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April 20, 2021

Rescuing the planet

Opinion

April 20, 2021

As things stand, the world now faces two existential crises that threaten organized human life as we know it, and life in general on planet Earth. The first one stems from the continued presence of nuclear weapons. The second one comes from global warming. However, while a nuclear war may be preventable, we are not sure about global warming.

Allow me to elaborate.

The world has been faced with a threat from a nuclear war since the end of the Second World War. It is an intolerable threat to humanity, and it may just be the case that we have managed so far to avoid a nuclear holocaust by sheer accident. Global warming, on the other hand, is a certainty. It is already happening, and its effects include excessive heat waves, frequent wildfires, more droughts, greater frequency, intensity and duration of hurricanes, and higher sea levels which will have profound impact on low-lying coastal areas.

The effects of global warming will also be felt most severely on all categories of human movement: displacement, migration, and planned relocation. The data on human movement in the context of the climate emergency is already daunting. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), which has been compiling data since 2008 on displacement due to natural disasters, estimated that between 2008 and 2019 there were 265 million new displacements associated with disasters such as storms, floods, and wildfires. This figure does not include estimates on displacement related to drought or estimates on migration and planned relocation associated with the climate emergency.

The impact of human migration due to the climate crisis is expected to be historically unprecedented. Indeed, a report released by the World Bank in 2018 estimates that that three regions of the world (Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia) will produce 143 million more environmental migrants by 2050.

Global warming is the defining crisis of our time. Climate change has always happened on planet Earth, but there is overwhelming scientific evidence that the Earth's globally averaged temperature surface temperature has been rising due to anthropogenic factors. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment report, human emissions and activities have caused 100 percent of the observed increase in temperature since 1950.

Global warming is human-caused and the culprit is industrial capitalism and its addiction to fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to temperature increases. Scientists have known for decades how exactly carbon dioxide causes global warming. Nuclear physicist Edward Teller warned the oil industry all the way back in 1959 that their product will end up having a catastrophic impact on human civilization.

How much has the global temperature risen in the last 100 years? According to the 2020 Global Climate Report from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, the global annual temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.08 degrees Celsius per decade since 1880, but the average rate of increase since 1981 (0.18 degrees Celsius) has been more than twice that rate.

Moreover, scientific studies have established a proportional correlation between global mean surface air warming and cumulative carbon dioxide emissions. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the 2010, in which emissions from greenhouse gases grew faster over this decade than they did over the previous three decades, were the hottest decade.

Excerpted: ‘Rescuing the Planet Is Still Possible: The Case for a Global Green New Deal’

Commondreams.org