A new world record has been set. Unfortunately it isn’t the kind you’d delight in reading about in the Guinness Book of World Records. Sadly, it has to do with the amount of energy-related carbon emissions the people of this Earth are producing and how we’re moving further and further away from an agreed upon 2°C goal.
What is the world record you ask? In 2010, the world released an astonishing and record high 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 emissions. That’s a 5% increase from 2008 when levels were sitting at 29.3 Gt. As a side note, levels dropped in 2009, but experts believe this was due to the worldwide economic crisis.
For those who don’t know, the 2°C goal discussed earlier was an agreed upon marker set by participating countries at the climate change talks in Copenhagen in 2009 and then revisited in Cancun in 2010. The idea was that the leaders of the major countries around the world would work together to limit the world’s global temperature increase to only 2°C, therefore putting everyone to work to limit the release of greenhouse gases and to make every major country accountable for the results.
The problem is that since the record levels of carbon emissions that we reached in 2010 and 2008, we are basically setting ourselves up for failure. Essentially, based on guidelines set out by the IEA (International Energy Agency) and other energy experts, global energy related emissions should not grow by more than 32 Gt by 2020. In other words, emissions cannot increase more than they did in 2009 and 2010 which lays out extensive, and some feel unattainable, work for the leaders of countries around the world.
What makes this a crisis is the grave reality of the guidelines set forth. The 2°C goal is not one that has a safe amount of cushy padding on it so that if we don’t reach it or are a little off, the earth will still be OK. It won’t be. In fact, scientists argue that 2°C is the “threshold for potentially ‘dangerous climate change’” and that if the temperature increases by anymore than that we will put millions of people and animals in real and serious danger. That’s not all. If emissions levels continue to rise at the rate they did last year, the recommended 32 Gt limit will be ahead of schedule nine years in excess which makes it nearly, if not actually impossible to do anything about the damage caused by that acceleration.
The above paints a pretty grim picture. It’s scary to think that despite the United States’ best intentions (although some would argue that point, that’s another article), other countries doing their part and one of the worst recessions in the history of the world we are still exceeding any healthy and reachable goals of global emissions. The good news is that there are things that can be done. We aren’t facing the tunnel of doom with nowhere to turn but action is required and the faster and more effort put forth, the better.
For one, countries like the US and China, two of the biggest emissions producers, need to come to agreement and make a pledge to reduce their emissions especially in regards to global agreements like The Kyoto Protocol. Agreeing to contracts like Kyoto helps to bring everyone together and since global warming is a problem that will without fail affect each and every individual currently inhabiting the earth, everyone and every country needs to be held accountable.
Another idea proposed by government and environmental officials is in complete opposition to the above. They suggest that since major countries like the US and China have so far been reluctant to join in on guidelines laid out by treaties like The Kyoto Protocol, each country should put forward what they are willing and able to do and everyone will work from there. What some consider a more realistic approach, the idea is that since what we have been doing has not worked and continues to cause conflict, it’s best to try a new attack. The hope is that countries won’t feel like they’re being pushed into something unrealistic and therefore being forced to make abstract promises they can’t keep but instead will allow countries to do what they’re capable of and eliminate the tension and halt in action that previous treaties have caused.
A third idea is that specific industries are targeted as opposed to entire countries. Of course each country would still have to take responsibility for the various industries it supports, but the idea of just decreasing overall emissions wouldn’t be so overwhelming. It is kind of like a baby-step approach to tackling the larger problem. If each industry takes responsibility for its own actions then together they will decrease emissions as a collective effort.
Lastly, there are many things YOU can still do. It may feel futile at times to be just one person making moves to better the big world out there but there’s nothing truer than the statement ‘every little bit helps’. For one, get in on the action. Write to your local representative and tell her how important this issue is, not only to you, but for her too and the entire world. Second, reduce what you can’t eliminate completely. Sites like carbonfund.org help both individuals and organizations reduce their carbon footprint by giving them the option of purchasing carbon offsets, planting trees or make a donation to organizations heavily involved in carbon reduction programs. Join sites like stopglobalwarming.org and become part of an online community dedicated to efforts just as you are. Lastly, get loud! Tell everyone about the actions you’ve taken to tackle this problem. Blog, Tweet and Facebook about all of your initiatives and get everyone on board. If the people talk loud enough, those with power will listen.
Photo credit: flic.kr/p/66GKxF