In the broad scope and importance of environmental risks awareness, one’s conservationism can get lost in a myriad of terms, views and meanings. Environmental and world issues like – resource scarcity, labor concerns, deforestation, climate change, and biodiversity loss – are no longer singular and rare but persistent and growing challenges in a global scale. Yet cherry picking the bad news remains rife. As NCAR Scientist Simone Tilmes said, “Geo-engineering the planet doesn’t cure the problem.”
Taking an approach that views environmental and world issues too narrowly can obscure the full picture. The question remains, what could come from all the present environmental cries that kill millions of people each year and cause loss of arable land below 220 vertical feet of the sea? We can call it, the risks that bite back.
Maybe, we are flying through an ice more dangerous than storm. We knew today’s technological era can translate environmental and social risks into relevant analysis and practical strategies that are actually convertible to human needs.
In a study by US Energy Information Administration, more than 13% of the world energy consumption is from renewable energy sources. And in less than 7 years, offshore wind will be competitive with fossil fuels. Moreover, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, Mark Z. Jacobson, proclaimed that presently, we have enough wind and solar energy to supplement the ballooning demand to power the world. A cover story by Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi, outlined the plan to power 100% of the world using wind, water and solar technologies by installing millions of wind turbines, water machines and solar installation. New data and analysis on temperature change have clearly position that threshold has been crossed grounding susceptible world climate to unprecedented level with unprecedented speed. In this case, technology thrives while the doors are yet swinging open. Germany in particular has recorded an exceptional energy goal last July, producing 5.1 TWh of solar power and is expected to increase more in the following years. Also, a significant increase of solar installations has been recorded, in the world’s largest petroleum consumer, the U.S.A.
Efforts from other countries have also been observed to double renewable energy capacity use and reduce the use of natural gas. Deliberately altering the climate system to combat the effects of rising environmental risks would mean roughly 10% stockpile from our natural energy reserves.
Better Economics with Climate Change
If environmental change does not recognize and question the inequity of such homogenous economy, then at best, it may affect the pocket of change and at the same time push the problem to a more beneficial state.
In a book by Professor Tol, How Much have Global Problems Cost the World, he concluded that climate change has raised human and planetary welfare especially during the 20th century and will peak around 2050. Bjorn Lomborg, editor of the same book, further argued that economic models have generally found that global warming is a net for global benefit. However, reports form IPCC says otherwise:
“Most of the aggregate impacts reported in IPCC (1996) were of the first type; they monetised the likely damage that would be caused by a doubling of CO2 concentrations. For developed countries, estimated damages were of the order of 1% of GDP. Developing countries were expected to suffer larger percentage damages, so mean global losses of 1.5 to 3.5% of world GDP were therefore reported.”
The report argues that climate change has reduced global GDP by $1.2 Trillion, making the idea of climate change being good for the world highly equivocal.
Coping with the economic and climate change crises is no longer seen as continuum, but as opposing choices. But we can surely harness market forces and align them for everyone’s benefit to tackle the major challenges such as climate change and economic insecurity and use a holistic approach to bounce the risks back as something beneficial.
As Nicholas Stern said, “The impact of climate change to the world economic performance is the biggest market failure in human history.” In a world where environment seems to be the capitalist, experts and business tycoons were able to cut the hyperbole about the world’s biggest environmental issues.
In the Arctic, summer sea ice has shrunk 15% to 20% in the past 30 years according to 2005’s Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report. The concern of melting sea ice in the Arctic has started international bickering over the new trading routes. According to the Swedish Space Director, Per Tergen, the shrinking of Arctic Sea will halve the distance of shipping and travelling routes between Europe and Asia, making trade and economy a lot easier. Another economic and optimistic view of climate change is the possible longer growing season. Rising earth temperature will lengthen the growing season in higher latitudes. Also, carbon dioxide emissions help feed the plants and in return, a good harvest and clean air for us. In an article of USA Today, it is said that since 1970s, climate change has doubled growing season in some places, particularly those countries in temperate regions like North America, Sub-Saharan Africa or India. As a result, tougher competitions among the “former least” and major food exporters will be build. Changes in climate would also cause rainfalls, enough to water the world’s plants and sustain human needs. A study in Russia also discovered that ice steady thawing has increased their arable land by 37 to 67 percent according to the researches of University of Illinois. This would add a total of 425, 000 square miles of farmland – an area equivalent to three times the size of Montana.
Ecological Tonic through Environmental Spoil
Trees and plants being one of the major food sources, protecting forest and farms lands seem to be a hallmark in today’s epoch. Previous studies have claimed that abnormal rise in temperature is causing forest fires, trees migration and biodiversity loss.
A study from Duke University says that the academics have not exactly been keen to push such analyses forward. In a more recent findings, climate change does not cause tree migration through seed dispersal, rather it speeds up tree life cycles. Trees are responding through faster turnover, causing young trees to be more abundant than adult trees and combating forest aging, resulting to higher forest productivity. Timber harvest may as well increase.
Raising CO2 emissions are likely to drive significant modifications in natural and modified fast growing trees. Patronizing technocracy has been also part of the elucidation, such as new varieties of crops, fast growing and easily adaptable crops that are able to withstand heat and cold. Globally, forest covers 4 billion hectares or almost 305 of the Earth’s land surface and in recent years, it has tied down to less than 20%. Despite the alleged forest destruction due to climate change and global warming, forest and farming areas have been rapidly growing by 2 million hectares annually. It might also decrease insects and pathogen outbreaks.
Conversely, increase in biodiversity has been traced by a group of scientist, leaded by Peter Mayhew, published in their journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists. They found out that when temperature is high, biodiversity increase and when it fell, biodiversity declined. Appearances of different species have been observed as a result of species adaptation.
Arguably, we cannot just cherry-pick the bad news and do not take into account the good ones. Traditional sustainability issues such as natural resource constraints, energy demand, climate change and environmental risks are long term issues that drove both humanity and biodiversity for adaptive measures and further revolutionizing risks to needs. Adaptive measures have been part of the world’s blueprint for the future marking that a more exciting future is a future to be celebrated.
However, one should not be beset by more egregious manifestations of environmental risks. Before anyone gets all bent out of shape, remember that the story is always a tale of two scales – prevention and revolution.
Sources: Photo 1. Photo courtesy of BC Gov Photos via Flickr, Global Warming Powers the World
Figure 1: U.S. PV installations by market segment, 1Q10-3Q13., Source: U.S. Solar Market Insight Q3 2013, SEIA/GTM Research
Figure 2: The trends in global timber production.