What is the Most Important Consequence of Climate Change

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Our world is constantly evolving and society is evolving right with it. People’s views have begun to change and the younger generation especially is starting to take a stand on world issues.

The climate change social issue has gained traction over recent years. Based on the results from the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Survey 2017, almost half of the participants’ main concern is climate change, followed by large scale conflict, wars, and inequality. 

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Earth’s climate varies over the years. Glacial periods, characterized by colder temperatures and glacial advances, give way to interglacial periods, which are characterized by warmer temperatures and glacial retreats. Glacial interglacial cycles are not new to Mother Nature, glacial periods can last anywhere from 70,000 to 90,000 years and interglacial periods on average last approximately 10,000 years. However, this current cycle is particularly alarming as we are experiencing an abnormally long interglacial period. This interglacial, called the Holocene, has lasted nearly 11,000 years. 

That’s not all. Due to human-induced climate change—combustion of fossil fuels that lead to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, etc—The Holocene is expected to last another 50,000 to 100,000 years. “The bottom line is that we are basically skipping a whole glacial cycle, which is unprecedented. It is mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it.” 

The scientific debate concerning the presence and circumstances of climate change is long settled. A 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that scientists are more convinced than ever of the connection between human activities and global warming. More than 197 worldwide scientific associations agree that global warming is real and has been caused by human action. Now in 2020, most of us know climate change is happening, it is caused by humanity, and almost solely the effect of energy consumption and industrial processes.

If nothing is done soon, the Earth will truly fall into a crisis, with global warming—the gradual heating of the planet’s surface, oceans and atmosphere, primarily believed to be caused by the burning of fossil fuels—expected to be the most important consequence of climate change . What are the effects of global warming? An increase in average temperatures and temperature extremes, extreme weather events, melting of ice caps, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, extinction of certain plant and animal species, and changes to human society. 

Having said that, even as we focus our thoughts on all this information, it’s difficult for us to understand the extent of global warming since most of us are not feeling the changes in our day to day life. What effect does this have on the world? Let’s look at something more recent. Worldwide annual temperatures are increasing at an average rate of 0.17°C (0.31°F) per decade since 1970. Yet for Longyearbyen—the capital of Svalbard—a town located 800 miles from the North Pole, the temperature is increasing at more than three times the global rate. This is also known as accelerated Arctic warming, as the higher temperature melts ice and snow, less sunlight is reflected and more solar energy is absorbed by the darker surfaces that are now exposed. With this soaring temperature change, it also comes with increasing rainfall. Annual rainfall in Longyearbyen used to be about 200mm but the town is now having days with almost 50mm of rain.

In 2014, some apartments in Longyearbyen started showing cracks in the walls. Buildings in Svalbard are built on wooden pillars sunk into permafrost—permanently frozen ground—which for years, has been a great foundation since it is as hard as concrete. However, with the warmer and wetter weather, the wooden pillars become wet and start to rot which in turn destabilizes the buildings, causing them to sink into the softening ground. Avalanches are also more likely to occur due to the abundant rainfall and degraded permafrost. December 2015 saw a raging storm that triggered an avalanche, sending snow, ice, and rocks plunging down a mountain onto Longyearbyen. A 42-year-old man and a two-year-old girl were both killed in the incident. In 2017, another major avalanche hit the town and destroyed more houses.

Furthermore, there is one particular building near Longyearbyen that is of the utmost significance. Often referred to as the “doomsday vault”, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a secure international seed bank established in February 2008 to serve as a backup storage facility. The vault is our world’s attempt to guarantee that in the event of a large-scale global crisis, our agriculture survives. This is why when the Doomsday Vault flooded in October 2016 due to the heavy rainfall and warmer temperatures, it was alarming. Although the water did not reach the seeds, and the Doomsday Vault is fine, for now, it is still worrisome as permafrost around the vault should have refrozen and should not have melted to this intensity. 

Norway, where Svalbard is situated, is not the only country to be facing difficulties. China’s agriculture and water supplies are getting affected, and so is Russia, where the Siberian Sea was seen releasing tons of trapped methane gas. Scientists found out that the quantity of methane in the air over the East Siberian Sea is at least nine times the global average. Some of the measurements were up to 16 parts per million, well above the average atmospheric methane concentration of 1.7 parts per million. The sea, which should have been covered in ice during the time of their research, was reduced to open water and looked as if it was ‘boiling”, with the release of such huge amounts of methane. Before this, scientists have not given much thought to the sub-sea permafrost, assuming that it would stay frozen forever—hence the name—and keep the methane at bay. It is an alarming sight to see it melting now, especially with the knowledge that there are about 1,400 gigatons of carbon frozen in permafrost, almost double the amount currently in the Earth’s atmosphere (850 gigatons) and if more carbon is released from the permafrost than it is absorbed, our planet will be in peril. 

Now, this is a lot of evidence that global warming is making an impact on Mother Earth but what are the schemes being executed to solve this crisis? The most prominent one would have to be the Paris Agreement, opened for signature on 22 April 2016 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. The Paris Agreement is an arrangement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), bringing all the nations together with a common goal; to combat climate change. This deal’s purpose is to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

The Paris Agreement expects all Parties to put forth their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the upcoming years. This includes requirements that all Parties report routinely on their emissions and on their implementation efforts. There will also be a global stocktake every 5 years to assess the collective progress towards achieving the objective of the Agreement.

Since 2016, more countries have ratified and continue to ratify the Agreement, reaching a total of 125 Parties in early 2017.

Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States had also made combating climate change one of the cornerstones of his presidency. He has said many times that he 'believes that no challenge poses a greater threat to our children, our planet and future generations than climate change — and that no other country on Earth is better equipped to lead the world towards a solution.'

