Climate change is a phrase we have all heard and are likely to hear again.
Now, it’s not just the usual warnings of higher temperatures or melting ice caps. Two different reports both ring alarm bells and warn of dire consequences in the not-too-distant-future stemming from climate change.
The United Nations will release a report to the public by the end of March predicting several harrowing situations, including crop failures and flooding, according to a March 18 story in The Independent.
Somewhat similarly, on Tuesday, the American Association for the Advancement of Science released an extensive report titled “What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change.” The report argues that citizens are not aware enough about the pressing concerns of the environment and that “abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes” to the Earth could soon occur.
Dr. Adil Najam, a Boston University professor of international relations and Earth & environmental professor, said changes to the environment will affect college students and their generation more than current policymakers.
“It’s most unfair to you and your generation,” he said, “because essentially what my generation is doing is not making the tough decisions. The report is important, but we no longer need the crutches of these reports to know there is a problem.”
The UN’s report is based on the collaboration of hundreds of scientists around the world, according to The Independent. The worst of its predictions include a reduction in crop yields by 2 percent each decade for the rest of the century, which will increase malnutrition in children by about 20 percent and the displacement of hundreds of millions of people by the end of the century due to flooding and land loss.
The AAAS report warns that society is confused and unaware about the immediacy of climate change, especially because “in 2013, only 42 percent of American adults understood that ‘most scientists think global warming is happening.’”
Najam said the public must pay attention and commit to taking meaningful action.
“We know from around the world that bad things are beginning to happen,” he said. “… It’s like students in college or school who know there’s going to be an exam at the end … but they keep willing themselves that they will [study] on the last night. Well, here’s the news: you can’t pull an all-nighter with climate change.”
He said some use science as an excuse to avoid responsibility, for example, by demanding 98 percent of scientists to agree rather than 97 percent before acting.
“The world can’t wait for that,” he said.
So where can we go when it seems that our doom is almost certain?
On a large scale, governments and corporations can start changing their policies toward more sustainable ones, Najam said.
“It will be difficult, but it won’t be that difficult,” he said. “Did companies resist when we asked for seatbelts? Yes, they did … There are lots of things that business might resist, but I think most smart businesses realize there’s money to be made in this. The Chinese have a wonderful way of putting this. They say, ‘There’s no such thing as waste. There’s only unused resource.’”
Dr. Laurence Kotlikoff, a BU economics professor, said the U.S. government must take a lead in addition to corporations.
“It takes government policy,” he said. “We need to have a carbon tax, a very significant one, to change things. That’s what everybody thinks needs to be done, every economist who has looked at this. And that’s not even being proposed by anyone in the country in the government.”
At the individual level, Najam said every citizen, especially educated college students, should make slight changes.
“A lot of them have to do with our individual life,” he said. “… And I think if you start incorporating those into each of your decisions, they start adding up … What is the difference if I do laundry twice in a week rather than once? … There’s a difference. Your doing it once or twice doesn’t matter, but every student at BU … that adds up. Every student in Boston, that really adds up. “
Kotlikoff said population growth also contributes to consumption.
“You also have about 2.6 billion more people coming on board in the next 40 years,” he said. “A lot of this growth is coming in developing countries, but as per capita GDP rises, they’re going to be big energy users too, big polluters as well. So it’s really a pretty dismal picture here. “
However, Najam said the onus now is not on scientists, but on politicians and their constituents to push important changes through.
“Is change going to be difficult?” he said. “Yes, it’s going to be somewhat difficult, but it’s not beyond us. We are the greatest generation that’s ever lived on earth. We are the richest we’ve ever been in U.S. history. The tragedy is that we are flirting at the cusp of catastrophe at the moment of history when we have the most resources at command not to let this happen.”