People and governments are responding to the Coronavirus outbreak with an urgency never before seen in today’s society. Schools, venues, and other businesses are closing or restricting sales, while some restaurants are permitting take away orders only. Governments are rushing to get necessary medical supplies and imposing quarantines. Many people are working from home in an all-out effort to slow the spread of the disease. This is all good news in these times of uncertainty. But what if there’s an even bigger threat that society isn’t taking as seriously? Climate change poses a long term threat to society. What would it look like if we reacted to Climate Change the way we have to Coronavirus?
Climate change, how bad can it get?
One way to understand how climate change could severely negatively affect our planet is to look to one of our nearby planets where it has already happened, Venus. Temperatures on Venus regularly hit 880 degrees. Venus’s atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas we currently struggle with here on Earth.
What would the temperature on Venus be if it had an atmosphere similar to Earth?
If it wasn’t weren’t for the runaway greenhouse effect, Venus could see its surface temperatures as low as -43 degrees! Venus is somewhat closer to the sun than the Earth is, but that distance doesn’t account for Venus’ extreme temperatures. Carbon dioxide, the gas that is responsible for rising temperatures here on Earth is the culprit. In fact, Mercury, which is closer to the sun than Venus, is actually much cooler than Venus!
Could runaway climate change make Earth uninhabitable?
Unfortunately, scientists believe the answer is yes. Runaway climate change happens when the cycle of warming becomes unstoppable which results in all life on the planet dying out. Our atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is currently 400 parts per million. If we used all of the fossil fuels remaining on Earth, that concentration would be multiplied by 10. At a carbon dioxide level of 4,000 parts per million, it’s still not enough to trigger runaway climate change. But you can be sure that at 4,000 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, it would get hot enough to cause many people, plants and animals to perish.
However, But the problem isn’t just carbon dioxide. There are massive amounts of methane in the arctic. Methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If the permafrost melted, then massive amounts of methane would be released. If that happened, science can’t predict the severity of the negative impact on Earth. Vast areas of the planet would become uninhabitable and we really can’t rule out a runaway climate change. Methane (also known as natural gas) is an even bigger threat than carbon dioxide.
What would it take to avoid the worst-case scenario for climate change?
To prevent the worst-case climate change scenario from happening, we’d have to stop increasing the levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere right now. That would require a commitment to leaving all of the remaining supplies of fossil fuels in the ground. To do that, every government on Earth would need to make a sincere effort to switch to 100% renewable energy.
A Green New Deal for Planet Earth
There are millions of fossil fuel-powered vehicles on Earth. All of them would have to be either modified to run on non-greenhouse gas producing fuels or they’d have to be scrapped. The same goes for power plants that use coal or natural gas. Even our homes would have to rely on renewable energy for all of their needs. No more oil, natural gas, or propane.
Is it feasible to switch to 100% renewable energy?
According to a study called Response to ‘Burden of proof: A comprehensive review of the feasibility of 100% renewable-electricity systems, the answer is yes. Even more Further, the good news is that it is not only feasible, but it can also be done at a reasonable cost. It’s even likely that going 100% renewable would save us money instead of continuing to use fossil fuels in the long run.
How can we take climate change as seriously as we are taking the Coronavirus?
It would take you, me and everyone else taking the threat of climate change as seriously as we are taking the Coronavirus. It would take people all over the world to respond to their leaders by refusing to accept no for an answer when they are asked to take action. It would take all of us to be willing to make changes in the way we live our day-to-day lives, just like we are right now because of the Coronavirus.