If CO2 emissions were reduced this much every year, scientists say it still wouldn’t be enough to avoid climate catastrophe

If CO2 emissions were reduced this much every year, scientists say it still wouldn’t be enough to avoid climate catastrophe

COVID has proven, we’re definitely not ready for climate change

VicesApril 22, 2020 By Will Brendza

It’s hard to ignore just how clear the skies are right now: From Denver you can see all the way to Pikes Peak in the south, all the way to Longs Peak in the north and even Evans Peak is visible west of the city.

Normally, you’d be lucky to see even one of those 14ers, let alone all three. The haze and human fog that normally blankets the Front Range and obscures these landmarks, is gone. Evaporated. People are stuck inside, commerce has ground almost to a complete halt, traffic has thinned, cars are off the road and the Earth is taking its first real breath in over a hundred years.

In fact, according to an estimate by Carbonbrief, the COVID pandemic will result in a 4% decrease in gobal carbon emissions for 2020. Which would be the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions.

That is great news. And it’s visibly evident here in Colorado. The views of the Rocky Mountains, right now, are astounding — and it makes one realize just how hazy things “normally” are. We’ve been acclimatized to a level of visible pollution that will be hard to go back to, after having seen what we’re missing. Denver’s brown cloud (one of the worst in the nation) will not be a welcome sight once it returns.

And, it will return. As soon as laws and regulations allow for it, carbon emissions will rebound; business as usual will recommence and that ugly brown cloud will once again rise up from our streets, to obscure our skies and hide the Rockies from sight.For now, though, things remain clear. Despite the state starting to open back up, slowly, and cautiously, the skies are still crystal and the views are still unbelievable.

But here’s the rub: In order to prevent catastrophic global climate change, scientists have adamantly and urgently advised that the world drastically curb its emissions in order to avoid 1.5-degrees C of warming.

That’s the magic number: 1.5-degreed C (and it isn’t much). If we exceed that, the consequences will be far more devastating than COVID-19 has been; oceans will rise, cities will sink, entire nations of people will be sent into exile and will be made refugees; the world’s food system will collapse; commerce will collapse, supply chains will collapse and civilization as we know it will unravel around us.

The crisis will be on a scale unlike anything the planet has so far dealt with. And, unlike this COVID situation, there will be no turning back, no cure or vaccine or herd immunity. Once we hit 1.5 degrees C of warming, the situation on Planet Earth is going to get very serious, very fast and it will be irreversible.

And to avoid that apocalyptic prophecy, the entire planet would have to reduce CO2 emissions by 6% annually, according to Carbonbrief.

Which means, that even if the human race were to annually reduce global emissions by this much every single year, it still wouldn’t be enough to avoid cataclysm and crisis. We would still exceed 1.5-degrees C of warming. We would still need to do more to reduce our footprint.

And, it should be noted, human beings deserve no credit for this reduction in emissions whatsoever. Had it not been for COVID, we would all still be pumping CO2 into the atmosphere like it was our job. We would all still be partying and arguing and having the time of our lives ignoring this lurking threat, like it wasn’t there. The only reason we stopped was because our lives and the lives of our loved ones were all threatened.

Even with COVID, though, carbon emissions haven’t been reduced to a level that would save us. Even now, when you look out at the mountains and see just how insanely clear everything looks, it’s still not clear enough.  

Which is foreboding. Emissions are going to rebound once this pandemic is over and they will do so quickly. China, who, only started to see a reduction in COVID cases a few weeks ago, is already back up to normal emissions levels. And we won’t be far behind them.

COVID-19 has jangled everyone on Earth — it was a shot from the universe across our bow, a deadly reminder that we are not in control and we have to remain vigilant, active and act preventatively in order to maintain life as it is today. It’s motivation to start acting on climate change, and acting fast.

Because if there’s two things this pandemic has revealed: it’s 1) that the world is not ready to handle a catastrophic global meltdown event, and 2) if we don’t make a serious overhaul of our entire fossil-fuel-centric system, not even an emergency full-stop like this will be able to save us. More needs to be done. We need action not inaction, in order to mitigate this issue.

We need a system overhaul. And if we don’t get one things are going to be much worse when it's climate change, not COVID, that comes knocking on our door.