Paris and the Fate of the Earth
By 2015, the world had warmed by 0.8ºC from pre-industrial levels. Today, it has warmed by at least 1.1ºC. The Paris meeting set a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC – or if that target could not be achieved, then at least to a level “well below” 2ºC. The world has just experienced the hottest June on record, and at the time of writing, July is heading in the same direction, with predictions that August will also exceed past records. Last summer’s heatwaves killed more than 60,000 people in Europe alone, and an unknown (but undoubtedly much larger) number worldwide. This year will be significantly worse.
James Hansen, the scientist whose testimony to the US Senate in 1988 was the first well-publicized warning of the dangers of global warming, has said that our failure to elect leaders committed to reducing this danger means that we are “damned fools” who “have to taste it to believe it.” But even now that we have felt the heat, will we do enough? We need to stop burning fossil fuels, but without technological breakthroughs, that will require substantial changes in our lifestyle. It isn’t clear that our political leaders have the courage to enact measures that will impose those changes on us.
There is one thing we can all do: stop eating meat. Greenhouse-gas emissions from farmed animals make a major contribution to global warming. We can cut those emissions immediately by switching to a largely plant-based diet. That change needs no new technologies and would give us more time to make the more difficult switch to clean energy. Moreover, because most of the world’s grain and soy exports are fed to animals, reducing meat production would ease the food shortages caused by Russia’s attack on Ukraine. – Peter Singer, July 2023
The lives of billions of people, for centuries to come, will be at stake when world leaders and government negotiators meet at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of the month. The fate of an unknown number of endangered species of plants and animals also hangs in the balance.
At the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, 189 countries, including the United States, China, India, and all European countries signed on to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and agreed to stabilize greenhouse-gas emissions “at a low enough level to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
So far, however, no such stabilization has taken place, and without it, climate feedback loops could boost rising temperatures further still. With less Arctic ice to reflect sunlight, the oceans will absorb more warmth. Thawing Siberian permafrost will release vast quantities of methane. As a result, vast areas of our planet, currently home to billions of people, could become uninhabitable.