Silver lining in age of climate change?

November 15, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Martina Rowley

Today’s youth and young adults are being bombarded by negative and anxiety-inducing predictions of what Climate Change is said to do to our Planet, threatening our very survival. No wonder they are scared about their future and mobilising in the hundreds of thousands through Fridays For Future and School Strike 4 Climate initiatives, marches and demonstrations. 

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who started this movement, found her passion and her voice as an environmental activist. Her grit and single-mindedness on the issue are inspirational and much needed, since many governments have been dragging their heels for two decades. 

This level of mobilising the masses for a common cause is fabulous, yet I find it truly sad and disturbing to see and hear young people so hopeless and fearful over their future. I have been pondering whether today’s focus on negative news – in mainstream and (anti-)social media – is painting a gloomier picture than necessary. So, I thought I would look for a silver lining.  

Facing disastrous environmental threats is not new. When I was growing up in Germany in the 80s and later living in the UK, my peers and I feared nuclear warfare, especially between Russia and the USA, because Europe was stuck in the scary middle. We worried about nuclear fallout. Then came global and local threats like acid rain that threatened our forests, waterways, as well as the soil and therefore our food chain. That was followed by the discovery and growing concern over the growing hole in the protective ozone layer that was surely going to give all of us skin cancer. Yet, we survived the threats and fears from those decades, albeit with some emotional stress (which should not be discounted), and these environmental threats were reduced to a now, hopefully, manageable level. 

Acid rain occurs when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (gases released by burning fossil fuels) form acidic compounds in the atmosphere. These fall to earth as precipitation, dry particles or gases. It made waterways toxic to fish and other organisms, destroyed swaths of forests and increased the acidity of soil and therefore affected agricultural and food production and safety. By the 90s, we stopped hearing about acid rain. The introduction of catalytic convertors in motor vehicles began making a difference and the US Congress passed an amendment to the Clean Air Act in 1990 for major reductions in these emissions. Huge reductions were also made by switching from coal to gas and installing “scrubbers” to clean up power station and factory emissions. Emissions from shipping still cause acid rain in coastal areas, and China still experiences it due to their continuation of coal-fired plants. The problem has not gone away but emissions have dropped enormously. According to the US National Emissions Inventory, sulfur dioxide emissions from all sources fell from 31 million tons in 1970 to 2.7 million tons in 2018, and Nitrogen oxides decreased from 26.8 million tons to 10.3 million tons (Source: US Environmental Protection Agency).

The ozone hole also appears to have shrunk. Direct satellite observations show that levels of ozone-destroying chlorine are declining, resulting in less ozone depletion, says NASA. Both these improvements demonstrate clearly that when there’s a will, there’s a way – but someone always must push, really hard! That is what Greta and her followers are doing now. 

It bothers me immensely that government and industry leaders have still not done nearly enough. They fill our ears with talk. That said, everyone has by now heard a great deal about what each of us can and needs to be doing to lower our individual and collective environmental footprint – the onus is on every person, not just the politicians! 

Of note is that there are parts of the world that will benefit. In a warmer climate, farmers in Denmark and Canada will enjoy longer and more productive growing seasons. Cold weather deaths will fall, particularly in northern latitudes. Even in the 21st century and in developed countries, cold weather kills 20 times as many people as hot weather. A study published in the British journal, The Lancet, found that from 1985–2012 across 13 countries there were 5.4 million cold-related deaths (and 311,000 heat-related). These included countries with various socio-economic backgrounds and varying climates. In 2009, University of Sussex environmental economist, Richard S.J. Tol, reviewed a dozen studies from 1994–2006 on the economic effects of climate change and estimated that climate change could provide a net 1.5% increase to global economic output by 2025, reducing to 1.2% increase by 2050 (before starting to harm economic output after 2080). 

In closing, I want to say: Dear Youth – Please don’t focus on all the dire predictions for your future. While all of us, together, can and need to do more, the past has shown that many negative predictions don’t come true, so don’t stop being ‘just a kid’ and don’t fear something that may not happen as forecast. 

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.