Before I had my little girls, I have to admit that while I was always quite happy to say that, yes, I believed that man-made climate change was occurring, and I had a basic idea of the science behind it, I did not understand how short the time frames at which its impact might start to be felt were, or what its likely impact here in Australia might be. In short I did not really know about its very real threat to the health and happiness of my children and others children through their lives.
I also had a kind of loose idea about what we needed to do to fix the problem. I stopped flying in aeroplanes for a few months and thought about recycling more, and eating less meat… then I read a few articles that said it couldn’t be easily solved without us all returning to subsistence farming and I felt a bit helpless.
Then I had my little girls. So I wanted to get educated ASAP on the current state of affairs, likely impacts for my family and what the solution might really look like.
It’s not surprising that I wasn’t very well versed in the first place in the technicalities of climate change and its likely impact in my country. I still find that information presented by the leading climate change bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is too detailed for the short time I have to read articles, and it takes a long time to find the key and most important facts I am interested in. Articles in the news, even those written by excellent journalists, are typically going to be about specific aspects not the whole picture and again I find they often take a while to get to the point, or are overly detailed, and I lose interest reading in the short time I have between the various things I have to do to look after my girls, live and work. And don’t get me started on how hard it often is to figure out exactly where articles get their original data and opinions from.
So I set up my website Climate K.I.S.S. as an attempt to present information on climate change in simple and succinct ways. I want to present an article that condenses some key points about climate change, its likely impacts on my kids here in Australia, the time frames it is likely to operate under and what we can do about it. I will attempt, as I do with all my articles and blog posts, to link to the relevant references and sources. Like I say on my about page, I am not an expert in climate science, but I am an environmental scientist with a keen interest in presenting scientific information simply and clearly.
With 2°C or less of warming of global average temperature we lose the coral reefs and it’s a bit of a heart breaking scenario but still a healthy future for my kids and my nieces. But at 4 °C, large parts of the world, especially the tropics (including large sections of Australia) become uninhabitable for humans. Sea levels will rise by metres. Regular, extreme heat waves will occur in most parts of the globe and crops will fail. For my little girls, who were born in 2014 and 2016, and will be 86 and 84 in the year 2100, this could mean going hungry, seeing riots in the street over food, having to stay indoors in air conditioning for long periods or suffer dangerous heat strokes, seeing growing inequality and social unrest. (Sources, IPCC Fifth Assessment report, this article and this article). Their health and safety would be in peril, and imagine how scared they would be for their own children’s future. Some scientists argue that if we see average temperature rises above 4°C then we could see the permafrost melting, leading to large releases of methane and carbon dioxide (climate change gases), leading to mass extinction across the globe, and the collapse of society. So we really don’t want a world for our kids that warms by 4°C.
The best case (keeping warming to 2°C as the Paris Agreement calls for) requires that we all start doing all we can to switch to renewable energy use where possible, using available technology. But keeping warming to 2°C will also probably rely on technologies not yet developed, which I will explore in my next article (e.g. BECCS, which stands for “bio-energy with carbon capture and storage”) or a healthy slowing down of our economies (de-growth). And then there’s that decidedly uncheery but informative article from the New York Times, which points out that “no plausible program of emissions reductions alone can prevent climate disaster.” The author then goes on to point out that to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement by 2050, carbon emissions from energy and industry have to fall by half each decade; emissions from land use (deforestation, methane from cows, etc.) will have to reach an average of zero; and we will need to invent technologies to extract as much atmospheric carbon annually as all of the plants on the planet currently do (see also here and here) Some climate change scientists, such as Wallace Smith Broecker also put hope in untested “geoengineering” which while offering potential solutions may also have serious side effects. I wish there was a clearer sense of consensus about the worst case scenarios, but I guess in a way there is: We have to do all we can to cool the globe as much as possible, and find ways to adapt to rising temperatures, as soon as possible! An article by a respected US climate change science lecturer argues that 4°C is to be expected due to our global slow uptake of technology, and the 0.6°C warming that will occur even if we stopped burning fossil fuels today. He advises his students to start thinking about adaptation. But one of the godfathers of climate change science, James Hansen, advises that we cannot spend too long above even 1°C of warming (which we have already passed) without risking dangerous runaway climate change. He stresses the need for better soil management and reforestation as well as development of the previously mentioned carbon extraction technologies that we hope will extract carbon from the atmosphere, with an early example coming from Climeworks in Switzerland. The IPCC’s Assessment reports offer many ideas around mitigation and adaptation and I will be expanding on these in my next article.
