Kianna Marquez: New year, same climate vulnerability

Tuesday, January 8, 2019 - 6:48pm

Though we are basking in the light of the new year, we cannot forget an utterly devastating realization that the world came to after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report regarding global warming near the end of 2018: Continued human activity causing greenhouse gas emissions will raise the global temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040, predictably causing severe and unprecedented effects of climate change. Perhaps the most feared aspect of this issue is the unknown and the questions that arise from the sole phrase “climate change”. We have come to connote this phrase as something that we should be fearful of, but why? In essence, I believe that when we choose to come to terms with the issues of climate change and educate ourselves on what must be done to prevent it, then we will open ourselves up to a collective that will make the large-scale effort feasible. Furthermore, it is crucial to outline how the effects of the predicted climate change will affect all of our lives, not to strike fear into your hearts but for the reason that we will all be able to do more when we know more.

As a result of increased global warming, public health, food and water security, human security and international economic growth are likely subject to risks by climate change. The IPCC is highly to moderately confident that increased global temperatures will cause complications for the livelihood of disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, intensify the risks of ozone-related illnesses and vector-borne diseases and minimize the net yields of crops among major continents. As we continue activities that increase the overall temperature of the atmosphere, we are making ourselves more susceptible to disease and impoverished conditions in underprivileged areas. Ultimately, this exemplifies how the populations of all lifeforms susceptible to calamities will not be the ones who are directly contributing to the damage, and thus spur arguments that global injustice has become prominent in the wake of self-propelling maneuvers made by world leaders. Not only will we be affected by the complications created for our public health, but we will also be responsible for the leaders we choose to direct our state towards just or injust climate action.

Current pathways that have been suggested for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will require rapid and extensive transitions in energy, land, urban infrastructure and industrial systems. The IPCC is highly confident that the use of existing technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in industry will be limited by economic capacity and large-scale industrial capacity. Additionally, the transition of urban infrastructure will be limited by institutional and socio-cultural barriers. Finally, the transition of agricultural land use will be limited by technological and environmental barriers across regions. As we take steps that attempt to reduce the overall temperature of the atmosphere, we will be challenged by the interconnection of the sectors within our society that will be affected accordingly. As a result, people of all societal sectors will have to develop effective methods of collaboration and diplomacy as we look to compromise on the optimal way to proceed with generating solutions.

While we maintain hope that we can alleviate the climate change issue with the correct action, it is important to understand that the scale of adaptation that will be necessary if we fail to completely mitigate these issues may not be of a capacity that is feasible to us. The IPCC is moderately confident that while there are dozens of adaptation options for reducing the risk to natural and managed ecosystems, sea level rise and economic growth in urban areas and adaptation to ecosystems, food and health systems will likely be more challenging. This is due to the adaptation capacity of these vulnerable regions becoming more limited with increased warming. Furthermore, it is important that we begin to strategize how we can eliminate the issues posed by climate change completely rather than prepare to adapt to the repercussions, because it is unlikely that successful and total adaptation will be possible.

Despite my worries regarding global warming and climate change, I am confident that the steps taken by institutions hosting leaders in public research and initiatives towards developing solutions for these large-scale environmental issues will continue growing in significance and thus contribute to implemented solutions. As a part of the Blue Sky Initiative formed during the end of 2017, a team composed of professors, directors and program managers within various schools at the University of Michigan was created in the summer of 2018 to create the Global CO2 Initiative. The objective of this team is to research and identify commercially sustainable approaches that can be pursued to reduce global CO2 emissions using a system-level process of technology assessment, technology development and commercialization. Principal investigator Volker Sick, a professor at the University, has expressed the team’s eagerness to follow through with the initiative in a statement following the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in December 2018, “The conclusion of COP24 in Poland we believe marks the end of official climate diplomacy and begins the era of climate action. Carbon management technologies and policies will be part of this new era and we are excited about sharing in this mission with all of you.”

Kianna Marquez can be reached at kmarquez@umich.edu.