Do you know how big the universe is? Neither do I and nobody does. What we do know is that the observable universe is about 93 billion light years in diameter. Astronomers estimate that, in this vast cosmic arena, there exist roughly 10,000 stars for each grain of sand on Earth. (Yes, that’s a lot of stars) According to NASA, our home galaxy, the Milky Way, alone contains a minimum of 100 billion planets. All of these are massive numbers. Yet, in this whole universe, there’s only one place we can call home. Earth, the blue beauty fostering millions of living species. And she’s becoming a hot mess right in front of our eyes. The reason as we all know is the climate change.

What is climate change and what should we do about it?

By definition, climate change is the long-term change in the average weather patterns that collectively defines Earth’s local, regional and global climates. Nowadays, the global climate indicator in the spotlight is the global temperature. The primary cause for changes observed in Earth’s climate during past decade is human activities, fossil fuel burning being the first in the list. Excessive burning of fossil fuel throughout the years has emitted massive amounts of greenhouse gasses which entrap heat, causing the global temperature rise. Scientists have known about greenhouse effect for nearly 200 years but it hasn’t been very long since we took this problem as a “real concern”.

Studies suggested 1.5 degrees Celsius limit as the threshold value for global temperature rise, a warning sign which we can avoid current climate disasters going from destructive to catastrophic and irreversible. In much simpler words, if we don’t keep the global temperature rise below 1.5C, we are screwed.  Under Paris Agreement, all nations have agreed to commit towards this 1.5C goal. The bad news is that, by 2020, we are already at 1.02 C. Accelerated technological advancement, growing demand for resources to fulfil needs of an increasing population coupled with lack of awareness has brought us to the brink of a catastrophic global climate disaster. 

But this does not mean that we can give up. We must keep trying and we must succeed, for the sake of our own survival. Reaching climate goals require major and immediate transformation. In his latest book, ‘How to avoid a climate disaster’, Bill Gates proposes a simple but difficult goal that we must achieve in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. We need to bring the amount of greenhouse gases the world typically adds to the atmosphere every year, which is 51 billion tons, to a zero. But, is this even possible? If we do it right, yes, it is possible. In his book, he explains how we can achieve this goal through innovation and dedication.  So, we need to act faster and smarter than ever. But first, we need to educate ourselves about the situation.

Relationship of climate change & energy 

When addressing climate change issue, there’s one special topic we cannot neglect. That’s energy. Energy runs the world (Beyoncé might tell you otherwise but trust me, she’s wrong.) Early societies fulfilled their energy needs from sources that were almost immediate transformations such as wind and flowing water or forms of biomass which took only few months or decades to become usable such as food crops and trees. Today, the modern civilization has shifted into a fossil fuel dependent form, a resource which takes millions of years to replenish. For a long time, we’ve been basically interfering the natural carbon capture and storage mechanism which took millions of years to stabilize by digging up fossil fuels and burning them, re-injecting huge amounts of stored CO2 back into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate. Today, energy production of all types including electricity, heat, manufacturing and transportation accounts for 76% of all CO2 emissions. Modern society is entirely dependent on energy production. So, it is as clear as day that we cannot find solutions for climate change without finding alternative ways to fulfil our energy requirements more sustainably. 

                            “The climate problem is mostly an energy problem.”  

                                                                 (David MacKay – Sustainable energy-without the hot air)

Why should we really bother about climate change?

Did you know that there’s been 5 major mass extinctions in Earth’s 4.54-billion-year history? All of us are familiar with the last one, the end of Jurassic period which happened some 66 million years ago. All of the five mass extinctions were caused by either an unexpected visit of a giant asteroid or a dramatic climate alteration on earth. Today, it is common knowledge that humans are next in line for a mass extinction. But extinction of human kind is going to be an historic one. Because if we keep going on like this, we will be the first species in Earth’s history to destroy themselves by willful ignorance. 

While watching a video, I stumbled upon this amazing YouTube comment which was a quotation from a comedian named George Carlin. 

                        “” The planet isn't going anywhere folks. WE ARE!” – George Carlin “

That’s a very serious joke and it made me rethink everything. The truth is that the earth wouldn’t mind if humans are gone. She will carefully place the loving memories of our era among the layers of rocks, restore her balance and move on. So, this is purely a problem about our own survival. 

Humanity is truly a marvel in the universe. We, as a species, has come a long way. Despite our differences, all of us can be proud of ourselves. If you think about it, just 100,000 years ago, we were doing paintings in caves and, today, we are only a few years away from colonizing other planets.  Such intelligence is an invaluable treasure in the universe. So, this is why we cannot give up right now and let both our efforts and nature’s efforts to create this beautiful world go down the drain. This is why we should set aside our differences and keep on fighting. That is why we should educate ourselves and be a part of the positive changes that are already happening in the world. Most importantly, we should keep this conversation going. So, let’s keep the conversation going.

                                                                                      -- Sachini Wimalagunarathna 

                                                                                         16th batch - DCPE

Books I referred: 

  • Energy – A beginner’s guide by Vaclav Smil
  • How to avoid a climate disaster – The solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need by Bill Gates
  • Sustainable energy – without hot air by David JC MacKay

Documentary recommendations:

  • David Attenborough: A life on our planet (2020)
  • Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)
  • 2040 (2019)