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Can we stop global warming?

Written by Science, Science & Tech

At the beginning of October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that sent shockwaves across the scientific and political worlds. The “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5◦C” examined more than 6,000 studies to analyse the impact of global warming of 1.5◦C and 2◦C, revealing that in order to limit warming to 1.5◦C, there needs to be a 45% reduction in CO₂ emissions by 2030.

In the report, there was emphasis on the crucial difference between 1.5◦C warming and 2◦C warming.

Dr Hans-Otto Pörtner, member of the IPCC, told the National Geographic: “By 2100, global sea-level rise would be 10cm lower with global warming of 1.5◦C compared with 2◦C. This could mean up to ten million fewer people exposed to the risks of rising seas.”

The report contained many stark warnings, but as Dr Natalie Mahowald, IPCC author, notes, all is not lost: “We face a really large challenge, but it is not impossible to limit warming to 1.5◦C.” This leaves us asking, what are governments and scientists doing, and what can we do?

Let’s start big. One of the most comprehensive efforts to reduce global warming is the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. The transnational pact between 196 countries set out aims to keep global temperatures “well below” 2◦C and to “endeavour to limit” them to 1.5◦C. However, with minimal concrete plans to underpin these targets, and the US set to pull out of the agreement in 2020, more public pressure is needed for governments to seriously address climate change. Renewable energy is an avenue that needs more government investment and attention, if global warming is to be limited. Solar power and wind turbines, both renewable energy sources, were found to have an insignificant carbon footprint in a 2017 study. Petitions, pressure groups, and voting are all ways that we, as individuals, can push governments to increase renewables, while reducing emission-heavy fossil fuels.

Scientists are also working on methods that will alleviate climate change. An incredibly innovative avenue that scientists are exploring is geoengineering research. Carbon-dioxide removal, or CDR, which remains largely untested, involves tackling the root of the problem: using techniques such as direct air capture to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere and convert it into a useful substance. Whilst this may sound like a pipe dream, some scientists see geoengineering as a necessary way to reduce global warming if humans remain reluctant to take direct action.

However, as individuals we can also take action. Whilst it may not seem that our actions amount to much (71% of global emissions are from just 100 companies), individual action all adds up to collective action. Fast fashion is just one way we can reduce our own carbon footprint. It’s always nice to get a new dress for a tenner, and we’re often so pleased with ourselves for being thrifty that we forget about the environmental cost of fast fashion. Consumers buy 60% more garments than in 2000 – clothes we don’t really need and so don’t end up wearing. Yet the textile industry is incredibly polluting, with 1.2 billion tonnes of CO₂ being produced each year. If each of us reduced the amount of clothes we bought, and instead insisted on washing and re-wearing old clothes, then our own carbon footprint could be drastically reduced.

Less meat consumption is also a small change we can all make. Climate change scientists aren’t preaching that everybody should suddenly go vegan. However, if we are to alleviate the effects of climate change, a ‘flexitarian’ diet needs to be adopted. A study found that, in the UK, beef consumption needs to fall by 90%, and milk consumption by 60%. UK citizens would also need to increase beans and pulses by at least four times. The way you could do this is to implement meat-free days into your diet. By swapping a beef chilli for a veggie chilli once a week, and making a conscious effort to keep this up, you can make a sustainable change to your diet that is environmentally friendly.

Despite the IPCC’s dire warnings, all hope is not lost. The take-away from this article is that we can all do more. Don’t leave your bedroom light on all day. Walk more. Eat less meat. And, above all, lobby the government to take action too, as the power lies with them.

Last modified: 23rd October 2018

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