This was originally written as an essay in 2015 based on a New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert entitled “A New Climate-Change Danger Zone?” and reflects my opinions at the time.
Much has changed in the world and the climate crisis has only gotten worse and my understanding of that crisis as well as the social inequalities it exposes and exacerbates has deepened substantially.
In “A New Climate-Change Danger Zone?”, a 2015 article form The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert seeks to find the answer to a question which has been vexing politicians, scientist, and the general public for decades: How much does the climate have to change for it to be “dangerous”?
To begin, Kolbert turns her attention to the Copenhagen Accord of 2009, an agreement led by President Obama, which determined that we should be able to avoid danger if we manage “to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius”. While the Copenhagen Accord was certainly a monumental moment in the fight against climate change, did it go far enough? Not according to the “former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies”, James Hansen and his colleagues whose findings were published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.
Hansen, and his fellow others, concluded not only that Antarctic ice sheets will be melting at much higher rates than previously determined, leading to sooner rapid sea level rise, but that “a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius would put the world well beyond ‘danger’, leading to “severely disruptive consequences for human society and ecosystems”.
While some of his peers have criticized some of Hansen’s methods and referred to him as being an “alarmist”, it doesn’t change the fact that the 2 degrees Celsius threshold is not enough to avoid disaster, and represents “more a reflection of what seemed politically feasible than what is scientifically advised”. What’s worse is that, even though the Copenhagen threshold doesn’t go far enough, we have truly surpassed the point of no return in which it was preventable to increase global temperatures by that amount. It is no longer a question of “if we can prevent global temperatures by increasing that amount?”, but “when will it increase by that amount?”.
It is an unfortunate reality, but the Copenhagen Accord was truly representative, not of science, but political feasibility. In an ideal world, international governments would have been able to sit down, set goals, and immediately begin to enact change based on scientific recommendations for the sake of the earth and all life on it, but that just isn’t reality. In fact, I applaud the governments of the world for at least making some effort as it does enact some levels of change and does increase public awareness on the issue, where the greatest potential for change truly lies. Now, that doesn’t mean that I believe governments shouldn’t be doing more, or that we should simply give up since we have practically surpassed the point of no return. In fact, I believe that out of all of the challenges we face as humankind, this is the one that is most worth fighting for, and the one which we should never give up on.
One of the biggest problems facing humanity is one that we have created ourselves. And while many aspects of it are now irreversible, it is our responsibility to our home and future generations to keep on fighting the good fight.