Climate change, does the earth need saving?
What the on Earth is going on?!
Do you ever find yourself saying that? Not during a conversation or with anyone present, but on your own.
Don’t worry, you can admit it, this is a safe space. We all suffer from some sort of neurosis anyway right?
No? Only me then. Damn it.
Well here’s the thing, I wouldn’t say I'm a climate activist, or any sort of activist. Being passionate about a subject really doesn’t count and boy oh boy am I passionate about a lot of things! I saw David Attenborough’s ‘A Life On this Planet’ and for anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s extraordinarily emotive and manages to stoke up feelings of culpability, bewilderment and contemplation. Although Attenborough doesn’t touch upon anything new per say, he manages to package an urgent plea to change in his unique, gentle manner. In fact it is this calm denouement that acts in itself as a shock mechanism: we are being told, in a matter of fact way, that the (apparently) most intelligent species on planet Earth is intentionally killing its host planet.
And this is when I say, “what on Earth is going on?”.
Okay, here is our first tangent.
I have always wondered why Greta Thunberg is ridiculed so much. Of course haters gonna hate, but people seem intent on reducing her to nothing more than a social media meme! She is extraordinarily intense and passionate about the environment and isn’t bashful about putting that forward. However, so is Sir David.
I am pretty certain that Greta Thunberg means well but her obtuse and intensely impassioned delivery may very well be her downfall.
In a nutshell, people don’t like to be shouted at, in particular, adults really don't like to be told off by a child. I have always been a huge proponent of the ideology that sentiment and zeal are far more effective motivators than guilt and regret. Greta and David are essentially saying the same thing but it comes down to packaging, and optics. It seems Sir David Attenborough has a better marketing team.
But I digress, as usual.
‘But I digress’, that sounds like a good name for the blog, what do you guys think?
Anyway, this post isn’t an analysis or review on the documentary, but about the rabbit hole that I found myself down after watching it. I was motivated to do some research online about a few of the issues discussed in the show and I was struck with the sheer number of climate change deniers.
Look chaps, I am all for questioning facts and probing the legitimacy of information, particularly with the rise in fake news, but denying that humans have sped up global warming is really taking it a step too far.
During a phone chat with my friend Jack who is MD at Basic Rights, we started talking about the detrimental effect the fashion industry is having on the environment.
On a more tangential tangent, Basic Rights is probably the coolest, and my favourite clothing company right now. They are single-handedly responsible for rendering all items not made by Basics Rights in my wardrobe useless. I urge you to check them out as they’re not only creating some of the best looking and fitting clothing I’ve had the pleasure to wear, but they are doing it with an incognito sustainability mission.
Alas! You must await future blog posts and podcast episodes to learn more about the marvellous things they are doing.
Emboldened by this conversation and hungry for more information I resumed my research.
However I found myself scrolling through article upon article written by so called “experts”, the desolate feeling of despair slowly occupying my spirit until hope was all but a tiny speck…
a moment of inspiration struck me!
The clouds of despondency opened up and a light from the heavens shone down on to me and a voice spoke and said, “Omar, if you’re listening, DON’T F***ING LET STUPIDITY WIN!”.
I stood up with the pride of Arthur pulling out Excalibur from the stone, delusions of grandeur were festooning themselves across my brain until I realised, I knew absolutely nothing about climate change.
CUE THE MUSIC.
After several hours of scattered research and education I uncovered some interesting material and felt confident enough to share my train of thought on the matter and perhaps encourage anyone reading this to also research any gaps in your own understanding.
Let’s kick this off with carbon.
Many people seem to paint carbon as this heinous, omnipresent satanic thing that wants to destroy everything we hold dear and probably sleep with your partner. This is not true.
Carbon is in-fact one of the most abundant elements in the universe, accompanied with oxygen, hydrogen, helium and nitrogen. Without carbon we cannot exist since we are virtually carbon creatures. So carbon isn’t the bad guy.
