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The Human Challenge of Climate Change: An Overview

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Part I: Climate Change & Energy Series

Why It Matters 
For climate change, energy consumption is at the heart of both source and the solution. This is because energy is involved in everything we do, in one way or another.  According to the IPCC, energy is responsible for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions.  
Energy is the heart of the solution to the climate challenge
— International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2020) 
How we choose to generate and consume energy is at the epicenter of successfully mitigating against both the effects of global warming and climate change. You can learn more about the difference between global warming and climate change here (LANI > internal link to climate basics article). 
Climate change is often spoken about in terms of the direct, first-order effects of increasing temperatures, loss of ice sheets, rising sea levels, biodiversity loss, etc., but the real story is about the second-order effects on humanity and the living ecosystems upon which we depend to survive.  
Massive climate-driven migration will cause untold suffering through wars, the rise of authoritarian governments and increased discrimination. The collapse of traditional food sources will cause hunger, famine and conflict.  The rising sea levels will overwhelm islands, coastal cities and as always it will be the poor and disadvantaged who will pay the highest price.  Acidification of the oceans will cause the collapse of fishery grounds, resulting in more hunger, more conflict and more death.  And these are just a sampling of the effects we can reasonably model today.  There will be untold unknown impacts that we can only guess at.  
All this is going to happen on global scale in a time frame of 10’s of years. It has the potential make the worst horrors of the 20th century look tame in comparison and I believe it puts a moral imperative on us in the West to do everything we can mitigate it.  
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Climate Change and Health—CDC 
It’s a major migraine, to put it lightly; nevertheless, it’s necessary we grasp the scale and scope of the challenge in order to lay out the solutions. This is the first article in a three-part series:  
  • Part I—the problem;  
  • Part II—how the world needs to change to address the climate challenge; and  
  • Part III—some of the things we can do today to get started.    
The Scale of the Challenge 
We need to acknowledge that all this damage to our environment isn’t happening to someone else’s world; it’s happening to our world—from New Jersey’s famed blueberries to Wall Street to Ohio’s industrial manufacturing industry, and far, far, beyond—all aspects of our human world and of our human lives are sustained, and reliant upon—without exception—natural ecosystems and the environment.  
In our pleasant-enough existence on this little blue ball, there is no avoiding this most basic truth: our health, happiness, and prosperity is inseparable from that of the environment.  This National Geographic Standard (# 15) says it best:  
Physical systems and environmental characteristics do not, by themselves, determine the patterns of human activity; however, they do influence and constrain the choices people make.  
If the environment continues to be pillaged, damaged, disrupted and ignored, our planet will refuse to bestow upon us the bounty of resources from which Western society has been built.  
The sheer scale and complexity of climate change is a huge challenge in and of itself and is something that has the potential to overwhelm our ability to respond. While the world has proven itself capable of solving smaller or limited environmental issues—such as the banning of ozone-depleting CFC’s internationally, or creation of limited wildlife reserves—environmental degradation persists, and these efforts have failed to be both unified and comprehensive. Climate change is a challenge of an new order of magnitude: we must take it seriously, both individually and as a society, in order to dedicate the resources and a taskforce fit to the size of the job ahead.  
We have reached a point where there is international recognition of the scale and urgency of climate change by experts in all respected governments and scientific institutions, most members of the public, and an increasing number of corporations. However, we have not seen the rapid deployments of mitigating solutions that we might hope for.  
The reasons are many, but they include a mix of the following: cost, lack of alternatives, inertia by societies and a general “tragedy of the commons” mindset. – embed this video here explaining the tragedy of the commons mindset  
With respect to cost of change, the pervasiveness and entrenchment of fossil fuels is important to understand.  Fossil fuels are at the heart of our global economy and they are there because they are relatively cheap (if you don’t include a cost of their damage to the environment that is).  Without them, we wouldn’t be able to feed and shelter the 7.5 billion people on our planet, nor would we be able to live in the type of society we desire.   
From transport to construction to agriculture, most major pillars of society rely on fossil fuels to function. While I am strongly against the way the fossil fuel industry have obfuscated the science around climate change and politicized the solutions, we should all be honest with ourselves and understand that it is ultimately us, the end consumer, that drives the demand for oil, gas and coal, and so it is ultimately us who will need to change if we are going to solve this problem. 
Some Good News 
We have both the tools and technology to change the outcome and both limit and mitigate climate changes’ worse effects on humanity. And it all starts with energy usage.  In the next part of this series I will talk about the ways that we in Ridgewood can change how we use energy to reduce our impact of the environment. 
Further Reading 
Read the next articles in this series on climate change and energy: 

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