This is the second article in the series of ‘co-creating the Future We Want‘ from a climate change and sustainability perspective. In the previous article ‘Reality check-in‘ we had a look at some of the key sustainability issues today and the reasons why. We ended the article on a positive note that despite the challenges that we need to get prepared for, we do experience a growing willingness from people and organizations to learn and act for sustainability.
The purpose of this article is to explore ‘Our Future Our Choice’ from a climate change perspective with emphasis on the actions that we need to take if we want to prevent the kind of futures that most people actually do not want to consciously choose or cause. The resources and suggestions in this article are offered to inspire the kind of actions that can be taken at the level of individuals, communities, business and educational institutions. Government actions for sustainable development to help prevent a four degrees warmer world are essential. This dimension is not discussed in this paper yet acknowledged here for its importance. Many people feel that unless governments around the world take the necessary actions and act on this commitment together, there is little we can do as individuals. This article aims to highlight that even if governments are not acting as fast as we may like, there is so much that we can do all and advocate for.
The impact of our past and current choices on our future wellbeing and quality of life
To better understand what is causing these changes in our climate let us have a look at some of the data concerning COs emissions. Atmospheric CO2 for April 2014 is 401.33ppm. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the chief greenhouse gas that results from human activities and causes global warming and climate change. Atmospheric CO2 is measured at the Mauna Loa Observatoy in Hawaii. It is useful to know that the present CO2 concentration is higher than has occurred at any time in the last 15 million years. As a result the global mean temperature is rising and is now about 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels. This may appear little but if you take the human body as an example one can see that a small rise in temperature to 1 degree Celsius or more would cause fever, and a prolonged rise in body temperature with 3 to 4 degrees Celsius would lead to death.
The concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are increasing at an accelerating rate from decade to decade. The latest atmospheric CO2 data is consistent with a continuation of this long-standing trend. The upper safety limit for atmospheric CO2 is 350 parts per million (ppm). Atmospheric CO2 levels have stayed higher than 350 ppm since early 1988.
The video in the previous article ‘Reality check-in‘ from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the basis of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) explained well the physical science basis of climate change. This made clear why human behaviour is the cause for the kind of climate change that we can now observe and NOT natural cycles and the sun. In case that video did not yet convince you, you may want to have a look at this video below that presents the same science in a different way. This video comes from the documentary series YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY produced by James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger and offers the A,B,C of Climate Change Science.
What does this all mean for our future? According to the 2012 World Bank commissioned scientific report “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,” science is showing us that we are currently on a track for a 4°C warmer world before the end of this Century. If this happens there will be extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise. It is clear that this 4 degrees rise in temperature has to be avoided at all costs. The next article titled ‘Is this the Future We Want‘ provides further resources to better understand the implications.
Is there still time to choose a different future from the one that we are currently co-creating? According the IPCC Press Release on 13 April it is indicated that it is not too late to avoid catastrophe on a global scale, but it does require coordinated and collaborative actions now: “BERLIN, 13 April – A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change. Emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades. According to the Working Group III contribution to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, it would be possible, using a wide array of technological measures and changes in behaviour, to limit the increase in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, only major institutional and technological change will give a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed this threshold.. For the report, about 1200 scenarios from scientific literature have been analyzed. These scenarios were generated by 31 modelling teams around the world to explore the economic, technological and institutional prerequisites and implications of mitigation pathways with different degrees of ambition. “Many different pathways lead to a future within the boundaries set by the two degrees Celsius goal,” Edenhofer said. “All of these require substantial investments. Avoiding further delays in mitigation and making use of a broad variety of technologies can limit the associated costs.” Source: IPCC Press Release 13 April 2014.
This video below from the WWF‘s global climate & energy initiative leader Samantha Smith gives a snapshot overview of the key outcomes of the IPCC’s Working Group 3 report on Climate Change Mitigation.
What choices can help reduce global warming and support a sustainable society and future
What choices can you and I make to help avoid a four degrees warmer world? When scientists say that “only major institutional and technological change will give a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed this threshold”, this does not mean that you and I should be passive. By changing our consumer behaviour and preferences we help drive the change for these major institutional and technological changes that are needed.
Obvious changes that all of us can make are: reduce consumption of goods and services that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, turn off lights, computers and other appliances when they are not in use, use public transportation or carpooling as much as possible, drive less, purchase energy efficient appliances or a more fuel-efficient car (don’t speed!), grow your own vegetables or buy locally grown food (preferably organic), invest in renewable energy from wind and / or sun. For further suggestions at the individual, organizational and government level to curb greenhouse gas emissions you can also visit the Worldwatch Institute.
Have a look here to see how Climate Smart Agriculture can help prepare for Climate Change Impacts and contribute to Climate Change Solutions.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is CEO-led organization of forward-thinking companies that galvanizes the global business community to create a sustainable future for business, society and the environment. The WBCSD Action2020 Climate Change Business Solutions offers many valuable resources for how business can take a leading role for initiating the kind of actions that are necessary to ensure that we do not cross the threshold. The video below from Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, explains how they have been able to reduce their CO2 emissions by over 40%.
Climate Change Education
Through the Education for Sustainability (EFS) programme we support teachers and students to become aware of the science of climate change and climate change impacts, and how they can reduce their ecological footprint and as such contribute to actions that can help prevent a four degrees warmer world.
Through the EFS programme, students learn to measure the ecological footprint (EF) of the school and to explore solutions for reducing the EF of the school. From 2011 – 2012, 18 secondary schools managed by the Bureau de l’Education Catholique (BEC) took part in the ELIA ‘Ecological Footprint’ project for schools. This was then an extra-curriciulum project. Since 2014, Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA) has become embedded in the lower-secondary curriculum of three EFS pilot schools, namely; Loreto College Curepipe (LCC), St Mary’s College (SMC) in Rose-Hill, and BPS Fatima in Goodlands, Mauritius.
The video below is a great resources for teachers to raise awareness about climate change and to showcase actions that we can all take.
Copyright © Anneloes Smitsman – first published on ELIA-Ecological Living In Action blog 17 May 2014.