In the absence of verifiable facts, many things become the subjects of fierce discussions where opinions and beliefs dominate. Nevertheless even when the facts are made available by scientists to the public, we still see some people rejecting them and presenting their own opinions as facts.To be polite, these people are skeptics. To be impolite, they are ignorant.
Such is the debate around the climate crisis. In many countries around the world, many people still regard it as something you can believe or not believe in, not as a fact to be dealt with and address seriously. The ignorance of the facts surrounding this issue has caused much anger, especially among younger generations, who are directly affected and threatened by the high level of pollution that we ‘adults’ continue to cause.
Sixteen -year- old environmental activist Greta Thunberg has become an icon of this anger. Greta is leading millions of youths around the world, with slogans such as “School Strike for the Climate” and “Fridays for the Future”, demanding that governments around the world do their part to reduce pollution levels. Kosovo youths have joined these protests as well, calling on the people in power to reduce pollution levels and protect the environment.
What is the climate crisis? Can we explain it in a way so everyone can understand it?
The average temperature of the Earth began to increase with the start of industrialization, when humanity began producing energy by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. These fuels are mainly composed of carbon. When they are burned, they emit carbon dioxide gas (CO2). The gas stays in the atmosphere for a long time and causes the greenhouse effect.
Global warming means that there is more energy in the atmosphere. This causes extreme weather events to happen more often and to be more destructive. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a scientific report where it argued confidently that the temperature of the planet has increased by 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels (1850-1900).
We have less than 10 years to drastically reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, so we increase our chances of preventing the global temperature from rising by more than 1.5ºC.
In September, it was estimated that if we emit another 360 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, we will reach the point of no return. Reaching that point would mean that the atmosphere would be so polluted that whatever measures humanity takes would not ensure that the temperature increase would be stopped and the planet repaired.
In 2018, 37 gigatonnes of CO2 were emitted, however in 2019 emissions are estimated to be even higher. One gigaton is equal to a trillion kilograms. If we continue at this rate, emitting 37 gigatonnes of pollution each year, we will reach the point of no return by 2029.
The IPCC argues that with these rates of pollution, we have a 67% chance of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5ºC. To put it more simply, we have less than 10 years to drastically reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, so we increase our chances of preventing the global temperature rise by more than 1.5ºC.
Reflecting on the environmental crisis which our planet is going through, the British newspaper The Guardian, began to use the term “climate emergency” instead of “climate change.”
What happens if the planet heats up by more than 1.5ºC?
The IPCC report shows that the frequency of extreme weather events will increase. The effects of climate change are being felt in some areas even with current temperature levels. There are stronger winds, greater floods, higher temperatures and more extreme events. But if temperatures continue to rise, the climate will quickly escalate, with ice melting and water levels rising in the oceans.
Most species will go extinct as they will not be able to survive such rapid climate change.
There will be more torrential rainfalls, hurricanes, floods, extreme temperature levels on both sides of the spectrum, more illnesses and epidemics. Ecosystems will change, which will influence food security around the world and cause more poverty, and consequently more inequality.
Most species will go extinct as they will not be able to survive such rapid climate change. Presently, 200 species go extinct every day.
How are we influencing global warming and the climate crisis?
Greenhouse gases are naturally emitted by volcanoes, fires, animals, corpse decomposition, including the decomposition of organisms that live underwater. When human causes are added to these factors, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reach very high levels.
Some of the main sources of man-made pollution are coal-based energy production and the burning of oil and liquefied petroleum gas. These are known as fossil fuels and are not renewable.
Another source of greenhouse gases is cattle. They produce methane gas, that is 28 times more potent than CO2 but stays in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time. The problem with methane gas is that due to the high consumption of meat around the world, the animal industry has grown at an extreme rate. As a result, causing the increased production of greenhouse gases. One cow emits 70 to 120 kilograms of methane per year. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it is estimated that there are 1.4 billion cattle around the world. In an illustration video produced by The Guardian, it is said that 14.5% of greenhouse gases are emitted from the cattle industry.
Motor vehicles — small and large cars, airplanes, ships — are also responsible for pollution because of CO2 emissions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 91% of the world’s population live in places where air quality levels exceed the WHO guideline limits, each year around seven million deaths are caused by exposure to polluted air, and pollution is one of the main causes of early death. Forest fires are responsible for the emission of about 20% of greenhouse gases. With global temperatures increasing, inevitably so have the frequency and intensity of massive forest fires that produce huge amounts of CO2.
In Kosovo, the climate crisis is not even a subject of public discussion.
Around 18% of people in Kosovo live below the poverty line, 60% are inactive in the labor market, around 30% are unemployed and our GDP is the lowest in the region. These statistics published by the Kosovo Agency of Statistics indicate what problems are prioritized by citizens. It is understandable to a certain extent that the climate crisis is not one of their main concerns. However, this doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be a key issue in our public policymaking, especially with regards to the use of coal for energy purposes.
