Avoiding climate disaster

In the midst of the catastrophes we are going through in this age of the pandemic, it is important that we also do not forget that the biggest catastrophe that is facing the world in the medium and long term is “climate disaster.” If the world does not watch out, this can become like the pandemic.

People knew the pandemic was coming but nobody was taking it seriously until it started destroying communities. Countries had to resort to severe measures like lockdowns to cope with the crisis.

When will the world start addressing climate disaster? When coastal cities become permanently flooded areas and uninhabitable? When floods and typhoons become more frequent and more intense, causing more destruction? When farms and crops become disaster areas causing food shortages? I could go on and on. Food shortages will cause malnutrition and widespread hunger, with children as the main victims.

Will these disasters happen? It will all happen but sadly, decision makers will not react until they see the effects already in our midst. Then there will be attempts to address the situation.

There is no vaccine for solving a climate disaster. The ways to address all the effects of a climate disaster require long term solutions that require the joint efforts of government, business and the citizenry.

Bill Gates has just written the most readable book on climate change: HOW TO AVOID A CLIMATE DISASTER: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need published by Alfred Knopf 2021.

The book describes the challenges the world faces. He has focused on what must be done in order to stop the “…planet’s slide to certain environmental disaster.” He also explains why we need to work toward net-zero emission of greenhouse gases and details what is needed to achieve this goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gas emissions

In order to have an intelligent discussion about climate disasters, people must first understand the root cause. Global warming refers to the increase in global temperature. A small increase in the global temperature – just 1 or 2 degrees Celsius – could actually cause a lot of trouble. Gates writes: “In climate terms, a change of just a few degrees is a big deal. During the last ice age, the average temperature was just 6 degrees Celsius lower than it is today. During the age of the dinosaurs, when average temperature was perhaps 4 degrees Celsius higher than today, there were crocodiles living above the Arctic Circle.” This is to illustrate how a few degrees can matter to the world’s environment.

How do greenhouse gases cause global warming? The answer: they absorb heat and trap it in the atmosphere. This is the same way that gardeners use greenhouses to grow plants even in arid places. The greenhouses absorb the heat and protect the plants growing inside the greenhouse.

Unfortunately if the heat from the sun is trapped in the atmosphere, the temperature on the earth’s surface will increase, thus causing global warming. The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, but there are others, nitrous oxide and methane. Together these gases total 51 billion tons that comprise the world’s annual emissions. Carbon dioxide accounts for 37 billion tons a year. Methane, which is emitted every time you use a water heater, is actually more poisonous than carbon dioxide.

Every year, global temperature is rising because greenhouse gas emissions are actually still increasing every year. The ideal solution is for the world to aim at zero gas emissions.

Getting to zero emissions requires us to understand the sources. Gates has a table that shows the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions:

• Making things like cement, steel, plastic, etc. – 31%

• Plugging in (electricity) – 27%

• Growing things (plants, animals) – 19%

• Getting around (planes, trucks, ships, etc.) – 16%

• Keeping warm and cool (heating, cooling) – 7%

Helping the poor

Rich and middle income people are causing the vast majority of climate change. The poorest people are doing less than anyone else to cause the problem, but they stand to suffer the most. The poor deserve to be helped the most. Gates has some suggestions.

Governments must help farmers grow a wider variety of crops and livestock so that one setback (like a disease) does not wipe them out. Weather-based insurance can help farmers recover their losses.

Help the most vulnerable people like women and children. Women should have access to livelihood programs. There should be feeding and quality education for children.

According to Gates, the most important assistance we can give vulnerable sectors: “We should shore up natural defenses.” He writes:

“Forests store and regulate water. Wetlands prevent floods and provide water for farmers and cities. Coral reefs are home to the fish that coastal communities depend on for food. But these and other natural defenses against climate change are rapidly disappearing.”

Bill Gates had several proposals in his book like restoring forests and watersheds and protecting river basins. He did make one proposal which is very suited to the Philippines. He wrote:

“Here’s some more low hanging fruit so to speak: mangrove forests. Mangroves are short trees that grow along coastlines, having adapted to life in salt water; they reduce storm surges, prevent coastal flooding and protect fish habitats. All told, mangroves help the world avoid some $80 billion a year in losses from floods and they save billions more in other ways. Planting mangroves is much cheaper than building breakwaters, and the trees also improve the water quality. They’re a great investment.”

Anyone who wants to understand climate disasters and how to solve them should read this book.

* * *

Young Writers’ Hangout via Zoom on May 22, 2-3 pm with Write Things alumna Mica Magsanoc. Writefest2021, our annual six-session workshop is ongoing with guest authors Sarge Lacuesta and Mookie Katigbak. Facilitators are Kim Derla and Roel SR Cruz.

Contact: writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com

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