Almost every climate scientist agrees that an increase in the average temperature on Earth of more than 2°C since the pre-industrial era would seriously harm civilization’s food, water, health, land, security, energy, and economic well-being. They estimate that limiting the carbon dioxide (and the CO2 equivalent from other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million (ppm) would prevent the temperature from rising more than 2°C.
Between 1970 and 2000 the annual increase in greenhouse gas emissions averaged 1.3%, but from 2000 to 2010 that rate increased to an average of 2.2% per year. One percent of the world’s population is responsible for half of the greenhouse-gas pollution. More than 40,000 people met at Copenhagen in December 2009, but the nonbinding Copenhagen Accord was negotiated and agreed upon by leaders representing only the United States, China, India, South Africa, and Brazil. In early 2010 government leaders from countries responsible for 80% of global emissions set national goals to reduce their emissions in order to keep global warming under 2°C. The United States promised a 17% reduction of emissions from 2005 to 2020 while China pledged to reduce carbon intensity by 40% in the same time.
Since then most of the voluntary targets submitted are not being achieved. The International Energy Agency expressed concern in 2011 that emissions in 2010 had increased dramatically; they warned that bold changes would be needed, or else the average temperature increase could climb to 6°C by the year 2100. Carbon intensity would need to be reduced by more than 5% per year, and this would require an emergency effort. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) calculated that if no new efforts were made to reduce carbon emissions, the annual rate would probably increase by the year 2020 to about 56 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. However, to limit warming to 2°C this century annual global carbon dioxide emissions need to peak at no more than 44 gigatonnes (44 billion metric tons) by 2020. Carbon dioxide emissions reached 36 gigatonnes in 2014. If emissions continue to rise at the same rate as the previous seven years, then in 2020 the emissions would be about 60 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), first released in 2013, warned about what the climate change would be if “business as usual” (BaU) continued. The probable results of this behavior would raise the average temperature on the surface of the Earth by the year 2050 from between 2°C to 4°C and by the year 2100 from between 3°C to 6°C, though others have made less conservative predictions.
Business people have suggested that the climate could be protected by using new technology to capture and store carbon from the burning of coal, and they oppose putting limits on carbon emissions or a price (tax) on them. However, climatologists warn that reducing carbon emissions cannot wait for the development of such technology or for a more friendly economic and political mind-set. The oil giant ExxonMobil announced that they do not foresee a “low carbon scenario,” and they doubted that governments will be able to reduce emission of greenhouse gases by 80%.
The 2014 IPCC report on the “Mitigation of Climate Change” advises that to keep global warming under 2°C global emissions of greenhouse gases would have to be reduced by 40% to 70% from 2010 levels by 2050 and then lower them to nearly zero by 2100.
Between 1971 and 2010 about 93% of the increased heat on Earth and in its atmosphere has been absorbed by the oceans and is making them rise. The carbon dioxide absorbed by seas is causing acidification that threatens the shells and plates of marine organisms and damages coral reefs. Lack of oxygen in the oceans hinders marine animals.
Global warming increases precipitation in some places and evaporation in other places and seasons, causing extreme weather such as droughts, tropical cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other storms. Melting ice and more rain cause freshwater to flow into the oceans. Rising oceans will make storms more likely to flood coastal areas, and warmer seawater increases the violence of storms. Increased rainfall also causes floods. Hotter air effects wind patterns, which may make tornadoes more frequent and destructive. Heat increases evaporation and makes wild fires more likely and intense as does more wind.
Higher latitudes warm up faster, causing extra melting of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. The Arctic has become warmer than it has been for at least 40,000 years. The Arctic Sea is already navigable in summer and may become entirely free of ice during that season as soon as 2050. Warming of the Arctic also causes permafrost to melt and release carbon dioxide and methane which further accelerate global warming. The Antarctic peninsula is losing ice shelves. In 2002 the Larsen B ice shelf collapsed after being stable for 12,000 years. The IPCC has warned that if the temperature increases by 5°C, Greenland may become ice free which could cause the sea to rise by 7 meters. Also Greenland without ice will absorb more heat. Melting ice also raises the level of the oceans and causes flooding of coastal areas by seawater as is occurring in Bangladesh.