Obama unveiled the Clean Power Plan, first proposed in 2014 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The goal of this plan is to lower carbon emissions from power plants. This plan was the basis for a historic arrangement with China in which the planet's top two emitters of carbon dioxide agreed to dramatic decreases in their greenhouse gas emissions. It also paved the way for the Paris Agreement. 

On Nov. 6, 2015, Obama rejected the proposal of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Texas Coast. There were known risks of the construction of the pipeline such as the possibility of a spill as well as the long-term commitment to a carbon-heavy fuel reservoir that contributes to climate change. It would have carried petroleum from Canada's oil sands, the extraction of which produces about 17 percent more greenhouse gases than standard oil. 

The European Union (EU) is also fighting climate change with policies and cooperation with international partners. The official EU website states that 'the EU is on track to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020, has put in place the key laws and measures to achieve its climate and energy targets for 2030, and is working towards a climate-neutral EU by 2050.' They have executed policies such as the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) where they put a limit on the total amount of certain greenhouse gases that can be emitted. Companies will receive or buy emission allowances that can be traded with one another, provided they have enough to cover their own yearly emissions. If not, heavy fines will be imposed. The limit is also reduced each year to make sure total emissions fall.

Set up in 2005, this policy—the world's first and biggest international emissions trading system—has shown results, proving that putting a dollar sign on carbon and trading in it is workable. Emissions are falling as expected and the results in 2020 are expected to be 21% lower than in 2005. 

Some other policies the EU have implemented are national targets for sectors that don't coincide with the EU ETS system such as transport, buildings, and agriculture; boosting energy efficiency, renewable energy, and governance of EU's countries' energy and climate policies.

Various countries around the world are also implementing carbon tax. Fees are imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas). Carbon tax is the core policy for decreasing and eventually abolishing the use of fossil fuels whose combustion is destabilizing and destroying our climate. It is a way to ensure users of carbon fuels are responsible for the climate damage caused by their emission of carbon dioxide. It can also motivate people to switch to clean energy, simply by making it cheaper to move to non-carbon fuels and energy-efficient methods. This policy in Singapore is called the Carbon Pricing Act and was implemented on 1 January 2019.

Although the phrase “climate change” is not uncommon to hear in conversations nowadays, the percentage of people in Singapore who care about changing their lifestyle for the better is still quite low and the reason is that they are lacking information about how bad the Earth and by default, Singapore, might have to suffer if this situation is not resolved soon. They are also unsure about what they can do to help. Of course, almost everyone will tell you about their metal straws and reusable bags but that is not enough and how many know about solutions such as eating more “meat-free” meals or using the fan instead of the air-conditioner?

My proposed project is “Peek into the Future”, an advertising campaign situated in underground train cabins to show how the world around us will change. Screens will be placed in the windows of these cabins, showing what’s outside, but years into the future. Flooding, drought, wildfires, and super-storms are all examples of what can be aired on the screens and audio will be added for a more immersive experience. Brochures will be hung on the subway rails/handles where one can remove and read to get more information on how they could help and do their part for the environment.

The insight of this campaign is that people tend to push negative issues to the back of their minds if it’s not currently affecting them. Hence, my project aims to visually and audibly plunge people into a world where they can’t ignore the dangers of climate change. People on trains are usually bored as there is nothing to look at through the windows of underground subways and hence, they turn to their phones for entertainment. Why not give them something to be interested in during the ride and also educate them about an important world issue at the same time? There is also a higher chance of the campaign reaching a larger audience as more Singaporeans are choosing to take public transport to work. Hopefully, by giving them a look into the future, they will be shocked into action and start to show more concern for Mother Earth.

The target audience for my campaign would be 16 to 30-year-olds. This demographic is a mix of Millennials and Gen Z kids. They actively avoid traditional forms of advertisements and marketing with ad-blocking software, etc. Gen Z customers respond to edgy and visual marketing tactics.This age group includes the ones most passionate about social causes. My campaign won't bore the target audience with print ads or get impeded by their youtube ad blockers. The tone of 'Peek into the Future' is out of the box and more similar to guerilla marketing than any other form of advertising strategy. People of this age group are also the ones who use public transport the most as they are old enough to travel alone but typically not financially stable to own a car. Targeting this tech-savvy age group who already want to take a stand on world issues will provide higher chances of the campaign going viral on social media as well.

Other than a website called “Let’s Game Change Climate Change” where there’s information about how climate change will affect Singapore, our country has not done much to raise awareness about this issue and hence, we do not have many competitors. Instead, we can look to other countries for examples of what they have done instead.

Most of the advertisements regarding this topic are print campaigns and one in particular stands out. Red Fuse’s “Climate Reality Group Campaign” is a series of print advertisements published in the United States in 2018. The prints depict statistics that show how many people believe in climate change alongside similar statistics of people who believe in myths such as zombies and bigfoot. It is very well done, society’s views on climate change are put into perspective when compared with such outrageous and obviously imaginary figures like Santa Claus and vampires. We even capitalize the name of an old, chubby man who slides down chimneys in December but not an issue that is going to have a huge impact on humanity’s future?

Although this campaign has a very good insight into the similar statistics of myths and climate change, I would say that this isn’t tackling much in terms of getting people to actively work on ways to change their lifestyle to save the Earth. Yes, they now know that climate change is real. But that’s as far as their source of information goes. They don’t know how serious it is or what they as a normal individual, not scientists or world leaders, can do about it.

My proposed campaign will learn from this and with the brochures, we will overcome this obstacle. The brochures will have action plans for the public, simple solutions that they can adopt into their current lifestyle such as “Meatless Mondays” or forming a “Carpool Crew”. At the same time, each solution will be elaborated to ensure that the audience knows how it is helping, which will increase their faith in the action plans and be more motivated to give them a go.    

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