Basically we have to throw everything we can at this sucker of a problem and then hope that our best and brightest will also come up with some brilliant and effective ideas. But we do have to do our best with the technology available now to give the world a chance!! If you want to find out more and get involved in a collective way, then you can get involved in a number of organisations such as Beyond Zero Emissions, the Climate Emergency Declaration, Stop Adani, and plenty of others here in Australia.
When I first realised how scary the future might look for my little girls, I have to say it made me sad. I quietly, and hopefully not too obviously, cried a few times when I gave my little girls a cuddle, because it all felt a bit scarier than I realized. But I’ve been keeping optimistic, drawing on the great ideas on positivity of Mama Gena (no she has nothing to do with climate change she’s just my go-to author for positive thinking ideas), and trying to take time to recharge and build my resilience. Getting to the best case scenario is going to be hard even with the best will and intent and will likely require new technology or new ideas. But lets get up to speed now by doing all that we can, find ways to become or support business leaders and innovators who can drive sustainable technology. It sure makes the climate criminals that are not protecting our kids futures look pretty lousy, doesn’t it.
So I am on a search for positive uplifting climate news. I read articles about the wonderful Angela Merkel standing up for renewables and the French banning petrol and diesel vehicles and get excited about Elon Musk and his massive battery for South Australia, companies like Local Volts and Zen Energy taking on the big energy retailers here in Australia, and recent announcements from India, China and California.
I want to find my own small ways to be a hero just like these folks and I am heartened by their exciting endeavours. So I feel proud of our solar panels on our roof, the green electricity option I have chosen from the power company to supplement the solar panels, and the fact that I have my superannuation with a company that tries not to invest in fossil fuels.
And then I get excited about the opportunities for ongoing education and learning about what we can all do to make a difference. And the growing movement of voices for change like Australia’s Stop Adani campaign. I know that by making small changes ourselves it might not be enough, that we need government and industry action too. So we need to be part of a movement greater than ourselves. But if our movement includes making the changes we can now (some tips on my website: https://climatekiss.com/a-little-to-do-list/), reminding and educating politicians of the importance of climate change mitigation, and educating ourselves on what we can do to help the planet (and possibly help ourselves at the same time – e.g. some of Naomi Klein’s ideas, and new takes on economics such as Doughnut Economics), then we are supporting the right industries, doing all we can, and getting ready to support any new breakthroughs that come about. Over 30 % of Queensland dwellings have rooftop solar panels. Imagine if that was 100%.
My little niece recently started her first environmental research project for school. She’s 7. She wants to help save the sea creatures, so she is thinking about keeping rubbish out of the ocean. I mentioned to her that more renewable energy would also keep the oceans less polluted from bad air. There’s no current consensus on when to teach your children about climate change. It’s their future but its heavy stuff for our precious little ones. So lets teach them about saving the sea creatures so that we don’t scare them too early, but that they might help us save the planetary climate for themselves, our precious kids, too.
While I am sure it is important to talk to people who don’t believe that man-made climate change is occurring, especially when they are in powerful positions, I am much more interested in activating the people who do believe it’s occurring. If like me, you have not realized how important taking action is, or you have let yourself be disheartened, then lets just pick ourselves up and get on with it. We know we have to learn how to cook healthy food for our kids. Let’s learn how to save our planet for them too (and our nieces, our nephews, our friend’s kids…not to mention the critters).
I feel like we are living in a movie. I am a bit player in a movie starring Tom Cruise as Elon Musk, Russell Crowe as Steven Hawking and Lena Denham as the IPCC’s Christiana Figueres. We don’t know if we can save the climate for our kids. But we have to. So let’s do this!
Please check out my website and my blog (www.climatekiss.com). The website content especially aims to be a short and sweet introduction to the big issues of climate change, its seriousness and its mitigation and adaptation.
Heidi Edmonds has a PhD in Environmental Science in River Ecology from Griffith University. As the mother of two young girls she is using her science communication background to activate and educate about the pressing issue of climate change. She gets excited about communicating science and data (especially about this most important issue of climate change mitigation) in simple and concise ways. She also digs using the power of the positive to make change!
Thanks to Eve White, Guy Lane, Julie Lovell and Knox Lovell for input to the article.
Image Credit: Allef Vinicius
Note: The currently accepted best case scenario is limiting warming of the global average temperature to 1.5-2°C by 2100 (with respect to the reference period 1986–2005) as per the Paris Agreement’s goal. As to the worst case, business as usual scenario by 2100, IPCC is tracking at around 4°C (3.7°C actually: IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers, Table SM2, p 23, the RCP8.5 scenario results in the mean likely temperature increase by 2081-2100 being 3.7 °C, calculated with respect to the reference period 1986–2005, see also this World Bank article).