Nations, burning fossil fuels is responsible for over 75 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions — more than every other source combined. If we are to slow down the rate at which our climate is being impacted, governments need to shift their economies and infrastructure away from fossil fuels as soon as possible.
And while this may seem like a major undertaking, we already have the technology needed. As of 2019, 16.3 per cent of Canada’s energy comes from renewable resources, including hydroelectricity, wind, tidal, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy. Hydro is the largest contributor, making up almost 70 per cent of Canada’s renewable energy, but wind and solar are rapidly growing in popularity and use.
New technologies have also made solar panels cheaper and easier to install by yourself.
It’s clear that we have the technology to change energy consumption on a global scale. While it will take a lot of capital investment to modify infrastructure in countries across the world, this is an investment that has the potential to save millions of lives.
Sustainable land use
Agriculture has been another major contributor to climate change and accounts for nearly 90 per cent of all deforestation.
Cutting down trees for land and wood releases significant amounts of carbon, as trees store carbon during their lives. Removing these trees also removes one of our planet’s only natural ways of decarbonizing the atmosphere, increasing the rate of climate change.
Coupled with the use of fertilizers and pesticides in farms, agricultural practices have the potential to decimate ecosystems and cause damage for decades to come.
But sustainable methods for farming do exist. Crop rotations, where different species of crops are planted in a single field throughout the year, help to improve soil fertility as various plants give and return different nutrients to the soil.
Another drastic change to agriculture comes in the form of vertical farming. Vertical farming refers to the system of cultivating crops in stacked layers rather than side by side, as in traditional farming.
Vertical farming has immense benefits and leads to increased crop yields and a lack of plant diseases as these environments are entirely controlled. It also has the benefit of not being reliant on external environmental factors.
While many other technologies have evolved so that a hot or cold year does not affect yields, agriculture remains largely affected by temperatures. This year’s heat wave over the summer led to immense food shortages across European countries, but vertical farming has the potential to change that.
The main benefit of vertical farming is the incredibly reduced land usage, reduced deforestation, and more immediate food supplies to cities. Building vertical farms within urban areas would also eliminate the need for long-range transportation of food, eliminating another major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
While vertical farming does have many benefits, it requires a large initial investment and is far more technologically reliant than traditional farming. Building vertical farms in urban spaces would be akin to constructing new buildings, and would require stronger foundations and more money than traditional farming.
Since these environments are also entirely controlled, farmers would also need to invest in powerful sensor technology and training for factors like moisture, temperature, lighting, and more. Any fluctuations in these factors could lead to disastrous crop yields, and some experts believe today’s technology is not ready yet for uses as sensitive as this.
Despite these caveats, agriculture and sustainability need to co-exist for improved food security and lowered environmental impact, and these changes need to start soon.
Why are we not there yet?
Considering how much technology and advancement we’ve seen, why is climate change still getting worse?
One reason is that climate change has reached a point now where it has developed momentum. Similar to Newton’s first law of motion, climate change will be significantly harder to stop now that it has gained speed and traction globally. It will require far more drastic action, ambitious goals, and rapid change to our ways of life before things have a chance of getting better.
While Canada’s renewable energy percentage is higher than the global average of 11 per cent, these values are not high enough. Reports by the World Meteorological Organization showed that despite the transitions to renewable energy, global greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise to new records each year.
The pledges made by member states in the Paris Agreement would need to be nearly seven times higher to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the report.
But while climate change will be harder to stop, that doesn’t mean we are powerless. We possess the technology necessary to make these changes, and limiting a global temperature rise to 2.5 degrees or 3 degrees Celsius will still be better than letting climate change run rampant.
We have the technology. It is simply a matter of pressuring governments and corporations to make the changes needed.
Issues with climate change mitigation run deeper than simply doing more, though. One of the biggest contributors to climate inaction is psychological rather than physical.
Factors like ignorance, where people either don’t know about an issue or don’t know how to react to it, are the most common of these challenges. Some individuals aren’t aware of the extent of climate change, believing that it isn’t too much of an issue yet. And even among those who are aware of it, some believe there is nothing we can do about it. This ignorance is also often manufactured by mixed messages we see in our media.
Another bastion of psychological barriers to overcome is a combination of the bystander and technosalvation effects. In these situations, people believe that either someone else or some new technology will come in time to save us, and therefore, tend to avoid taking the initiative. The bystander effect stops when people see others start helping, which is why individuals might be willing to attend protests or sign open letters, but few of us start and organize these actions.
Many also tend to avoid trying at all because they don’t think they could ever have an impact. Climate change is a global issue and is affecting all of us on such a scale that it seems ridiculous that one person could ever make a difference.
Overcoming the psychological barriers behind climate inaction will be essential if we are to mitigate the effects of climate change and treat our planet well.