It would not be an overstatement to say that climate change is the greatest crisis facing the human race. The potential warming of our planet and the rising sea levels, famine and drought, and death and mass migration that might follow is an existential threat to the human race, and the life of millions of species which currently reside on Earth and whose delicate ecosystems are threatened by shifting climates.
A UN report has said that we have just 12 years to take action to stop climate change, while environmentalist Prince Charles has told Commonwealth leaders that we have effectively just 18 months to take serious action in order to avoid a climate catastrophe. That means that the crisis is immediate and requires urgent attention and urgent policy solutions in order to avoid potential destruction.
But action is stubbornly slow. In the US, lawmakers have proposed a radical “Green New Deal” to help make the US economy more environmentally friendly and sustainable in order to drive down carbon emissions. But the plan has not received universal take up, and many senior politicians, including the party which put if forward, the Democratic party, remain resistant to adopting it.
So, the question on the lips of people across the world is: can we stop climate change or is it too late? Are we able, and willing, to take big steps to rapidly and radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions which are responsible for the warming of the globe and the changing of the climate, or will world leaders and members of the public refuse to act quickly enough? And, if we fail to meet the deadline and stop climate change from becoming an inevitability is there any way at all that it can be reversed?
Can we stop climate change?
The odds are not in our favour. Even if we were to slam the brakes and immediately stop all greenhouse gas emissions – a very tall, and potentially very economically damaging, order – the carbon dioxide, and other gases, we have already burned will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years, and the current average global temperatures will remain the same. Even if we were to undo all deforestation and radically reform agriculture, no difference would be made.
We cannot reverse the damage done simply by doing that. We would likely also see the continued melting of the polar ice caps, as the temperature of the oceans would continue to rise to catch up with the temperature of the air as the warming of water takes significantly longer. This would only slow the process, rather than stop it, but may allow us to better adapt to the new temperatures.
Can we reverse climate change?
The answer may lie in reversing climate change, rather than stopping it entirely. With the current technology available, that’s impossible, but there is thought being paid to how we can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a much quicker way than the natural process by which plants replace it with oxygen. It seems that there will be a market for those with the knowledge and skills to create the devices that we will need to reverse the damage as quickly as possible, if we are not able to act fast enough, or if, as seems likely, it is now too late to stop it completely.