That’s the 130 billion dollars a year question. As we slide head-first into the untold catastrophe that will wipe out swathes of our own species and others, obliterate habitable and arable land, bring uncontrollable and devastating weather patterns, and knock the economy to its knees, we must find a quick and easily applied solution. That’s the understatement of the newly defined epoch of the world’s history; the Meghalayan Age. Estimated to have started 4200 years ago, this new era began following cataclysmic warming which brought a world-round drought that all but wiped out civilisations of the time as agricultural societies like ancient Egypt struggled to recover from the shift in climate. While today the post-apocalyptic entertainment genre may be thriving due to high-end special effects and courageous individuals fighting for their survival in a barren wasteland, soon the visuals we enjoy on the screen may be right outside our windows, void of attractive and toned renegades on a personal mission to save humanity. In order to prevent a similar culling of our own civilisation and the environment we inhabit, our lifestyles, businesses and material use need a drastic and thorough overhaul starting now and continuing into the future of our species.
First off, the overwhelming contributor to our impending demise is the colourless haze of greenhouse gases accumulating above our heads. Measured to weigh in at 410 parts per million of carbon dioxide just this year, the suffocating smog is trapping heat from the sun in and cooking the planet like a ready meal in the microwave with the plastic cover intact. Governments across the world continue to make pacifying policies to cut emissions down to levels in the 1990s, but since the temperatures in the nineties were already at 0.3 degrees Celcius warmer than baseline, even that 70% drop from today’s emissions won’t stop the coming super-storm. There is no alternative than for the whole of the globes countries and international air and waterways to become not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative immediately.
Cutting carbon emissions or even removing them entirely will not be enough. We will bulldoze through the remaining carbon budget to limit temperatures to a one and a half degrees rise in a few short years, and the two degrees budget in about two decades. Heavy investments must be made into carbon sinks; from massive forests of being planted, to carbon capture technologies that somehow suck up existing carbon in the atmosphere. It’s unlikely, however, that any one of these burgeoning technologies will solve this unsurmountable problem on its own. There’s a naive cohort of people who believe that we can continue with our polluting, business as usual, approach to carbon emissions because these future systems will be able to ctrl-z all the emissions caused. What innocent belief we still have in the human race. Carbon capture technologies are still in their infancy, and won’t be commercially viable for international rollouts for years yet. Since carbon has the dogged persistence of sticking around for 40 years after its creation, we’re already set for a 0.6 degree Celcius warming from our past emissions.
Our reliance on the resources that produce this chemical fog must be circumvented immediately. Despite the progression that fossil fuels have allowed society, at least in the industrialised world, it’s time to give it up, like removing the stabilisers from a child’s bike. The uninhibited use of the most damaging materials on earth must be curbed. Massive taxes need to be enforced onto companies who use fossil fuels in their operations, and despite their protests, they’ll surely find a way to protect their profits. Nations must take a leaf out of Sweden and The Republic of Ireland’s new manifestos for the future and swiftly divest from fossil fuels.
Consumption, overwhelmingly in the Global North, must be evaded. Our reliance on new stuff, more stuff, shinier stuff is putting a massive strain on the earth resources. We must be more selective in the products we allow into our lives and homes and question the origin, material make up, and other indirect impacts that an innocent pre-packaged sandwich, new phone, or sofa may be reeking on the natural world. The way we dispose of such goods must be streamlined and carefully managed to return as usable materials rather than build upon our reduced land space. Materials that are not fundamentally organic matter and therefore biodegradable need to be phased out to reduce the strain on natural ecosystems.
And the most unpalatable solution of all; limit the rise of our swelling population. With an estimated 10 billion people living, consuming, and damaging the planet by 2050, our already strained planet will be pushed to its limit. This is not a solution we can do the usual and tut at poorer nations while handing out condoms; with the average baby born in the Western hemisphere growing up to have a carbon footprint 65x bigger than one born in the poorest African nations, it’s us that will be in need of family planning.
To avoid the worst effects of climate change, trillions of tonnes of greenhouse gases must be removed from the atmosphere, and activities that spew it must be halted. These actions will cost a couple per cent of global GDP – about the same percentage poured into defence spending every year. Without such little expenditure on the grand scheme of things, the planet that all else is dependant on, including the sacrosanct chambers of business, will be irreparably damaged. If a war must be fought the prize may just be a world too damaged to pillage.
Above all else, this new format of living in coherence with nature rather than against must become the new norm. Like those who thought ideas that the world was round was nonsense, ignorance to the fact of climate change and hesitancy to circumvent it will go down in history as another one of the unlearned decisions from one of humanities archaic eras. That is, if we make it past this point.