JACKSON, Wyo. — The planet as we know it is in a state of emergency.
Dr. Rob Davies, a professor and physicist from Utah State University, offered some hard truths during a presentation at The Center January 17. What it boils down to, he said, is that we are in a climate crisis. And emergencies require “radical” solutions.
But he pushed back on the idea that acting on climate change is really radical. “What’s radical is knowing we’re in a crisis and not responding,” he said. “It is rational to know and respond.”
The ugly truth
The science is crystal clear, Davies said. The earth’s temperature is rapidly rising, and humans are to blame. Yes, the climate has changed in the past, and dramatically, on its own. But since humans entered the picture, and especially since the industrial era, global temperatures have risen at unprecedented and unsustainable amounts.
Before we lived in an age of industry and consumption, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere lingered at or below 280 parts per million (PPM). Today, that number has skyrocketed to a staggering 410 PPM — and most of that buildup has happened in the last 40 years.
The global temperature has also risen by 1.1°C in the last century — and again, most of that increase has been concentrated in the last 40 years. When asked by a skeptical audience member why we should be alarmed when the earth has survived ice ages and other dramatic climate changes before, Davies responded simply: if the earth were running its natural course, it should be getting cooler right now. But the opposite is happening, and too quickly.
The earth’s temperature can only afford to rise by 2 °C, Davies said. We’re already halfway there. At the rate we’re burning carbon, we have about eight years left until we reach the “tipping point” — the point of no return. In 80 years, the temperature will have risen 13°F in North America. That drastic of a change is “catastrophic” — meaning, unadaptable.
In other words… we won’t survive this. That is, if we don’t act. Like, yesterday.
What can I do?
It’s everyone’s question when confronted with the hard truth of climate change. The truth, Davies said, is that solutions will have to be big — radical, even. But radical does not mean irrational.
The good news is we already have the technology and the resources we need to act. We know everything we need to know.
In order to curtail the climate catastrophe, climate experts predict we need to cut our emissions in half every decade — and this one (the 2020s) is the most critical.
There’s a social justice angle to this, too. Developed nations, the United States especially, are responsible for the vast majority of carbon emissions. If we are the most responsible, we must also make the biggest sacrifices. To achieve 50% fewer emissions in the next decade, developed nations need to cut emissions 15% every year.
On an individual basis, Davies said 15% is a good personal goal, too. Meat and dairy farming is one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions in the world. Can you cut back on meat and dairy consumption by 15% this year? Can you drive 15% less? Fly 15% less? That’s a start.
Still, climate change is a systemic problem and requires systemic change. Systemic change requires social awareness. Sociologists have proven that the tipping point for social change is just 10%. Ten percent of the population needs to be on board for a movement to succeed.
The best thing you, an individual, can do, Davies said, is just to use what you’re already good at to promote social change. Are you an artist? Make art. Are you a chef? Source your food sustainably, and encourage others to do the same. Anything you do can make a difference if you do it consciously and publicly. The science is clear. What we need now are stories and soldiers.
“Our task is not to reach the top of the mountain,” Davies said. “Our task is to find a place to take the next step, and take it.”
Energy Conservation Works partnered with Road to Zero Waste, Slow Food in the Tetons, Hole Food Rescue, Yellowstone-Teton Clean Cities, and Jackson Hole Airport to offer local, everyday things you can do to help combat the climate crisis. Check out the video here and above.
Miss the presentation? Energy Conservation Works filmed it and put it online. Check it out.