Download a 2-Sided Handout on Climate Breakdown and Fixes (PDF) with the same information that appears below. Print 50 and hand them out at school, on a street corner or in the mall.
Earth’s temperature mainly depends on how much of the sun’s energy is absorbed and how much is released into space. Some sunlight — especially light that hits ice or clouds — bounces straight back to space. Some light is absorbed and becomes heat. Some of this heat also escapes into space — how much depends on the composition of our atmosphere. Some gases like methane and carbon dioxide slow the escape of heat. In 1910, CO2 levels in the atmosphere were around 300 parts per million — today they are over 400ppm. If we look further back in history and we realize how unusual these CO2 level really are:
And we haven’t even felt the full impact of our current greenhouse gas levels yet. If we stopped emitting extra GHGs today, the earth would continue warming for years. This is because ice melts slowly, and as it melts, it exposes more dark earth, which means less light is reflected straight back into space and more of the sun’s energy is absorbed as heat, which in turn melts more ice. A warming planet will also release bubbles of frozen methane in the arctic permafrost and under the ocean.
IS A WARMER PLANET REALLY THAT BAD?
You may have heard that policy-makers are trying to keep global warming under 2°C. And maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal — it’s just 2°C. But that is the average warming – the heat isn’t spread evenly around the world or throughout the year. Warming will come in heat waves or get concentrated in one area, destabilizing the ecology of that region. Some areas will become uninhabitable, creating millions of climate refugees. Warmer air holds more moisture and that means more rain in some places and droughts in other places. There will be more hurricanes and more wildfires. Slight temperature changes can have surprising impacts on plants and animals. We don’t know exactly how much warming it will take to push any given species into extinction. And species depend on one another — so when one species moves or dies, other species will also collapse. Levels of insects and plankton are ALREADY collapsing and they are the base of our food chains. We have already entered the “Sixth great extinction.” The bottom line is that global warming will be devastating — but we don’t know exactly how devastating — and every tonne of carbon that we keep in the ground will give us a better chance of avoiding complete catastrophe.
Global leaders have talked and talked, but emissions keep on rising. Even in 2018, annual CO2 emissions hit another all-time high.
We can’t actually “solve” climate change. Our planet is already warmer than it was 10 years ago. But we can fix the problems with our energy system and slow further warming. The recent IPCC Special Report says that limiting global warming to 1.5°C “would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems. ” An unprecedented transformation in all sectors of society has one big upside — we can all contribute in different ways. Talking to friends, writing to politicians, riding a bicycle and promoting plant-based eating are all different aspects of the change we need.
People often distinguish between ‘personal’ and ‘collective’ change, but our private lives are tied into social structures. Government policies make it cheaper and easier to make the right choices. Our decisions in the grocery store drive corporate action. The most important reductions you can make as an individual are (probably) 1) FLYING LESS, 2) DRIVING LESS and 3) EATING LESS MEAT. Collective solutions happen at different scales but they include 1) Pricing Carbon, 2) Renewable Energy, 3) Lobbying and Protest, 4) Indigenous Resistance, 5) Divestment and 6) a new Culture of Minimalism.
A PRICE ON CARBON The cornerstone of Canada’s emissions reduction plan is a fee and dividend that puts a price on carbon and returns that money to Canadians. People who emit less carbon will make a little money. People who emit more will pay more until they adjust their lifestyles. There are also fee and dividend bills being considered in the USA. Cap and trade policies price carbon in a different way, granting an allowance to existing companies and reducing the ‘cap’ each year so companies must buy credits from institutions that have reduced their emissions. Under cap and trade, an oil company might pay to insulate a school.
RENEWABLE ENERGY We must switch to wind and solar power and replace internal combustion engines with electric motors and vehicles. Government investments in new technologies and infrastructure will reduce emissions and create new jobs. In the States, they’re calling this policy ‘the Green New Deal’ and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement are key supporters. The Leap is calling for a similar program in Canada. Wind and solar are getting better and cheaper every year. In many parts of the world it’s now cheaper to build and run new solar plants than it is to keep buying coal.
OTHER TECHNOLOGIES From new ways of making concrete to new ways of designing buildings — we have the technology necessary to reduce our carbon emissions almost to zero. For example, passive houses and net-zero buildings are being built all over the world. Check out Project Drawdown for more solutions.
LOBBYING AND PROTEST Our current policies are useful, but insufficient. Many protest movements and lobbying groups are demanding more from our government. Check out Act350 (and 350Toronto), Citizens Climate Lobby, the Council of Canadians, the David Suzuki Foundation, ClimateFast and Environmental Defense. Movements like #YouthRising in Canada and This is Zero Hour and the Sunrise Movement in the US were founded by young people.
INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE Indigenous people like those at Unist’ot’en Camp are fighting for indigenous sovereignty and a world without fossil fuels when they refuse to allow oil and gas companies access to their traditional lands. Autumn Peltier is a 12-year-old water defender who has lobbied Justin Trudeau and spoken at the UN.
DIVESTMENT Pension funds, universities and city governments are removing fossil fuels from their investment portfolios. This makes it a little harder for oil, gas and coal companies to raise funds.
MINIMALISM Green technologies can do a lot, but we also have to learn to be more satisfied with less stuff. To read more about how reducing your carbon footprint can make you happier and reduce stress check out the Climate Pledge Collective series on Low-Carbon Luxury.