Glaciers are retreating each year. Reduced glacial melt-water from the Himalaya Mountains affects many rivers such as the Indus, the Ganges, and rivers in China. In the short term increased melting ice causes floods and mudflows. However, in the long term less melt-water will diminish the water in rivers, and the lack of freshwater by 2050 could affect more than a billion people in central and southern Asia. Most of Australia and northeastern New Zealand also could suffer severe droughts and fires by 2030, causing water insecurity.
Africa is expected to experience more severe effects of global warming than any continent. Drought and lack of fresh water will likely reduce agricultural production, and food security could be increasingly threatened. Conflict over natural resources could cause migration and war such as has occurred in Darfur since 2003. By 2050 about 500 million Africans could be experiencing water stress. Malnutrition and heat could increase the spread of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and diarrhea in Africa and other continents.
A drier climate in Latin America could convert tropical forests into savanna with desertification of agricultural land. Fresh water will be less available in some regions.
Big cities most in danger of being flooded because of the business-as-usual (BaU) scenario are Mumbai, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Miami, Ho Chi Minh City, Kolkata (India), New York, Osaka-Kobe, Alexandria, New Orleans, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Nagoya (Japan), Tampa-St Petersburg, Virginia Beach, Tianjin (China), Shenzhen (China), and Guayaquil (Ecuador). Other cities in the world in danger of suffering losses from storm surges are Havana, Port au Prince, Santo Domingo, Barranquilla (Colombia), Marseilles, Algiers, Napoli, Benghazi, Athens, Istanbul, Izmir (Turkey), Beirut, Tel Aviv, Calcutta, Jakarta, Fuzhou (China), Ningbo (China), and Sapporo (Japan). Others in the US include Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland (Maine), Boston, Atlantic City, Washington, Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, Galveston, Houston, and Honolulu. All together the rise in sea level threatens 1,400 American cities and towns.
Effects of global warming are expected to be less severe in Europe and North America where northern areas will become more temperate, but other regions will experience droughts that will affect agriculture and other uses of fresh water.
Under the BaU scenario substantial effects would be experienced in Central North America (Midwest of US and Canada) by 2030 such as a 2°C to 4°C increase in winter temperatures and a 2°C to 3°C increase in summer. Precipitation by 2030 would increase up to 15% in winter and decrease between 5% and 15% in summer. Soil moisture by 2030 in summer would decrease between 15% and 20%. By 2100 sea level is expected to rise between 30 and 110 centimeters or more. Storm surges would temporarily flood coastal areas.
During the business-as-usual scenario economic consumption would increase annually between 1.6% and 3%. Estimates from other studies for the cost of stabilizing climate change range from a one-percent increase in GDP causing carbon emissions to reach 710 ppm, but a 5.5% decrease in GDP without business as usual could limit the carbon in the atmosphere to 445 ppm.
A study by Tetra Tech for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that with business as usual by the year 2050 about 400 counties in the United States will suffer very high risks of water shortage, mostly in the southwest from California to Texas and in Arkansas and Florida. In 2011 NASA climatologist James Hansen predicted, “If we stay on with business as usual, the southern US will become almost uninhabitable.” The US Energy Information Administration’s report in 2010 estimated that Americans will use nearly 50% more electricity in 2050, and to meet this demand the use of coal might be expanded by 10%.
In June 2014 “Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States” was published by a group led by Michael Bloomberg. They warn of damage to coastal property from storm surges, reduction of agricultural production, increases in energy demand, and impacts on labor productivity and public health. They predict that these impacts will probably grow in the next 25 years. They estimate that the current path of business as usual could cause the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to reach more than 900 ppm by the year 2100. Extremely hot weather is predicted for southern California, Arizona, and Texas and would spread throughout the southern US later in this century. Under business as usual by the year 2200 almost all of the eastern half of the US would have more than 20 days per year with such heat and humidity that it would be unsafe for people to go outside.
