The Beginning of the End of Humanity

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The Beginning of the End of Humanity

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Humanity stands on the precipice. We face today, not tomorrow, the most profound challenge we have ever encountered: climate change. No longer can this be an issue that is debated as being factual or non factual. It is going to be extremely difficult to advert the literal beginning of a human extinction level catastrophe (I use these words with extreme caution not as a hyperbole, but as genuine threats we face backed by studies published by governmental organizations and by scientists in peer-reviewed journals).

I draw these worries from the current state of climate change and political landscape. The current president and controlling party of the United States, the second largest producer of carbon emissions, deny climate change’s very existence and have taken steps to lessen our efforts to combat it. This is beyond problematic.

We have 12 years. That is how long we have before we reach 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit of warming above pre-industrial levels, according to a recent groundbreaking and unprecedented United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (the report was conducted by 91 authors from 40 countries and reviewed 6000 scientific studies).

“I find it so disheartening that the world’s scientists are getting together and giving us this deadline,” Senior Allison Abrams said. “But people aren’t mentioning it at all.”

If we reach temperatures above this the effects of climate change become irreversible (rising sea levels and extinction of flora and fauna) and we start a positive feedback loop that exponentially increases warming (the melting of ice caps which releases carbon dioxide which causes even more melting).

“We have a very short window to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Social Studies teacher James Thompson said. “(The report said) we have to reduce our carbon emissions significantly.”

More specifically, the report found that we must reduce global net emissions of carbon dioxide by 45 percent by 2030 and zero percent by 2050 to keep temperatures at the 2.7 degree mark. Currently, the world doesn’t have any plans to make the changes required and even the Paris Climate Accord doesn’t achieve this goal.

We require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” says the IPCC report.

This is monumental, without comprehensive changes to almost every aspect of the way humanity operates in the status quo, we are doomed. Moreover, this must start today, not tomorrow, with everyone onboard. Even the extremely unlikely goal of 2.7 degrees is almost unstainable for civilization.

“If we complete this goal we’re still going to have a lot of issues, but it won’t as catasphrophic after 2030 and beyond,” Thompson said.

The report found that extreme weather events will intensify, between 70 percent and 90 percent of coral reefs will die and droughts will become more frequent and worse once we reach the 2.7 degrees mark.

But the report also finds we are living in some of the effects today.

“(The U.N. report) basically said that climate change and the effects of climate change are already here,” Thompson said. This was recently experienced first hand by Northwest students through Hurricane Michael and Florence.

Even more troubling is that we are already well into the “biological annihilation” of entire food webs and a “sixth major extinction event,” directly caused by climate change.

“Arthropods, invertebrates including insects that have external skeletons, are declining at an alarming rate,” a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal (PNAS) found. “We compared arthropod biomass in a rainforest with data taken during the 1970s and found that biomass had fallen 10 to 60 times. Our study indicates that climate warming is the driving force behind the collapse of the forest’s food web.”

This is only expanded in scope by another study published in the PNAS.

“Hundreds of species and myriad populations are being driven to extinction every year,” the study said. “We describe this as a ‘biological annihilation’ to highlight the current magnitude of Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.”

This “extinction event” is uncomphrensively troubling. The bottom-up cascade of extinctions will reach humans and cause the eradication of entire food webs vital to us.

However, people will likely either ignore the studies, not believe the studies or discredit the studies.

“No one cares about climate change,” Abrams said. “It’s this really big issue but since people are focused on their everyday lives they keep it in the back of their heads.”

We as a collective species must today place ourselves in a fourth category: do something about the studies. These topics are extremely uncomfortable and such immensely troubling results like these cause us to cast them aside. But, the academic world is crystal clear—climate change is happening because of humans and we have precious time to stop it.

There exists in astrophysics something called the Fermi Paradox. It asks the question, since mathematically there are many Earth-like planets with potential for intelligent life, why haven’t we contacted one? The theory presents filters, or obstacles, to life that are so difficult to overcome most fail. The apogee of this is the “Great Filter,” an obstacle so difficult all civilizations fail at it and go extinct. Climate change may very well be our cosmic Great Filter. However, humans are resilient creatures and with a concerted effort we can overcome where all others have failed.

I may be overly nihilistic (I have questioned many times if I am correctly interpreting the studies), but the literature would suggest the urgency at hand.

But there’s a caveat:  “It’s hard to make change when no one cares,” Abrams said. “We just need to make people care.”