Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate change activist from Sweden, sailed for 13 days and 18 hours across the Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat powered by wind and solar energy to reach the United Nations Climate Summit in New York. She declined to fly because of the levels of carbon emissions during air travel. On the other extreme is the US President, Donald Trump, who takes a dig at the warriors of climate change saying he does not believe in reports that global warming would wreak havoc. His administration continues to pursue a pro-fossil fuel agenda. Both are extreme positions. A more feasible path lies somewhere in the middle.
One cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that oceans are under severe strain from climate change which threatens the lives of hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts. A recent report says that Indian coastal cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Surat will be greatly threatened due to rise in sea level due to melting of Himalayan glaciers before the end of the century. If so, one can imagine the catastrophe staring at numerous low-lying islands across the planet.
How does greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide make the Earth's atmosphere warmer? A lot of the Sun’s energy reaches the ground directly, and a portion of it is reflected by the ground back into space. The greenhouse gases absorb that energy and redirect it back to Earth as heat. Hence i ncreased presence of greenhouse gases means more heat on the earth’s surface, leading to enhanced global warming. A major portion of the greenhouse gases comes from burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Hence, reduced use of fossil fuel to bring down global warming is the answer to the climate change crisis.
Here comes the conflict between growth and climate change. Economic growth calls for increased use of energy, a major share of which comes from burning fossil fuel. Although production of renewable energy is gaining momentum, oil consumption will continue to be key to meeting energy demand for decades, according to a recent report. If so, greenhouse gases too will be present in a major way in the atmosphere, increasing global warming and effecting climate change.
A reasonable solution to this gigantic problem is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by all countries as agreed upon during the Paris summit in 2015-16. The Summit did not earmark target for each country; instead it left the ‘action plan’ to each individual signatory to determine the target in such way that it helps reduce the presence of greenhouse gases. But the biggest setback came when the US, one of the biggest contributors of carbon emission, withdrew from the Paris Agreement after Trump came to power. However, several countries like India have made progress as they are scaling up their electricity from renewable sources as per the target.
The last word on this count could be what Pope Francis said in his encyclical on ecology Laudato Si: “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years…There is an urgent need to develop policies so that the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced.”(Published on 30th September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 40)