Man-made climate change, and the interconnected environmental catastrophe more broadly constitute the most urgent crisis facing humanity. It has come about as the result of a certain way of life, a materialistic approach to living in which greed and excessive consumption has been championed.
Voracious consumerism and values based on individual material success, competition and division lie at the very heart of the crisis, and if global warming, desertification, pollution, and the destruction of ecological systems are to be arrested, a fundamental change in attitudes and behaviour is needed. Without this, little of substance can be achieved – technological advances whilst crucial in breaking the dependency on fossil fuels, are not on their own enough.
It’s a way of life – principally a developed world way of life – that needs to drastically change, as the Cloudburst Foundation states: “Balancing the carbon cycle requires much more than technological solutions. It requires a paradigm shift in how we approach economic growth and development”: A shift away from excess, socio-economic injustice and environmental vandalism to sustainability, social-environmental responsibility and sharing.
Together with deforestation, burning fossil fuels to meet humanity’s insatiable appetite for energy, most of which feeds industry, is the major source of the greenhouse gases that are generating climate change.
Whilst nations production of these noxious elements vary, global emission’s overall are reducing, and despite some developing countries increasing their output, emission levels appear to have finally peaked; the task now before us is to drastically reduce them. Central to this work is the need to inculcate a new approach to how we live: to change the values that determine our actions and to alter the relationship we have with one another and the natural environment.
The most noxious greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Of these carbon dioxide is the biggest culprit, making up almost 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. It enters the atmosphere, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains, “Through burning fossil fuels, solid waste, trees and wood products, and as a result of certain chemical reactions,” and is extracted or ‘sequestered’ (from the atmosphere) when it’s absorbed by plants.
Of the total amount of carbon dioxide cast into Earth’s atmosphere from fossil fuels in 2015, Carbon Brief relates that, “41 percent came from coal, 34 percent from oil, 19 percent from gas, 5.6 percent from cement production and 0.7 percent from flaring.”
Almost half of all carbon dioxide emissions remained in the atmosphere; a third was absorbed by plants and 26 percent by the oceans. The burning of coal, natural gas, and oil to meet the demand for electricity and heat is the sector responsible for the largest amount of global greenhouse gas emissions, making up 25 percent. This is followed, the EPA says by agriculture and deforestation. Coming in a close third is industry with 21 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, then transportation at 14 percent.
China emits almost a third of all greenhouse gas emissions and is the world’s biggest polluter, followed by America with around 15 percent, then the EU with 11 percent. Europe has made achieved substantial reductions in emissions and in 2015 they were down 22 percent compared with 1990. India, with a fifth of the World’s population and global business ambitions is pouring greenhouse gases out at an alarming rate; in 2015 emissions were up 5.2 percent on the previous year, to 6.3 percent of the global total.
If we are to halt climate change, and begin to heal the natural environment, we must stop burning fossil fuels and turn to alternative sources of energy for the majority of our energy needs.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Climate Change Demands an End to Excess and Greed’.