The Climate Crisis is probably the most significant threat looming over humanity. The term ‘climate crisis’ was adopted instead of the more commonly used term ‘climate change’ to emphasize the dire effects of global warming. It refers to both the process of changing climate and the devastating consequences that we may expect because of it.
The burning of fossil fuels and the production and acquisition of necessary materials such as coal, oil, and gases release billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Civilization, to date, has thrived by surviving within a specific and stable band of temperature. However, the balance has tipped so far that we are experiencing a level of warming that the Earth hasn’t seen in the last 100,000 years. Our atmosphere currently holds more heat-trapping Carbon Dioxide than it has in over a million years.
An Apocalypse refers to destruction on a catastrophic level that threatens the end of civilization as we know it. Such an event indeed sounds unlikely. However, the climate crisis and a detailed study of its current state and likely future consequences hint that an apocalypse may be fast approaching.
Consequences of the Global Climate Crisis Faced in Recent Years
The Earth’s climate is very clearly changing. It is evident from the recent changes in rainfall patterns, snowfall, frequent heavy rainstorms, and sudden surges in temperature worldwide. The frequent forest fires that we have been witnessing in the past few years are also clear indicators of the climate crisis.
Other than shifts in natural processes, there have been specific necessary political actions taken this year, proving the fast-escalating threat of the climate crisis. For example, the United States of America suddenly decided to return to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
First adopted in 2015, the Paris Agreement proposed to keep the rising temperature below an overall 2 degrees Celsius and preferably hold it to 1.5 degrees. Thus, the situation was dire back in 2015 and has only ended up escalating over the years.
Apart from the USA’s sudden return to the Paris Agreement, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report for 2022 also holds some devastating news. In the UN Secretary-General’s words, this year’s climate crisis may be considered a “Code Red” for humanity.
According to a report released by the UN in the year 2021, the Earth’s temperature has risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius globally compared to the pre-industrial times; there are good chances that the rise is even higher now. While this rise appears to be minor, scientists have reported that reaching a total temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius is enough to cause catastrophic environmental changes.
Starting from 2020, we have seen some disastrous consequences of the current climate crisis; this includes the heatwaves experienced in India, Pakistan, and Europe and several floods in South-East Asia.
In 2016, the rate of rising sea levels increased by 2.5 times compared to 2006. The vast Australian forest fire at the beginning of 2020 was another indicator of severe shifts in global climate.
Apart from weather-related anomalies, the climate crisis is also causing a misbalance in the global food system. The UN Secretary-General’s Food Systems Summit took place in September 2021 to tackle this problem. Countries made commitments to cut down methane emissions from livestock and curb the cutting down of forests for agriculture.
Overall, the number of climate-related disasters around the world has increased almost by a factor of 5 compared to the last 50 years. The WMO predicts that the current climate crisis will cause changes of great severity.
It will include a change in the speed, track, and intensity of tropical cyclones; an unprecedented rise in sea level caused by the accelerated melting of ice sheets in Greenland and the two poles; and also lasting damages to vulnerable regions such as coastal areas.
What Will the Current Climate Crisis Lead To?
Over the years, multiple studies and reports have warned us about the course a climate crisis of this scale might take. An independent team of researchers in Australia called the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration released a paper a few years ago that predicted what would happen if people did not reduce carbon emissions promptly. They concluded that if the climate crisis continues at the same rate, by the year 2050, humankind may witness a doomsday situation or the end of civilization.
The previous Australian paper predicted a future where humanity failed to keep the temperature rise within the agreed-upon 2 degrees Celsius and allowed it to rise a degree more. Such a degree of change is predicted to bring about catastrophic weather changes and change the overall habitability of many regions on the planet.
Upon reading this paper and its predictions, Adam Sobel (professor of Applied Physics at Columbia University, New York) opined that the paper’s claims were plausible and not extreme in any form.
As per the well-researched estimates in the Australian paper, if the global temperature rises by 3 degrees Celsius, sea levels can rise by 1.6 feet by 2050 and a whopping 10 feet by the year 2100. It will lead to floods worldwide and disperse billions of people globally, bringing about the very catastrophe we dread.
A report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in August of last year once again issued strong warnings against the state of global warming on the planet. They declared that the Earth was now at least 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than during the Pre-Industrial era. The Panel also expressed concern that if carbon emissions are not promptly reduced, then the global temperature will rise by half a degree more by the year 2030.
The Panel predicted that even though half a degree rise sounds relatively small, it will have dire consequences. Firstly, it will lead to ice sheets melting in Greenland, which can cause the sea levels to rise by as much as 6 feet. This catastrophic rise will be able to swamp most coastal cities. Glaciers and snowpacks will disappear, which will lead to many farmlands losing their usual source of irrigation. As a result, we may have to witness a massive increase in starvation on a worldwide scale.
