2020 Climate Change Reports

(Courtesy of Pixabay.)
Sara Harley
December 17, 2020

This year, dozens of studies have been published on a variety of the extreme effects of global warming. The tumultuous implications of climate change have become a more frequent point of discussion and contention among the American people and their leaders. The following is an analysis of climate change; how it is affecting the international, socio-economic, and environmental sectors; and a summary of several, recently-published climate reports. 

Global warming is a particularly intricate topic of debate defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular, a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century… attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.” Environmental shifts due to climate change include increases in atmospheric temperatures and air pollution, rising sea levels, spikes in animal extinction rate, and frequent extreme weather events such as tornadoes, derechos, and hurricanes. The origins of current, global climate change may be attributed to human production of fossil fuels, sources of energy including coal, natural gas, and oil created from fossils dating back millions of years. These derivatives are popular energy sources due to their low cost and relatively high efficiency rates; in addition, they supply much of the jobs in the energy industry. Yet, fossil fuel combustion emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that becomes trapped in Earth’s atmosphere and allegedly contributes to the warming of Earth’s climate and its potentially irreversible effects. The eradication of the use of fossil fuels requires a reassessment of global socio-economic standards, a process that will change the lives of millions around the globe but that sectors across the world, including the United States, are currently unwilling to undergo. Nevertheless, regions around the world must begin to shift to sustainable manners of living in order to protect the environment from impending, seemingly unalterable upheaval.

This June, the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy published a report titled 2035 which focuses on sustainable sources of energy. The report argues that in light of a consistent drop in the cost of renewable energy sources including solar, water, and wind power, the United States could generate 90% clean energy by 2035. In addition, clean energy activities would contribute an estimated 1.7 trillion dollars via private investments to the U.S. economy. Consumers would not need to pay high prices out-of-pocket or in taxes in order to receive clean energy access. The report states, “Global carbon emissions must be halved by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5°C and avoid catastrophic climate impacts.” In reference to a transition to an economic system that limits carbon dioxide emissions, the report adds, “Most existing studies… examine 2050 as the year that deep decarbonization of electric power systems can be achieved.” The report also asserts that after achieving 90% clean energy, the country will have no need for new coal or natural gas plants and will be able to implement efficient options for battery energy storage.

The World Health Organization’s Global Strategy on Health, Environment, and Climate Change discusses how global warming affects one’s human rights, particularly in underdeveloped countries. The report states that each year, approximately 13 million deaths, or one-quarter of all deaths, are attributed to known avoidable environmental risks. The majority of these risks stem from shifts in climate and affect nations regardless of their economic status. Environment-related deaths include those due to air poisoning, polluted water, natural disaster, loss of biodiversity, and a variety of vector-borne diseases such as malaria. Rachel Cox, a member of the nonprofit organization Global Witness, states that “many of the world’s worst environmental and human rights abuses are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. Land and environmental defenders are the people who take a stand against this.” Many argue that, particularly in underdeveloped countries, the human rights of those affected by climate change are disregarded. In light of this concern, the World Health Organization aims not only to mitigate the effects of global warming but also to provide aid to those who suffer from its consequences.

Earlier this year, Pew Charitable Trust published a study titled Breaking the Plastic Wave: Top Findings for Preventing Plastic Pollution which focuses on the climate impacts of plastic pollution, particularly in the ocean. Plastic has become universally used by primarily marketing companies because it is adaptable, inexpensive, durable, and easily obtainable. Due to these factors, the use of plastic in marketing has caused an average of 11 million metric tons of plastic, in addition to other types of garbage, to enter the ocean each year. This plastic harms over 700 marine species, ocean ecosystems, and the food humans eat. On dry land, single-use plastics are a particularly pernicious pollutant of highways, cities, and water. Moreover, the production of plastic seems to exacerbate climate change by releasing numerous greenhouse gases and harmful chemicals such as acetone and methane into the atmosphere. In addition, only nine percent of all plastics are recycled. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “sunlight and heat cause the plastic to release powerful greenhouse gases, leading to an alarming feedback loop.” Ultimately, Breaking the Plastic Wave argues that individuals can “cut annual flows of plastic into the ocean by about 80% in the next 20 years by applying existing solutions and technologies.” On the socio-economic scale, limiting the use of micro, single-use, and high-density plastics would save governments around the world over 70 billion dollars. Reducing plastic consumption cannot be solved by one solution; every nation must do its part and employ different strategies. The ultimate eradication of the production of plastic would come with a monumental shift in global manufacturing and the nature of many countries’ economies. In order to save the country from an additional 168 metric tons of plastic pollution in our oceans worldwide, countries must endeavor to achieve cleaner, more sustainable ways of living. Breaking the Plastic Wave offers several solutions including reducing the growth of plastic production by creating plastic alternatives, improving waste collection, and developing plastic-to-plastic conversion in order to increase the use of recycled plastics.

Over the past years, continuous research has attributed environmental changes to a seemingly severe climate crisis. The studies stated are a mere sampling of available research on the effects of climate change. While many countries have begun to take action to lower their carbon footprint and increase the use of renewable energy sources, there is much work to be done and numerous activists continue to call for individuals, families, communities, and countries to endeavor to live more sustainably.

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