In proportion to its population and territory, Kosovo is a big polluter.
In January 2018, for the first time drastic measures were taken in Prishtina when motor traffic was prohibited in the city for three consecutive days in an attempt to reduce extremely high levels of air pollution. Now that we are, once more, at the beginning of winter, Prishtina is once again expected to be covered in a smog that blocks the particulate pollution emitted by motor vehicles and coal use inside the atmosphere.
The auditor general report showed that in 2016 and 2017, parameters that are dangerous for human health, such as dust particles PM10 and PM2.5, were not reported for months, especially during the winter months, when these parameters reached maximum values. In cases when they weren’t reported, alarming levels of PM10 particles were registered — 400% above the WHO limits.
In proportion to its population and territory, Kosovo is a big polluter. It is estimated that we produce 10-12 metric tonnes of CO2, which means that compared to EU countries we produce twice as much pollution per capita. The coal power plants alone amount to 88% of this pollution in Kosovo.
What we can and must do.
Energy is necessary for our way of life and economy, however it is costly. That is why countries that have natural sources of energy — whether fossil fuels, solar or water — use them to maintain their energy independence, lessening their dependence on other countries. These national sources are safer and cheaper, despite the environmental costs.
There are many alternatives to fossil fuel energy, such as solar energy, geothermal energy, wind energy, hydropower and atomic energy. 65% of energy is produced from fossil fuels, 10% from nuclear resources and the remaining part from hydropower plants and renewable resources.
Hydropower plants, which often produce severe consequences for aquatic life and systems, do not function in many countries because they require a consistent water flow. Renewable solar and wind energy depend on climate conditions, and consequently are still not sustainable sources of energy production.
Until the world finds a solution for alternative energy, there are a few things which we as citizens can do to save the planet.
To make the situation more complicated, the global demand for energy is on the rise. Considering that renewable energy is developing slowly and the planet is warming up quickly, a sustainable alternative has been presented by billionaire and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, who invested billions of dollars to redesign nuclear power reactors.
Nuclear energy is the only alternative that is renewable and produces enough sustainable energy with little pollution, argues Gates in a Netflix documentary titled “Inside Bill’s Brain.”
Until now, the problem with this kind of energy was that the environment is contaminated when it is produced, as it produces radioactive waste. When accidents happen, the consequences of contamination could be fatal (for example: Chernobyl in Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan). Another problem is that nuclear reactors enrich uranium, which can then be used for nuclear weapons. However, Gates claims that the redesigned reactors have a zero percent risk of contamination when accidents happen and a zero percent risk from uranium enrichment, because they use depleted uranium.
Gates’ idea to bring back nuclear reactors might not be popular, but it could have potential as a quick solution for reducing CO2 levels. If these redesigned reactors are successful, countries could invest in them as an alternative form of energy production.
Until the world finds a solution for alternative energy, there are a few things that we as citizens can do to save the planet.
A video ad published by environmental activist Greta Thunberg shows what each of us can do to save the planet. “There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little and builds itself. It’s called a tree,” she says in it. Trees are considered effective tools for repairing the planet. But we also have to stop using fossil fuels.
On average, a human consumes around 300 to 700 kilograms of oxygen per year, while a tree, depending on its size, emits up to 100 kilograms of oxygen per year. According to a study published by the International Institute of Forestry in the US, oxygen consumption in urban areas goes from 17 to 30 trees per person, depending on the level of pollution.
How much Carbon Dioxide do you produce?
Want to know how much pollution you produce? You can measure it at www.carbonfootprint.com
Based on these estimations, which you can make yourself by using one of the many online calculators, a person produces 24 to 40 tonnes of CO2 per year. Use this website to see how much pollution you produce and how many trees you need to plant to even out your pollution.
In addition to planting trees, what we can do as citizens is to reduce meat consumption or remove it completely from our diet. If we drastically reduce our meat consumption, we can influence a decline in the growing animal industry, consequently reducing methane emissions.
Another thing we can do is to redesign city roads to build infrastructure which impedes motor traffic but facilitates the traffic of electric buses, bicycles and pedestrians. Motor vehicles produce lots of pollution, especially in Kosovo, where vehicle inspections are poor and cars are old.
Coal-based energy production, the growth of the animal industry and the production and use of motor vehicles that burn fossil fuels are forms of man-made pollution. Consequently, we must raise awareness and take measures to fight the climate crisis that we have caused ourselves.
We must demand that our policymakers find the greenest solution for energy; demand that our municipal mayors invest in infrastructure that favors public transportation, cyclists and pedestrians; improve forest protection; reduce meat consumption; recycle waste and care for our environment, because we have no other planet.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.