Solving the problem of climate change – an increasingly popular expression that refers to the warming of the planet caused by humans through the emission of carbon dioxide and methane, produced by coal, oil and natural gas – is an increasingly pressing issue. Year after year, the alarm expressed by scientists, officials and activists grows.
The latest report from the world’s leading climate body made a worrying assessment of the possible consequences if nothing is done to contain global warming. More extreme weather events are already being recorded around the world, from more frequent, longer and more intense droughts and heat waves to devastating floods and stronger hurricanes. All these phenomena are attributed at least in part to climate change.
How it got to this point, the current and future effects of climate change, and what to do about it are all issues that experts have been discussing for decades.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This dispatch is part of a series on the most serious problems associated with climate change, the role of science, the impact of global warming and what is being done to deal with this issue.
Action is being taken and mobilization is growing, but the science behind it all is nothing new.
Scientists have been talking about the possibility of some gases and water vapor trapping heat in the atmosphere since the early 1800s. And for the last 60 years, researchers have been noticing an increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, thanks to a CO2 monitoring center in Mauna Loa (Hawaii).
Meteorologists, meanwhile, have known since the mid-20th century that the climate is a “dynamic, constantly changing system, perhaps vulnerable to external forces and disturbances,” according to Martin Mahony, a human geography expert at the University of East Anglia. who studies the history of climate science and its relationship to politics.
Added to this is the certainty that CO2 levels are rising, which made scientists realize that this could be a serious matter.
“In the 1960s, conferences and workshops began to be organized on ‘the CO2 problem.’ Meteorologists, geophysicists and other experts started looking at the impact of this in a very abstract and theoretical way,” Mahony said.
But this theoretical challenge soon became a disturbing reality.
Towards the end of the 1980s, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created to study global warming and whether humans had something to do with it.
Since its first report, in 1990, a clear link has been established between fossil fuels and global warming. Coal, oil and natural gas used to generate electricity, heat, in transportation and in industries such as steel and cement production, along with gases from agriculture and refrigerant gases, are burning the planet.
Scientists say the average global temperature has risen 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 Fahrenheit) since the mid-19th century, intensifying the heat, raising sea levels and causing climate disasters. Experts warn that there will be more climate catastrophes as temperatures rise.
“It’s not just about heat waves, droughts, wildfires and hurricanes. This is going to affect the availability of water, food… It is going to be a national security issue,” said Brown University climate expert Kim Cobb.
People in the least developed nations and in the poorest communities are generally the most vulnerable to climate change. Many ask rich nations, such as the United States and Europe, which are the ones that generate the most pollution, to help poor countries to counteract this phenomenon and reduce their use of fossil fuels. However, it is difficult to agree.
At the 2015 United Nations annual climate conference in Paris, however, it was agreed to limit warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), with the aim that the average increase would not exceed of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit).
The use of alternative fuels to fossils, such as solar and wind energy, must increase significantly if the goals of the Paris agreement can be met, according to experts. It would also be necessary to resort to new technologies, such as carbon capture or “green hydrogen”, although they are currently very expensive and/or not very proven.
Changes in people’s personal lives could also play a role. The main adjustments, however, will have to come from governments and large corporations, rather than from individuals.
Although some effects of climate change are already irreversible, experts believe that it is possible to reduce warming by at least a few tenths, but only if drastic measures are taken in the short term.
The Associated Press’ climate and environment coverage is supported by several private foundations. The HPD is solely responsible for the content.