When politicians want to pay lip service to preventing climate change they often speak about phasing out fossil fuels and switching over to clean energy. Obviously there is nothing wrong with what these politicians are saying, but only speaking about this aspect of climate change ignores a few other issues. Climate change is framed as something that we need to prevent, but actually it’s something that we need to reverse. Temperatures are already rising, ice caps are already melting, and oceans are already becoming more acidic. If policy-makers are going to make a substantial difference, measures to reverse the existing damage are essential.
The focus on green energy, energy efficiency and so on is important to reduce carbon emissions but energy is not the only source of carbon emissions. Energy, of course, is an important factor as most human activities whether its industry, transport, healthcare etc. all require a steady supply of energy. Nevertheless, other activities generate a large amount of carbon, and are often neglected.
One of these examples is in agriculture. Agriculture accounts for approximately 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and this is because animals excrete methane. Methane is 23 times more damaging to the atmosphere, in the context of the greenhouse effect, than carbon dioxide. Also methane is cannot be metabolised by plants, whereas carbon dioxide can be. I’m not saying that the solution is for humans to not farm animals for food, because that would be hypocritical as I eat meat, but there have been advances in technology in recent years that make reducing the amount of meat in our diets less daunting. Further, by reducing the amount of meat we eat and replacing it with plant-based substitutes, more plants would be grown and the carbon in the atmosphere would be reduced.
But there are real world consequences of climate change that are being felt currently. Because of ocean acidification coral reefs around the world are being irreparably damaged. Further, irregular weather patterns have already begun which have caused socio-economic and geopolitical problems. Extracting the carbon that already exists in the atmosphere is required in order to ‘reset’ the planet.
Above I mentioned how plants use carbon dioxide to respire. This is well known knowledge but for many people, especially those in power, preventing deforestation is seen as a secondary issue rather than a part of the solution to the realities of climate change. Planting trees not only improves people’s quality of life but reduces pollution. Environmental problems are all inter-related but policy-makers are only concerned with those headline issues that are popular with the electorate. Tackling climate change is a popular policy, but ending something like deforestation is decidedly unsexy.
The consequences of climate change are already being felt and the response has to be based in empiricism, not what is politically expedient. The work of scientists, activists, and educators in promoting the cause of climate change has been successful, but we need to begin other problems to climate change. If deforestation continues, if our diets do not change, if our approach to economic development does not change, we will not beat climate change. We need to change this mindset because eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels is not everything.