When 16-year-old Greta Thunberg addressed (read roared) at the UN's Climate Action Summit or when she was named Person of the Year by Time magazine, she became the poster child for climate justice, an international fixture, her words infused with contained rage. Her powerful words drew our attention to two groups of people, one that is fighting vigorously to save the planet we call home and the other that merely mocks the whole idea of climate change. I ask you; whose side are you on?
In order to recognise what's really happening to the world around us, do we need more Gretas expressing their anger and dismay with adults to awaken us and make us realise how the climate change lobby has failed to make traction? There are tons and piles of papers and reports that narrate stories of the researches that are being conducted in the field, then why are we still alienating and denying that climate change is not real?
Isn't this eco-anxiety, forest fires in the Amazon and Australia that killed billions of wildlife, melting glaciers and ice sheets that are rapidly increasing the water levels across the globe and such piercing increases in global temperatures, enough to wear us down?
To begin with, there are three prongs to this argument - there are scientific facts, there is media opinion alongside the crude judgement of the public and finally, there is politics.
Let's get something straight here. Our climate is in crisis and if you and I don't fight to address it, does anything matter? Scientists have asserted that the world is on course for a 3.7-4.8°C temperature increase by 2100, which would cause catastrophic and irreparable damage - wiping away coastlines and turning our forests into savannahs. Even commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement fall far short of the cuts required to limit warming. Meanwhile, 800 million people globally are currently vulnerable to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heat waves, extreme weather events and sea-level rise, which will endure for the next century or more due to the cumulative impact of emissions already in the atmosphere.
Let's get started with some harsh evidence that proves that climate change is as real as it can get.
- The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere today is the highest it has been in 3 million years.
- 11% of all global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans are caused by deforestation - comparable to the emissions from all of the cars and trucks on the planet.
- In the Amazon, 1% of tree species sequester 50% of the region's carbon.
- Nearly 1 million hectares of coastal ecosystems are destroyed every year, removing an important buffer from extreme weather for coastal communities and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
- If no action is taken, food production is projected to decrease in the Mediterranean area, southeastern Europe and central Asia threatening food security. Crop yields could decrease by up to 30% leading to a worsening of malnutrition.
- Average wildlife populations have dropped by 60% in just over 40 years.
Do you know that conserving ecosystems is simply more cost-effective than human-made interventions to avert climate change in the first place? In the Maldives, building a sea wall for coastal protection had cost USD $ 2.2 billion. Today, even after a decade of maintenance costs, it would still have been 4 times cheaper to have preserved the natural reef! At the beginning of this decade, Indonesia announced that it would have to move its capital city away from Jakarta. Home to more than 10 million people, parts of Jakarta are sinking as much as 25cm per year, thanks to - rising global sea levels and land subsidence as underground water supplies have been drained away to meet water needs.
On the other hand, natural climate solutions like ending deforestation and restoring degraded forests could, at the global level, create 80 million jobs, bring 1 billion people out of poverty and add USD $ 2.3 trillion in productivity growth. Now, this is definitely something worth fighting for, isn't it?
Why are we denying climate change in the first place?
To begin with, the fossil fuel industry, political petitioners, media magnates and certain individuals have spent the last few decades refuting the reality of climate change. Can't they see the extreme weather events causing havoc across the globe and national governments declaring actual climate emergencies? Still at your dinner table, you will have one aunt who vociferously denies climate change.
To your dear aunt and deniers of climate change, just like fossil fuel majors tried to fight the uncertainties of climate change for decades, just as cigarette companies disputed that smoking kills, undermining climate change is foolish to say the least!
My question to you - how long do you think you can deny climate change and that our planet is dying?
Sustainable development and climate change
Climate change is much larger than just one of the 17 SDGs specified in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is a threat multiplier with the potential to worsen some of humanity's greatest challenges, including health, poverty and hunger. Current warming is already producing negative impacts on natural and human systems, seriously impeding progress toward some SDGs.
With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, we have opened a myriad opportunities to meet the climate-change challenge. The SDGs can be demarcated or have special fancy names, but if you look into them, climate change permeates each one of them.
The politics of climate change
Alright, for years and decades, scientists saw climate change as a distant possibility. Today we know, they were wrong. Just this summer, a heatwave in Europe penetrated the Arctic, pushing temperatures into the 80s across most of the Far North and melting 40 billion tons of Greenland's ice sheet.
Yes, science is like a puzzle, it moves slowly to fit together. But, when it comes to climate, even after the pieces have fallen together, why are discussions still being supplemented by apathy born out of politics and caution? When on one hand the climate crisis is worsening and getting more palpable, on the other we are being impervious to pivotal and comprehensive action that is being done on climate change.
Whole countries like Bangladesh and parts of other countries like Miami will be underwater. The oceans will die, the air will get dirtier. But, as climate change takes its toll on Earth's physical planet, it will also cause social, economic and political chaos. Yet, despite the evidence at hand, climate change remains the toughest, most intractable political issue we, as a society, have ever faced.
In the words of Greta Thunberg, "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake. And then we need to transform that anger into action and to stand together united and just never give up."
Greta can't engineer change all by herself! She's a fellow human being who cares and it's time we care too! You need the anger of Thunberg, the concern of inhabitants and the resourcefulness of scholars who care for the planet- not just human life but planet earth.
If you want to fight to save this planet and reverse climate change, you cannot afford to be a spectator on the sidelines. I rest my case!
[Somdutta Singh is an entrepreneur and former vice-chairperson of NASSCOM Product Council. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of International Business Times, India]