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SOLUTIONS 10/8: Can we save ourselves, and how?

By Huck Fairman

Reports on and opinions as to how we can save ourselves from the worsening climate crisis have been increasingly appearing in the media. The PBS News Hour and the New York Times have presented recent efforts that are underway and need to be widely adopted.

An environmental meeting in Italy focused on what world leaders need to do in the upcoming UN Climate Summit in Glasgow at the end of this month. Global temperatures continue to rise as national pledges to reduce greenhouse gases go “unmet.” And even if every nation keeps its climate promises to reduce emissions, it is now expected that those emissions will rise, looking ahead to 2030. UN Secretary General Guterres warned that we are “still on a catastrophic pathway.”

Globally it is acknowledged that the rich nations need to, and have the ability to, lead in reducing emissions. There have been promises that they will contribute $100 billion per year to address the problem, but so far no money has been put on the table. One result is that there are now deep diplomatic tensions between rich and poor nations.

Driving these tensions are the facts that climate change “exacerbates” poverty, poor health, hunger, displacement, and conflict in the poorer nations.

Here, President Joe Biden has proposed climate legislation, along with a number of other initiatives, but so far the question as to whether or not Congress will sufficiently unite to pass the needed legislation has not been answered. Will Congress deliver the necessary funding?

As we await the answer to that question, The Pope has given his blessings to young people trying to make their voices heard about the future. And in many nations, younger citizens are working to pressure their governments to act on this issue, while opposition is evident among older generations.

The climate crisis has stirred a number of responses worldwide. Among them, in Italy, is a new “living” laboratory designed to evaluate the impacts of climate change on the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding countries. Researchers have created “a living laboratory,” the Santa Theresa Smart Bay, in the Ligurean Sea which will combine modern technology and biological ecosystems. There, they are growing a farm of invertebrates, bryozoans, to measure pollution and heat. The bryozoans are microscopic organisms that grow shells over their bodies. But acidity, from increasing heat and pollution reduces their shell growth, allowing researchers to measure the unhealthy changes.

The Mediterranean is becoming a center of extreme weather, even generating hurricanes and huge rain falls, and scientists want to learn what will be necessary to preserve the fishing and tourism industries in particular, along with the residing populations.

It is to be hoped that all of these efforts will help understand and curb the world’s growing emissions and heat before they exceed our ability to control them.

But a complex Times editorial by Harvard professor of applied physics, David Keith, describes the difficult climate situation and the two perhaps even more complex primary means of reducing emissions and cooling the Earth. In addition to reducing emissions, one or both of two other approaches to limiting or reducing warming will be necessary: namely carbon capture or removal, and/or solar geoengineering.

Because the heat already in the global system will take a very long time to reduce, removal or geoengineering, or again, both, will likely be necessary. But each comes with physical, social, and political problems. Furthermore, there has not been sufficient research to conclusively tout one approach over the other. But Keith concludes that our situation is serious enough for the world to try both approaches, as we need both speedy reductions and effective preventions against increasing heat. And this must be done in the face of political, economic, and scientific or technological challenges.

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