In the BaU scenario the average temperature in most American cities would probably increase 12 or 13 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. The estimated rise in the cost of electricity because of air conditioners in the United States would be more than $200 billion a year while the savings on reduced heating expenses would be only about $60 billion. Additional cost in the US for water is estimated at $950 billion per year in 2100. In recent years the financial damages of hurricanes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have averaged $12 billion per year with about 120 deaths, but the annual estimate for the year 2100 is $422 billion and 760 deaths. In the BaU scenario real estate damage from storms because of sea-level rising about 45 inches would probably increase to $360 billion in 2100. Thus the cost to the American economy by 2100 from these four causes would be about $1.9 trillion per year in today’s money.
Although the financial costs of business as usual to the United States and Europe could be very large from global warming, the differences between what the northern nations would experience compared to southern countries are immense. While the richer nations may suffer economic decline and many inconveniences, the poor people in Africa and Asia and to some extent in Latin America could be dying in the hundreds of millions because of starvation, disease, and war if capitalist business as usual continues.
The ethical injustice of this situation is far greater than any humanity has ever faced, including the five centuries when European slave-traders and plantation owners in the western hemisphere exploited the lives and labor of millions of Africans. Yet the consequences of those massive crimes are still apparent in the current circumstances of Africans and African-Americans; their poverty now sets the stage for an even more horrendous genocide in this century unless we change our ways.
First of all, most of the carbon emissions that are causing global warming have come from the wealthy industrialized nations in the north, namely in North America, Europe, and northern Asia (Russia, Japan, Korea, and China). Yet most of the suffering that will be inflicted by the climate change will be experienced by the poor people in southern nations. Thus from an ethical viewpoint the wealthy nations have an immense responsibility first to act decisively to prevent as much of the global warming as possible and second to aid the poor countries financially in order to ameliorate their predicament. Also there is an intergenerational problem. The older generations alive today are largely responsible for what will happen to today’s young people and to succeeding generations.
Unfortunately in the last 35 years capitalism has been taking us in the wrong direction by making economic inequality much worse while increasing the use of fossil fuels. To allow this trend of business as usual to continue would be unconscionable and criminal beyond what has ever occurred before. In the first half of the 20th century Europeans caused two world wars and a holocaust. Most of those who suffered from that were Europeans themselves, though Japanese imperialists slaughtered many millions in China and Southeast Asia. People today have an unparalleled responsibility to limit global warming, to help the poor by sharing economically, and to prevent wars which could become nuclear holocausts at any time.
In my view spiritual evolution and democratic revolution can both be enhanced by treating every person in the world as members of the human family. As Jesus taught, when you do it to the least one of these, you do it to me. Technology is rapidly facilitating global communication and education that can bring people together, but we need to share more than just information. When a few people have so much more than they need, democratic governments can determine that some of this excessive wealth can be shared with the billions of people who are suffering poverty because of lack of good health care, education, and economic opportunity. By redistributing a portion of these riches so much good could be done helping lift people out of poverty. The wealthy will still have more than they need; they just will not be quite as rich.
The most urgent and immediate need is to stop emitting so much carbon into the atmosphere. This could be implemented by taxing all emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels to deforestation and agricultural practices that impact global warming. National laws by the countries of the European Union, the United States, China, India, Japan, Russia, Canada, and Australia are urgently needed because they are the largest emitters. The average American uses 88 times as much energy as a citizen in Bangladesh which is suffering the most from coastal flooding. All nations must increase the development of solar energy, wind power, other renewable energies, and conservation so that fossil fuels can be reduced faster.
The most effective way to diminish the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere is to convert industrial farms to organic agriculture by using agro-ecological methods such as organic farming without pesticides and artificial fertilizers as well as diverse crops, soil conservation, cover crops, crop rotation, and composting. These organic techniques cause carbon dioxide to be sequestered naturally in the soil. Indian expert Vandana Shiva has noted that these methods also improve health, create more jobs, reduce poverty, and conserve water. Taxes on the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers will discourage their use while paying for the negative externalities of their pollution and damage to health. Also industrial feedlots that pollute the environment and endanger health by using antibiotics can also be taxed, and their subsidies can be removed so that people pay for the actual costs of meat and dairy products. As the eating of meat is reduced, remaining ruminant animals can graze in pastures where the grass also sequesters carbon dioxide. Eating meat may still remain as a luxury for the rich while others who eat less or no meat will become healthier. Use of hormones and antibiotics on dairy farms also needs to be regulated to protect human health.
