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Climate Change Activism reaches a Boiling Point: Will this time be different?

[Unsplash, Nicholas Doherty]

Roar writer Scarlett Yu on the decades-long fight for climate change action and how activists’ pleas may finally be answered.

On April 22nd, environmentalist activists worldwide assembled in a collective effort to celebrate Earth Day, which is an annual event to push for action in conserving our beautiful planet.

The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970 when United States Senator Gaylord Nelson marked the date because he felt an imperative need to address the environmental crisis and inform people about the importance of preserving our planet. Since then, many have witnessed the devastation that natural disasters brought about by human activity can cause. From extensive oil spills, massive loss in ice, to water and air pollution, the repercussions are so consequential to countless lives around the globe.

In the last fifty years, Earth Day has become the world’s largest civic event. Most importantly, its influence has extended to the American political sphere resulting in profound environmental regulations, such as the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For decades now, protestors on university campuses and in cities across the world have been fighting against the widespread environmental ignorance, which has persisted in part due to business interests.

The Earth’s rising temperature is the root cause of the recent onslaught of environmental mayhem. Mounting greenhouse gas emissions, released by the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy, is the foremost contributor to our hotter planet. According to historical data, the global temperature has risen by about 1 degree Celsius since 1880 with the increase dating back to the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century.

It’s easy to dismiss the minuscule increase in temperature that has taken place over the last one and a half centuries. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the 1 degree increase is defined in global terms as the amount of temperature that adds to the accumulative heat in the planet’s atmosphere. This one degree rise in global temperature since industrialisation means that the wide, explosive start of climate disasters, and climate change is due to human activity. Scientists and activists worldwide have urged people to hit the 1.5 degree climate goal to prevent globe burn and collapse in waves of climate shifts. This is a demanding task, and one that requires seamless, coordinated work between nations.

Despite technological advancements, the very carbon emissions responsible for the temperature rise continue to increase. At this pace, scientists believe that humans would be on course for an environmental catastrophe by the latter half of the 21st century.

The affects of climate change have already been devastating to communities. When Carbon gases enter the atmosphere, it traps a bundle of heat, which continues to grow in abundance and concentration as carbon-based activity enhanced to an extreme extent. This environmentally enclosed heat contributes to the heightened state of global warming, as countries across the world experience a sweeping wave of ecological disruptions and incidents that often cost human lives. The consequence is overwhelmingly destructive, irreversible and, sadly, often remains a social issue ignored by many even for the last few decades.

The persistent obstruction of climate action is reinforced by the toxic nature of humanity. Following years of radical social transitions and upheavals in the 21st century, humans are  distracted by mounting sociopolitical tensions in between nations and groups. Whether it is the ingrained culture of racism, religious conflicts, or sharp political divisions, they have all driven people towards ignorance and a lack of unity over the issue of climate change despite the fact that it will affect all of us.

As a result of continued human inaction, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions have surmounted like never before, with 2021 already being marked as one of the warmest years on record in a global climate report in March. The bastion of negligence towards climate change undeniably is in the United States, where sharp political divisions have stalled progress domestically and deprived the world of a leader in the fight against global warming. Despite being one of the largest carbon emitters, America had played a vital role in driving global efforts towards effective reductions in carbon emission. However, from America’s incompliance in the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997, to an escapist attitude in global warming issues, and the continuous entry and withdrawal of the Paris Climate Agreement due to polarised political landscapes, America wasn’t exactly in the central picture of effective environmental action.

Yet, the newly-elected US President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office and now seeks to restore America’s leadership position in this global climate fight, America has finally marched forward in a crucial step that should’ve been done 25 years ago. The planet that we are so intimately familiarised with may walk on a doomed road of mass environmental disruption and economic collapse unprecedented in human history. Recent environmental disasters have demonstrated it all. While Australian wild fires decimated extensive areas of forest ecosystems, the frozen continent in Antarctica shifted from a state of mere ice drops in the 1990s to disintegrated pieces today. The droughts caused as a result of heated environments also led to water and food shortages.

Equipped with a universal acknowledgement that mounting greenhouse gas emissions could severely effect the planet, leading countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, which was billed as a global effort to tackle the climate crisis and achieve a standardised goal of national reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

For instance, the European Union, which proudly stood as one of the world’s leading climate change action leaders, envisaged a mission to reduce half of the amount of total carbon emissions by 2030, and establish a carbon neutral economy in mid 21st century. Likewise, other countries around the world are also aiming for net zero carbon emissions and seamless transitions to green, renewable energy usage. America, Japan, and many other developed and developing countries have finally cast aside previous differences as they set out a grand plan of economic restructuring for a greener, more sustaining environment.

However, even with this progress, there are still problems stemming from the heat already trapped in the atmosphere that would continue to increase year by year. Thus, industries involved in the use of carbon-emitted electricities are strongly expected to change their usual forms of energy supplies and switch to sources of sustainable energy. In recent years, wind and solar panels have been touted as suitable replacements for traditional energy sources. More and more companies are reshaping their energy sources to accommodate this change.

President Biden referred to the next decade as the “decisive decade” because it offers humanity the last opportunity to save themselves from a global ecological catastrophe. Scientists have issued alarming statements saying that if world leaders failed to contain the rise of global temperatures within 2 degrees celsius, what they call the “global tipping point”, the world would face irreversible climate disasters. Sadly, many people in present society still don’t seem to realise that said disasters are a result of human-made carbon emissions, which have only increased and further intensified this century.

Given the well-documented history of human ignorance towards global warming, what explains the change in attitude and action in responding to the crisis today? Is it necessary to incite fear and distress amongst the general public in order to evoke radical change? In our current situation, the answer is a resounding yes.

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