Back in our school days, we were made to believe that planting a tree on our birthday, or biking instead of using a car, can help us “save” our environment. We cut to 2022, wherein researchers suggest that every tenth of a degree of additional warming will escalate threats to people, species, and ecosystems. As we see climate change unfold before our eyes, we are forced to wonder whether our contribution amounts to anything.
When Greta Thunberg put world leaders to shame by saying, “I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is” back in 2019, the discourse on climate change gained a newfound momentum, entering school classrooms and parliament houses with equal propensity. Three years later, South Asia witnessed a heat wave that claimed more than 90 lives, northern India is experiencing its fifth heat wave, and temperatures have reached a record 49.2 degrees in Delhi.
The days when the climate was determined by solar cycles and organic weather patterns are long gone – human activities have been the primary cause of climate change since the 1800s, primarily due to the extensive use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas. According to the latest report from a United Nations climate panel, the adverse effects of climate change are worsening much faster than scientists predicted less than a decade ago.
The combustion of fossil fuels produces greenhouse gas emissions, which act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the heat of the sun and raising the temperatures. Statistics warn us that adverse impacts of global warming are unavoidable and will hit the most vulnerable populations of the world hardest. While large-scale collective action from governments to curb greenhouse gas emissions seems like the only way to prepare communities to avert the worst outcomes of global warming, we are forced to wonder whether turning off the lights when not in use, works anymore.
Being aware of the effects brought in by climate change, we must think about how we can confront them. That being said, activists like Thunberg give hope to us that our voices have power. We would either enjoy the fruits or bear the burdens of any actions taken today. A few years from now, we will become world leaders, and the world we live in may suffer a new type of refugee crisis, consisting of people who are nothing but climate migrants – fleeing their homes that are no longer safe or able to provide livelihoods. And at this rate, the planet might not even be habitable after a century.
The efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through various mitigation measures—phasing out fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency, adopting renewable energy sources, improving land use and agricultural practices—continue to move forward, but the pace is too slow. We have to scale up and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. Simultaneously, we must acknowledge that climate change is already occurring and affecting the lives of millions of people.
It is no surprise that we are worried about global warming, considering that the members of the Millennial and Gen Z generations will experience the most severe impacts of climate change within their lifetime. In line with the view that climate change needs to be addressed today, a majority believes that several public and private actors are not doing enough to help reduce climate impact.
We can avoid this bleak future if we reduce emissions, offset what cannot be reduced, and adapt to new climate realities. There are effective policies, regulations, and market instruments. If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they have the potential to support significant emissions reductions while also stimulating innovation. That being said, we can be certain that inaction is our greatest enemy, and denying the existence of a climate crisis will not alleviate the problem. And while turning off unnecessary lights and fans and relying less on air-conditioners is not a bad idea, now is the time for us to demand accountability from those in power and force them to panic as much as we do for our future.
K. R. Swathi is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Maria Aqdas