One way to think about this is through the lens of climate justice, across time and space! Time, because this is about generational justice. Space, because it’s just as much about geographic justice.
Choosing not to act on climate change is like happily spending past our credit limit, and feeling the pain at the end of the month when the debts pile up! The older ones among us might not be around when the worst of the creditors come to collect, but who will be left with the bill?
We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change, which will only continue to accelerate and worsen. Extreme weather, like heatwaves and droughts, floods and snowstorms, are already becoming more commonplace, and are expected to increase in frequency.
Changes in rainfall and other factors mean that dry regions are expected to get drier, and wet regions wetter.
Did you know that the ocean’s acidity is now rising faster than it’s ever done in the past 65 million years? Our oceans are already 26% more acidic from absorbing excess carbon dioxide from the air. It’s started to stress our corals, oysters, mussels and other marine life.
What about our wildlife, won’t they adapt?
Many species are trying hard, but climate change is happening too fast for them to keep up. With spring coming earlier, birds are nesting sooner, and butterflies are arriving ahead of schedule. Many won’t make it, and it’s not just about our polar bears (although research expects that only one-third of them will survive to 2050).
Up to one-third of our plant and animal species are not likely to survive warming of 20C to 30C. How are they coping? They’ve already started running – up cool mountains or poleward toward cooler lands. What about slowpokes like trees, plants, frogs and little mammals? They’re likely to be left behind.
What about water?
We all depend on clean water. Did you know that every degree of warming pushes another 7% of us closer to water scarcity? By 2050, around the time when our kids reach our age, it’s likely that a billion people will be living in cities with water shortages.
Without clear climate action, what kind of a chaotic world will our young people today have to live in?
Who’s paying the price? Most of us will be, but some much more than others. Research shows that the people most harmed by catastrophic climate change tend to be those least responsible for the problem.
Take fish for example. With a warming of 20C, global fish stocks are expected to fall, but unequally. By 2055, high-latitude regions are expected to catch 30% to 70% more fish.
Where are these fish coming from? They’re escaping waters that are becoming too hot for them to handle, such as in the warming tropics. These include small island nations and poor countries in Asia, Africa and South America, where catch is expected to fall by 40% to 60%. China, Japan and South Korea might be more resilient in adapting to these changes, but may still be harmed.
Crop harvests are another example, as many cereal crops react poorly to high temperatures. Did you know that because the tropics are already so hot, all it takes is for it to warm by 10C to 20C for harvests to worsen?
Rice harvests in China are expected to fall by 10% with 10C warming; double that at 30C. However, longer growing seasons are expected in the cold North, like Russia, Canada and northern Europe; even Finland by the end of this century!
Research by the World Resources Institute showed that the United States and the European Union pumped in over half of the total carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere between 1850 and 2011. China, the world’s factory, pumped in 11%.
What about today? The Norwegian University of Science and Technology recently published research which calculated our average carbon footprint, based on household consumption.
Crucially, this includes the emissions incurred in making the goods and services we consume. What does this mean? If the product was made for you to use, the emissions from making it accrue to you, the consumer – not the factory worker. Here’s what they found:
The average footprint of a person in the United States is 18.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year; in Australia it’s 17.7 tonnes, in Canada 14.6 tonnes, in the United Kingdom 13.3 tonnes, and in Denmark 12.2 tonnes.
In contrast, in India this comes in at 0.8 tonnes, in Indonesia 1.3 tonnes, and in China 1.8 tonnes.
Worldwide, the average footprint was calculated to be 3.4 tonnes.
Climate justice is important, and acting on climate change is a common challenge that unites us all – no matter how old we are, or where we live.
How might we understand our past and future role in climate change, to take responsibility for our own actions, and empower ourselves as agents of change?
What does your carbon footprint look like?
How will climate change impact you or your kids where you live?