So what is up with carbon?
Well, from what I understand, the Earth over the billions of years it has existed had managed to reach a carbon equilibrium – where a certain amount of carbon circulating in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the ecosystem (oceans, plants and animals) before being released back in to the air. I refer to this as an equilibrium since the amount of atmospheric carbon does not exceed the ability of the ecosystem to absorb it.
Common sense leads me to question: Can this homeostasis be tampered with? Has it been tampered with? And what happens if things are thrown out of whack?
Before getting in to that, I started understanding the significance of the ecosystem.
What shocked me was the colossal role our oceans play in managing this carbon cycle.
Oceans cover around 70% of the global surface and are constantly and continuous exchanging heat, moisture and carbon with the atmosphere. The oceans absorb much of the solar energy that reaches earth, and thanks to the high heat capacity of water, the oceans can slowly release this heat over many months or years. What really astonished me is that the oceans store more heat in the uppermost 3 meters (10 feet) than the entire Earth’s atmosphere.
For me, the key to understanding global climate change is inextricably linked to the ocean. Climate is influenced by storage of heat and carbon dioxide in the ocean. The Earth is a pretty happy camper doing this for the foreseeable future. However, as I started looking into the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, this is where things get a bit rough.
What is palpable is there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of atmospheric carbon which is completely outside of the parameters of the carbon cycle.
But why? What is going on? What has happened recently?
Well the only factor that has changed is the advancement of the human race. Humans have come along and taken billions of tons of carbon (in the form of fossil fuels), that had been buried for hundreds of millions of years and been adding it to the carbon cycle at a rate which has nullified the equilibrium I spoke about earlier.
Just to put this in perspective, the carbon parts per million (CO2 PPM) in the atmosphere had remained quite consistent around the 300 level for around 10 million years. In the last 20 years, we have gone from 350 to around 500 CO2 PPM(!)
All this extra atmospheric carbon has caused a rise in temperature. Typically we hear about an increase in global temperate of 2-3 degrees centigrade. This doesn’t sound like a great deal, however it is important that we really understand how sensitive the ecosystem is to temperature.
For example, a drop of 5 degrees would see London freeze over, while an increase in 5 degrees would see plunged London under water. Literally.
Even worse, we seemed to have designed modern civilisation to be ultra-sensitive to climate change by building the majority of our big cities on the coasts. Most countries are in fact quite low lying and therefore would be complete submerged in the event of a climate crisis. This is of course extraordinarily frightening, and it begs the question: what on earth is being done about this?
The solution is multifaceted and complicated, however, to me, getting off fossil fuels is probably a good start.
Fossil fuels are also referred to as finite resources. It is absolutely foolish, ridiculous and irresponsible to plan a global future on the back of something that will not last! Fortunately, people like Elon Musk are creating companies like Tesla and Solar City to change that, and Bill Gates is developing new nuclear generator technology to help us generate clean power for the future. It would be truly inspiring to witness in my lifetime, the human race go interplanetary. However, it was be a tremendous shame if we do so in a parasitic fashion, draining the Earth of its resources before moving on to the next.
So what final words do I have to say on the climate change deniers?
Without a doubt, varying opinions are the beauty of having a society that benefits from freedom of speech and is connected through the internet. However, those benefits also have the bi-product of information overload and unintended echo chambers. But if we’re able to at least start by scratching beneath the surface of everything we’re curious about before we absorb and form an opinion, we can at least train ourselves to have more open and intellectual discussions.
Although I have only uncovered a single pebble amongst a beach of rocks it has been perhaps one of the most eye opening rabbit holes I've gone down and I would implore you all to act on your curiosities and find out more. I for one will be creating more content on companies and projects that are doing extraordinarily innovative and disruptive things to help solve the energy crisis and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, maybe I could have a chat with old boy Elon? (hit me up)
Curiosity didn't kill the cat, but I believe it can save the planet!