Can a song help mitigate the climate crisis?

Published on 24 December 2019


But first, a brief rundown of the climate change.

The greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere trap some of the solar energy from the sun and keep the earth warm and conducive to life.  The most common greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  Currently, there is a tremendous increase in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide.  Man-made emissions of CO2 increase is mainly due to burning fossil fuels and deforestation, and its concentration right now is the highest it has been in 800,000 years!  The global average temperature has drastically increased since 1996, with record-breaking warmest years between 2015-2018.  So the scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body on global warming, have warned that the world needs to limit its rising temperature.

Nearly 27,000 delegates from 200 countries, both rich and poor, attended the UN climate talks, Conference of Parties or COP25, in Madrid, Spain, from 2nd to 13th December 2019.  The theme for this year’s COP was “Tiempo de Actuar” which is Spanish for “Time for Action.”  When the talks concluded, the only action evident was inaction.  There was unwillingness to rise to the climate challenge and accountability to deliver on past promises.  UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, stated in disappointment that the international community lost an opportunity to step up the efforts towards mitigation, adaptation and finances to address the burgeoning climate crisis.

According to United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report in 2019, global temperature is expected to rise 3.2 degree Celsius by 2100.  It could lead to mass extinction.  It could make large parts of our planet uninhabitable due to sea level rise.  Worldwide, 153 million people will become climate refugees as their lands get submerged.  Ocean temperatures and acidity will increase as well as an  inability to grow crops like rice, maize and wheat.  Urban areas and fastest growing cities are more vulnerable and face grave risks due to climate change from extreme weather patterns.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has stated that the world is now nearly 1 degree warmer compared to the pre-industrial time.  In 2018, there were record high temperatures in many parts of the world with severe heat waves across the Northern Hemisphere.  Weather events are getting extreme across the world with severe droughts, devastating floods, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, landslides, blizzards, polar vortex and freezing winter cold.  Since early 2000s, melting of sea ice has accelerated, as well as land ice in Greenland and Antarctica.  It is now feared by scientists that the Arctic Ocean may be free of ice by 2050!

To prevent it, greenhouse gas emissions must fall now and must drop 7.6 percent every year from 2020.  All countries must progress towards the Paris Agreement Goal of cutting their emissions down, so that the global average temperature rise can be kept below 1.5 degree Celsius.  This is possible only if countries collectively increase their commitments to cut their emissions more than fivefold.

The top 15 countries which account for 72 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 are China, US, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey.  The rest of the 180 countries of the world accounts for 28 percent of the global total.  The biggest emitters are China and the US, with US initially withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement and later wishing to negotiate a fair deal to safeguard US businesses and workers.

Top countries on track to meet their self-set goals to cap carbon emissions include The Gambia, Morocco and India, while Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US are barely trying, according to Climate Action Tracker.  India is emerging as a global leader in renewable energy, investing more in solar than coal.

Switching to renewable energy will reduce 55 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions and the remaining 45 percent must come from steel, plastic, aluminum, cement and food to achieve the UN climate goals.  There is a need to eliminate current emissions from all forms of transport globally.  The fashion, electronics and packaging industries must make a radical shift from norm.  The solution lies in adopting a circular sharing economy.

Reducing deforestation, increasing carbon capture through reforestation, enriching the topsoil, halting biodiversity loss, avoiding food wastage and changing dietary habits in developed countries are some suggestions to fight climate change and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.  Developed countries must support the developing countries, collaborate and share a common vision.

Power, transport and building sectors need to adopt green tech, switch to renewables, embrace electric mobility and efficient use of steel and cement.  There is a dire need for leaders and innovators to help their countries, businesses and families make bold decisions.  Europe is taking the lead and has put forth The Green Deal to cut carbon emissions 50 percent by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

Palm oil, beef and soy industries thrive on deforested lands.  Food production is responsible for a quarter (26 percent) of global emissions.  According to an Oxford University study published in the journal, Science, in the case of greenhouse gas emissions, the lowest-impact animal products most strikingly exceed those of vegetable substitutes.  Animal products are responsible for 58 percent of the emissions while other foods account for 42 percent.

The meat industry has the biggest carbon footprint.  Beef and lamb are responsible for 50 percent of all farmed animal emissions.  Beef cattle raised on deforested land emits 12 times more greenhouse gases than those reared on natural pastures.  The production of the highest-impact vegetable proteins like tofu, beans and nuts emit less greenhouse gases than lowest-impact animal proteins, but a chocolate bar from the deforested rainforest emits more when compared to low-impact beef.  By lowering the consumption of sugar, oils, alcohol and stimulants and thereby lowering the consumer demand, the land use for such high-impact producers will reduce.

Vulnerable communities and citizens are frustrated.

Generation Z, the digital natives, are terribly unhappy about this chaotic world they are being handed over by the older generations.

The Swedish climate activist and school striker, Greta Thunberg, is having none of it.  She rightfully questions the world – why go to school and study scientific facts, when the same scientific facts which state that the world is facing a climate cataclysm, are being ignored by the adults with their business-as-usual attitude.  The climate activists are demanding an energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice.

These youth campaigners understand the simple fact that the people who contribute the least to the problem stand to suffer the most and are hence demanding climate justice for the small islands with very low carbon emissions, which are now being threatened by sea level rise and extreme weather.  Canary in a coal mine – The Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.  They also understand that their generation stands to lose if there is no global cooperation now.  So much so, these young activists have given a grade “F” for the world leaders on their COP25 report card with the comment “Need to try harder”!

Let’s leave all the controversies aside for a bit and just focus on all humans living in the world today.  Governments and businesses are run by the people for the people.  Why only blame them for their failure to cut emissions?  They are catering to the populace and popular demands, aren’t they?  If per capita or each person’s individual contribution to greenhouse emissions are taken into account, it tells different story.  In this ranking, Qatar, Trinidad and Tobago, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Australia and US share the top spots while China does not even make it to the top 20!  India is well-known for its low-per-capita carbon emission.

Instead of harping on a failed COP25, why not sound the siren for a collective behavioral change?  While governments need to make big changes, individuals will have to make rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in their lifestyles to prevent climate catastrophe.  The scientists at IPCC are urging people to make modifications in their lifestyles.

Eat more locally sourced seasonal food.  Buy less meat, cheese, butter and milk.  Better still, shifting to a plant-based diet.  It is both good for the health of the people as well as the planet!  Avoid food wastage, at all costs.  Shift to public transport.  Ride or walk short distances.  Fly less.  Do business through videoconferencing.  Cut the plastics out.  Reduce your energy bills by effectively insulating your homes.  Re-think fashion, cosmetics, personal care products, washing and drying clothes.  Can you believe it is illegal in a few countries to dry clothes on a clothes line!

Consumers must demand a low-carbon footprint in every product they purchase.

Our diets and habits have a huge impact on climate change and irreversible biodiversity loss.  Design, make and use products ethically.

Behavioral change is hard to achieve in a limited timeframe, but with digital technology tools, it is possible to create widespread awareness.  By 2050, there will be 9 billion people in the world.  We need to distribute earth’s resources fairly among all its inhabitants – plants, vertebrates and invertebrates included.

Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Michael Jackson have nudged us in the right direction by asking us to look at the Man in the Mirror, be the change, cater to the need and not the greed.

Every one of us must care for all of us.  Let’s be fair, embrace sustainability and live responsibly.

So can a song help mitigate the climate crisis?

Pick a clue or two from The Bare Necessities (Courtesy: The Jungle Book).

Sources:  UNEP, WEF, WMO, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, BBC, National Geographic, Climate, Carbon, Climate Action Tracker, Nature, Science


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