Time for climate change skeptics to change?
In 2013, Sir Mark Walpole, the chief science advisor to the UK raised the concern that many people are increasingly skeptical about even the existence of climate change and mankind’s role in it. Through intensive scientific work has clearly established climate change as a dangerous threat to us, many people continue to deny it. IPCC, the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change, maintains that global warming is a significant threat.
Climate change is not new. According to NASA, in the last 650,000 years, there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat. The abrupt end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago marked the beginning of the modern climate era and human civilization. These climate changes were due to small variations in Earth’s orbit that changed the amount of solar energy received.
But, the current trend is different. Since the mid-20th century, it has been growing rapidly driven by human activity. Caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions, the average surface temperature of the Earth has risen by almost 1 degree Celsius since the late 19 century. Most of that happened in the past 35 years.
The skeptics today include powerful business leaders and politicians, who deny global warming. We can discuss, argue, fight, and vote on many issues. But this is not one of them. Only truth and facts matter. Opinions and arguments are good for business, politics, and financial gains but such special interests but will not change the reality.
The latest disruption
A non-linear change has been forced on us by COVID 19 virus. With millions of people not driving around for weeks, emissions have fallen. But when we deep-dive into how COVID 19 is influencing climate, some surprising and counter-intuitive factors surface. Based on those, I will focus on what it could mean and what we could do to build the post-COVID world friendlier to the environment.
I see four sets of actions fundamental to building a new world
1. Urban Living
Many aspects of urban living have been challenged and broken. All the following changes will be easier on the environment.
Most of our business travel was just legacy and actually added little value. That opens up many alternatives. With current technology, everything from food and medicines to entertainment can be delivered to homes. Most financial transactions do not require travel. Many organizations were forced to let people work from home. They have now seen the advantages. So many will not maintain large offices and incur a huge waste of time and costs in daily commutation. I have recently taken up a consultancy that is now completely online. In the past, it would have involved at least 2 trips halfway around the world.
The design of residential/commercial space will have new opportunities to support employers and staff to work from home and eliminate commuting to work. Reduction in commuting will have a negative impact on the automobile industry and public transport systems. The change in technology to electric vehicles will supplement this trend.
The demand for high bandwidth connections for the last-mile will now soar making even more products and services to go online.
Performance assessment and reward strategies for staff will shift from time-based systems to output based systems. This will lead to more efficiency and effectiveness and less waste of resources.
2. Impact of climate-related issues on health
Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Head of the Climate Change and Health Program at the World Health Organization, said that presently, air pollution "is one of the severest problems that we face around the world. About 90% of the people inhale polluted air and it kills 7 million globally. Air pollution is a contributing risk factor for many other illnesses such as heart disease, respiratory illness, etc. While not yet conclusive, there is evidence emerging that people living in areas with higher air pollution are more likely to be infected with the COVID virus.
Extreme weather events are getting more severe with heatwaves, depressions, cyclones, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunami, floods, etc. Climate change makes these extreme weather events worse and severely impacts on human well-being. The NASA Earth Observatory images, based on data from the European Space Agency's Copernicus satellite, show that nitrogen dioxide emissions dramatically reduced over central China as the coronavirus outbreak brought cities to a standstill. In the northeastern United States, air pollution dropped by 30 % in March. The challenge now is how to retain some of these gains when we come out of the pandemic.
Redefine industrial production processes to reduce their polluting aspect to retain the accidental benefits caused by COVID. A few months back, it was impossible to think of an overnight close down of all polluting industries. We had to. And with that came the new revelation that skies can clear and the air can get cleaner rapidly. Nature, the healer, gets to work at an incredible pace. According to estimates of the International Energy Agency, 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, about 8% of the estimated total for the year, will never be released into the atmosphere.
3. Links with communicable diseases
70 percent of the world's infectious diseases over the past few decades came from the natural environment, with many by animal-to-human transmission. Clearly, the damage we inflict on the natural world will make more such diseases to emerge. While damaging and over-exploiting the environment, we ignore their impact on infections in animals and humans. We are causing some of these to happen and leaving ourselves open to new risks.
Global warming makes transmission of diseases easier. Overall environmental damage increases the risks of pandemics.
So, we need to get out of this crisis in a direction very different from the one we went in with. Health and hygiene aspect will need to be strengthened through a lot more of awareness building and practices. We see this starting to happen with COVID 19.
4. Change in our diet
In 2019, the United Nations published a report confirming that plant-based diets are better for the environment. Cattle produce large amounts of the greenhouse gas, Methane.
Eating large amounts of meat regularly is not healthy for humans.
A shift to a largely plant-based diet will improve our health and that of the environment. As Hippocrates said, our food is our medicine. So, this change in diet will make us a lot less dependent on medication.
These 4 directional changes, even in small steps by millions of us will definitely make the world a much better place for our grandchildren. As custodians of this wonderful world, we owe it to them.
References and for further reading
5 Things to Know About Climate Change and Coronavirus With WHO Climate Lead By Margaret Brennan and Kelsey Micklas.