Economic reforms to reverse the trend toward greater inequality of wealth can be implemented by national tax reform in the richer countries as well as in poorer nations which also have a few capitalists sucking wealth from the economy. Tax havens must be exposed and eliminated, and trade policies need to be made fair for all rather than be licenses for capitalist exploitation. Correction and compensation for past injustices need to be applied. Poor nations with large debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) could have the interest they have paid subtracted from the principal. Then the interest rates on the remaining debt could be lowered, perhaps to zero. Excessive wealth of the rich could be redistributed by taxing assets above a reasonable level, and the money could be used to finance aid programs for poor nations.
The highest priority can also be given to stopping the deaths that have been occurring because of lack of clean water, diseases, wars, and crimes often committed over illegal drugs. Such drugs could be decriminalized and regulated so that they can be taxed with the revenues funding treatment programs for addicts. The United States could help de-escalate wars it provoked in the Mideast by withdrawing its forces and stopping all weapons sales and military aid. United Nations peacekeeping forces could be strengthened and greatly expanded in order to bring to justice war criminals and encourage others to stop fighting. The United States could greatly reduce its military spending by stopping the production of weapons, withdrawing forces by closing foreign military bases, ending the sale of weapons, and leading the way toward nuclear disarmament. Then by negotiation all nuclear weapons can be reduced and eliminated. All nations could reduce their military spending and support the peace process by contributing to the United Nations.
A good portion of the revenues liberated by tax increases on the wealthy and reductions in military spending could be devoted to helping the poor within each nation and by aiding developing countries. In addition to the first priority of saving lives by assuring clean water and good health care, education is the greatest investment that can be made to bring people out of poverty in the long run. Prosperous countries can also help by sharing technical assistance and sending teachers to help poorer societies develop sustainable energy, organic agriculture, and local manufacturing as well as better health care and education.
As the poor become better educated, the high birth rate of five children per woman in Africa will decline naturally as it has in Latin America and India. With assistance and increased opportunities the poor will gradually develop their societies and move into the middle class, decreasing the need for outside aid. As these nations develop, they can learn to live sustainably so that moderate consumption does not aggravate environmental problems. When every region becomes more self-sustaining, then heavy products and fresh food need not be transported and traded so widely, reducing costs and pollution. By limiting intellectual property rights knowledge and art can be distributed globally through technology at very low cost. Innovators and geniuses will still be rewarded for their discoveries, inventions, and accomplishments but not so excessively. By sharing their work at reasonable prices more people may benefit. The number of billionaires would be reduced, but they will still be wealthy and will also be greater benefactors.
Eventually wars can be stopped, and nuclear disarmament could eliminate all nuclear weapons while monitoring atomic materials from remaining nuclear power plants while they are phased out. As these reforms succeed, people will gain confidence that wars can be prevented and that weapons of war can be eliminated worldwide. This can occur gradually through universal treaties and monitoring by international inspection teams under the authority of the United Nations.
To replace the previous war system the United Nations can be made democratic. When the people of the world agree to a democratic constitution for the United Nations, power will be distributed to the people and all nations rather than to one military superpower and a few other powerful nations. At the same time the crimes of fanatical terrorists, warlords, and criminal leaders of nations can be restrained by United Nations peacekeeping forces authorized by world laws that treat all people and nations equally. Volunteers from every nation can provide UN peacekeepers who could be organized regionally so that people can resolve their own conflicts in most cases. Yet if a region should have a serious conflict requiring outside assistance to solve, then other UN peacekeepers could be authorized by the democratic United Nations to intervene temporarily. Human rights can be protected in every nation by bringing violators to account nationally or if necessary by a world court of justice. No ruthless dictator nor government (even if it claims to be democratic) would be allowed to oppress people or attack other nations with armed forces.
Health care can become universal and be organized by each national government. Until poor countries work their way out of poverty, they may receive assistance from richer nations. The same process can be done for education which will enhance the prospects of future generations.
The succeeding chapters of this book describe the immense problems we face and specific solutions that can be applied to bring about a safer, happier, peaceful, and more prosperous future for all humanity.