Written By: Reverend Anton Sawyer
Though the scientific community has human beings under the classification of "homo sapiens," I think they are wrong. In reality, humans should be classified as "Earth cancer." It's truly what we are. We consume, discard, and repeat. Add in the fact that about half the nation thinks nothing they do will have an impact on the environment, and you get a world that is going to be on fire sooner rather than later ... with no hope of that fire slowing down. And that's what today's article is going to look at: how humans view their relationship with climate change and how it may be too late to stop the inevitable—a planet barely hospitable towards human life.
This isn't the first time I've written a piece regarding climate change. In the last one (which I highly recommend you also check out), the focus was more centered around businesses and how their destruction of Earth's environment was predicated on fulfilling the needs of their consumers. Since it was written, new data has surfaced which shows that our trajectory towards imminent human death may have sped up a bit, though the culprit remains the same: us.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for all articles can be found in the bibliography linked here.
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As science evolves and our ability to expand the understanding of our impact on the Earth increases, it allows for numbers and analysis which are utterly terrifying. For decades we have heard the scientific community mention a “point of no return” as a warning. That if we don’t change our ways, there will eventually hit a breaking point where the Earth will become a giant easy-bake oven with humanity being roasted as the main course. Knowing this, the global scientific community got together and pled their case to the world’s leaders to enact some kind of change to prevent this point of no return from becoming a reality. These efforts culminated in the Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement set forth the goal of curbing dangerous climate emissions to limit the increase of the planet’s temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius and have net zero emissions by 2050.
Though I applaud the efforts, I know they will go nowhere. We’ve tried this before with many failures as the result.
It’s important to remember that the Paris Agreement wasn’t the first multi-national treaty signed in which nations promised to enact legislation preventing the increase of carbon emissions. In the early 1990s greenhouse emissions had taken over the news headlines to the point where our nation’s leaders knew something had to be done. Enter the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol saw 192 parties (nations) sign on to combat climate change much in the same way as the Paris agreement when it came to holding countries accountable for their impact on the environment, though not as stringently. It’s been over 30 years since Kyoto and looking through the numbers, it seems that neither the Kyoto Protocol nor the Paris Agreement has done much of anything to reach the goals that were set.
50 billion. As of 2022, that’s how many tons of carbon dioxide are emitted every year from human activities, including transportation and industrial plants, according to research published in 2021 by Our World in Data. This is 40% higher than the 1990 levels when the Kyoto Protocol began.
Per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Greenhouse gas pollution caused by human activities has trapped 49% more heat in the atmosphere in 2021 than it did in 1990. This amount of pollution being poured into our atmosphere has already shown a dramatic effect in the fact that rainwater is no longer safe to consume. According to researchers at the University of Stockholm, as of 2022 rainwater almost everywhere on Earth has unsafe levels of “forever chemicals,” making it unpotable. Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large family of human-made chemicals that don’t occur in nature. They are known as forever chemicals because they don’t break down in the environment. They have non-stick or stain repellent properties like those found in household items like food packaging, electronics, cosmetics, and cookware. And now they have been found in rainwater in most locations on the planet, including Antarctica. The report makes it clear: there is no safe space to escape them.
These numbers are the antithesis of the planned goals. We have known on a global level for decades that the planet was going in the wrong direction. Literally every nation and their scientists have tried to warn us about our consumption of materials and the carbon emissions brought forth as their waste (along with their side effects), for many, many years and nothing has changed in preventing this point of no return. At least, that’s what the data says.
An August 2022 report from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that even if the Paris agreement goals are implemented, a 2.4 degree Celsius rise by 2050 is all but inevitable. In other words, the “worst case” RCP (Representative Concentration Pathway) scenario used in many climate models is actually a baseline. Yes, this means the figure which was once used as a metric to represent a complete climate breakdown is expected to be the reality.
But this isn’t the worst part.
The worst part is that we know what’s happening, we know it’s on our shoulders as a species, and yet we simply do not care. According to a 2022 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, 71% of those polled believe that climate change is definitely happening. Additionally, 66% of respondents believe that climate change is caused "mostly" or "entirely" by human activities. The terrifying part of this poll comes from the fact that only one-third of those same people reported being "extremely" or "very" concerned about climate change's effect on them, which is almost 10 percentage points less than in 2019 when 44% reported feeling as such.
This means we know we are the culprits of this climate change. We know our actions have a definite impact on the world around us. And that we are not concerned in the least. To play the advocate’s Devil, maybe their apathy is coming from a place of helplessness. I mean, if our political leaders are doing things that are directly in opposition to the Kyoto and Paris agreements, how could anything but helplessness be felt?
Speaking of political leaders …
In 2022 President Joe Biden got the Inflation Reduction Act passed and signed into law. Pro-environmental groups like Earth Justice have touted the positive impacts this law will have on the environment. They claim that the bill will invest $369 billion in climate solutions and environmental justice, and it will put us on a path to 40% emissions reduction by 2030 while restoring US credibility to lead climate action on the global stage. Though there is some truth to this, the Devil is ALWAYS in the details. One of those details is how much the bill is actually going to help increase coal production in places like West Virginia.
With how massive the coaling industry is in West Virginia, once Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, the constituents of the state immediately began backlash against Democratic Senator Joe Manchin for not toeing the conservative-coal line that he had been known for throughout his tenure. Their feelings stem from most conservative news outlets excoriating the legislation due to their perception it's just one step closer to the "Green New Deal." When looking at the pork that’s been reserved for the state, it’s apparent that this anger from the conservatives is completely unfounded. So much so that Cecil Roberts, the president of the United Mine Workers of America had to defend Manchin against attacks that the law was bad for the coal industry. "Those who are attacking this legislation ... overlook some pretty obvious benefits of this bill to West Virginia coal miners, like the billions in tax credits for the application of Carbon Capture and Storage technology, which would allow coal-fired power plants to extend their lives for decades," he said in a statement. "This is one of the first times Congress can actually take steps to support the coal industry, which few ever expected." It's true. I highly doubt there were many people who would believe that this bill fighting climate change would ultimately be a gift to the coal industry, but here we are. Given that there are $4 billion in tax credits that provide incentives for manufacturers to build plants in the coalfields, Roberts isn't wrong.
Biden knew he wasn’t going to get the law passed without Manchin and so, like any good politician, allowed for a pet project to occur in the fine print that directly contradicts the intent of the original law. When you know that these are the realities of the giant US government machine, apathy is to be expected.
With how easy fact-checking can occur due to the proliferation of the internet, more people are becoming more educated about the nuances of what those in power are truly getting away with. This knowledge is making people aware that nothing is as it seems and that because of this corroded system, nothing is likely to change for the better—especially when it comes to climate change. From reading the analytics, I feel that the mid-2050s is when we’re going to see a palpable change in our ecosystem. No longer will the environment be something that needs saving, but rather, it will be a fierce enemy to humankind. Remember when I opened this piece by calling humans Earth cancer? It seems the mid-2050s is when Earth will start its own version of chemotherapy.
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