Apart from this, the Panel also predicted that if the climate crisis is not taken care of, it will affect ocean life. It will pollute the ocean waters and make them more acidic. As a result, numerous marine lives such as coral reefs and various fish species will go extinct. Since rising temperature is a direct consequence of the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, by the year 2030, we can expect an excessive amount of carbon dioxide in the air.
The IPCC launched another report in February 2022, highlighting further catastrophes awaiting us. The report mentioned that no matter how unbearable the climate change may seem now, it is only set to worsen. The world will experience a greater frequency of floods, droughts, starvation, deadly heat, and fires in the upcoming decade.
The Panel predicted that future generations who might inhabit the planet in the year 2100 will most likely experience severe and extreme climatic conditions that are detrimental to the survival of humankind. Even today, given the current state of the global climate crisis, about 3.3 billion people are vulnerable to the detrimental effects of climate change.
Every time the global temperature rises by 1/10th of a degree, the number of deaths by heat stress or deaths due to lung and heart problems increases worldwide. Excessive rainfall and worldwide floods have already accelerated the spread of cholera in many world regions. Not curbing the current climate problem will only lead to more pollution, diseases, and deadly infections in the future.
This year’s IPCC report also warned us of many irreversible environmental changes that may occur if we cannot stop the global temperatures from rising by 1.5 degrees Celsius. One such irreversible change would be melting permafrost zones in the Arctic or particular forests.
These permafrost zones often act as reservoirs for Carbon Dioxide gas, and if they melt, they will release an excessive amount of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. It will only perpetuate the overall warming process, causing a self-perpetuating cycle of destruction.
How Much Time Do We Have Left?
Professor Johan Rockstrom, Director at the Post Dam Institute for Climate Impact Research, announced, in the year 2020, that humanity has about 10 years to stop the current rate of climate change. Other scientists have opined that we have about 12 years to do the same. If this is not achieved, the climate apocalypse will undoubtedly be unavoidable.
It is believed that the countdown to doomsday, if the current climate crisis is not controlled, may begin as soon as the year 2030; by 2050, the climatic conditions will reach a chronic stage, and by the year 2100, most places on Earth might be rendered inhabitable.
Some scientists opine that the current climate crisis may trigger another ice age. In contrast, others suggest that increased temperatures may cause such irreversible changes that it will break the cycle of ice ages.
The latter group supports their theory by saying that, in all probability, the Southern Ocean will become too warm to allow the Antarctic icebergs to float far enough to facilitate any changes in the ocean circulation, which is a requirement for the occurrence of an Ice Age.
Measures Being Taken
Under the Biden administration, the US Climate Alliance has vowed to reach net-zero carbon emissions as soon as is practically possible and preferably by the year 2050. In its 2022 IPCC report, the UN has urged local communities of vulnerable areas to rise to the challenge and implement necessary measures to curb climate change. The IPCC report has released several different options to help adapt to the changing climate and reduce vulnerability while improving the overall resilience.
Fortunately, scientists have announced that we do have the technology necessary to shift to clean energy. However, unfortunately, there is a lack of political will worldwide to implement the same.
Countries held one of the essential summits to check the climate crisis in Paris in 2015, which led to the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is an international treaty legally binding for all 196 different parties participating in it.
The Paris Agreement introduced NDCs or Nationally Determined Contributions that urged nations to present their improved plans for curbing the climate problem every 5 years. In their NDCs, different countries are to communicate with each other and develop collective methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Paris Agreement also urges relatively powerful countries to help the more vulnerable, underdeveloped countries financially so they can adopt and implement policies to combat climate change. The Agreement also holds countries responsible as far as technological development is concerned and urges them to develop or wholeheartedly invest in developing technology that will help battle the climate change problem.
The progress of the nations that had participated in the Paris Agreement of 2015 is tracked with the help of ETFs or Electronic Transparency Framework, via which countries are expected to regularly report about the measures taken by them to battle the climate crisis.
To conclude, I would like to go back to the title of this article, which posits whether or not the current climate crisis will eventually lead to an apocalypse. The answer is yes; if necessary, measures are not implemented. The current rise in temperature is so concerning that our oceans are absorbing an enormous amount of heat which may be equivalent to 5 atomic bombs, like the one dropped at Hiroshima, being dropped in our oceans every second.
According to Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the UN, we are on a destructive path, and it will lead to nothing but doom if prompt measures are not taken. However, we are not out of time yet. There is still a glimmer of hope if the political will to implement suitable measures can be found.
Robert Habeck, the German Vice-Chancellor for Climate and Economy, has warned us that we might be going down a road of no return; however, he has also spoken of hope and said that if we do everything we can, that will make a difference.