I recently did a survey at my high school. I asked 100 high schoolers some pretty straightforward questions, and this is what I got:
DO YOU BELIEVE IN CLIMATE CHANGE? – 90% Yes
DO YOU CARE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE? – 62% Yes
That’s a self-explanatory figure. The debate going on right now is over whether the science is “real” or not: in other words, whether you get your science information from newscasters or, well, actual scientists.
It’s understandable that after climbing over the hump of understanding the science of climate change, we think we’ve done enough work. But this understanding provides a minuscule benefit towards actually solving the thing compared to a passionate care for fixing it.
Fortunately, this article is here to help. Empathize with the people described in the story below, and you’ll care. I promise.
What’s Going on in Bangladesh?
According to germanwatch.org, tectonic shifts in Bangladesh are causing the delta-country to be “slightly falling down.” Because of this, the Dhaka Tribune reports that compared to the rest of the world Bangladesh is 2-7 times more susceptible to sea level rise, depending on the region of the country. Even worse, according to climate scientist John Pethick, while the world will experience an average of 3 feet in sea level rise by 2100, Bangladesh’s sea level will increase by 13 feet by 2100, with high tides rising 10 times faster than the global average. This sea level rise, of course, is caused by melting ice and the thermal expansion of water, both of which are caused by climate change. Bangladesh, a flat, low-lying country, is ill-prepared.
Because of this sea level rise, scientists are predicting that the Sundarbans region, home to 5 million Indians and 8 million Bangladeshis, will be underwater in 15 to 25 years (as soon as 2030!). They are also stating that, on top of this, another 10 million Bangladeshis will be displaced by 2050, for a total of 23 million people (18 million from Bangladesh). By 2100, this number could be as much as 45 million (40 million from Bangladesh).
So, in the near future, the world will see a massive refugee crisis. Millions of innocent people will experience trauma and fear that is in no conceivable way their fault.
Even today, seasonal floods in Bangladesh cause temporary displacement and drown a child every 30 minutes. Just consider what will happen to these families when the encroaching seas affect millions more people, and are 100% permanent. Empathize with these innocent, helpless, lives.
Just as heartbreaking is the fact that the 18 million people that will become refugees in 2050 will have literally no place to go outside of Bangladesh. According to the educational paper, The Attacking Ocean, “both [of Bangladesh’s] neighbors feel deep antipathy to densely populated Bangladesh and possess different religious beliefs.” How much antipathy? Well, let’s look at how blatantly unaccepting Bangladesh’s two neighbors, India and Myanmar, would be:
Myanmar: Myanmar is perhaps the most infamous country in the world for its’ violent persecution of Muslims, as documented in my article on the Rohingya Muslims.
India: The government of India is currently constructing a 2500 mile fence along their border with Bangladesh, specifically intended to keep Bangladeshi climate refugees out of the country.
So, the Bangladeshi refugees would not be able to relocate to any neighboring country, and it would be very unlikely that they could migrate anywhere else, considering that the majority of people in this area live on less than $1 a day. To make matters even worse, the United Nations refrains from granting refugee status to environmental refugees, so these Bangladeshis would have very minimal support.
The point is, these refugees would most likely stay in Bangladesh, and this means that the population will continue to grow at a rapid rate while the land area shrinks. This brings up a huge problem: population density. And there couldn’t be a worse place for population density to rapidly increase than Bangladesh: Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated country that is not a microstate.
Let’s look at the year 2050: At this point in time, Bangladesh will have lost 17% of it’s land due to, of course, rising seas. This will be coupled by a population increase of 100 million people, giving the country a total population of 250 million. This means that, by 2050, the country’s population density will increase by 70%, to a whopping 5,043 people per square mile. That’s a heck of a lot: the current population densities of the cities of Denver, Portland, and Dallas are all considerably lower than that of 2050 Bangladesh, an entire country. By 2050, Bangladesh will be smaller than Louisiana, but more populated than 2015 Russia, France, and Canada combined.
What’s the result of so many people on so little land? Look no further than Dhaka, the largest city in Bangladesh. In 2015, Dhaka was the most densely populated metropolitan area in the entire world, with a population of 10 million. Now, let’s flash forward to 2050. Dhaka will maintain it’s #1 spot, but will add 30 million people, becoming the largest megacity in the world. This population of 40 million will be made up primarily of climate refugees, and the majority will be poor, considering that they are people who had been making less than $1 a day, and who had just lost every thing they had ever worked for. This influx of impoverished refugees will increase the size of Dhaka’s slums (which already make up almost half of the city) to an even more catastrophic scale.
As well, by 2050 Bangladesh will also lose 30% of it’s agricultural land (due to rising seas), which would severely damage the country’s agriculture-reliant economy, and push millions of farmers into unemployment…and Bangladesh knows this. To save their economy, Bangladesh is currently making a desperate deal with Uganda to be given access to over 200 square miles of Ugandan farmland.
The US emits an average of 17.2 tons of CO2 per person; Bangladesh emits a mere 0.3. But who bears the worst of the burden? The people of Bangladesh.
Do You Care Now?
This is not a story of facts and figures, this is a story of human life. When you look at this, you have to feel empathy for these people. If, for whatever reason, this is not enough to make you care about climate change, there’s a lot more:
- The world’s vertebrate population has already declined by 30%, and species are becoming extinct at a rate 1,000 times higher than normal
- More hurricanes, floods, desertification, fires, droughts, heat waves, disease, pollution
- Lower availability of basic resources like food and water
- 300,000 people already die each year due to climate change.
I think that after reading this, we can all agree that we should truly care about climate change. And I’m sure that we also feel a sense of urgency to solve this terrible problem.
Solving climate change requires starting at the root of the problem: the greenhouse gases we are emitting that are trapping heat in our atmosphere.
What almost every scientist is saying is that our best solution to climate change is to stay under 2 degrees celsius of temperature-rising. “2 degrees” is the lingo of most climate change negotiations. Of course, 2 degrees is not a perfect limit, as the oceans will not fully stop rising for centuries, and Bangladesh, unfortunately will still end up partially underwater, albeit in much, much better condition than if we surpassed the 2-degree limit. The draw of this limit is that it’s our best shot to drastically reduce all of the devastating problems caused by climate change.
Scientists and world leaders agree that the goal is a 2 degree limit. What they might not like to hear is how to get there: According to a scientific report, the only way to stay under 2 degrees is by eliminating 100% of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. It’s hard to swallow, but that’s what has to be done.
So, how do we do it? How do we eliminate 100% of emissions by 2050? I was wondering the same question, so I did a simple google search: “How to Eliminate Every Single Greenhouse Gas Emission.” And, I kid you not, every single article I found described a plan that would either “reduce” emissions from “CO2 only”, “reduce” emissions from “one sector”, or “reduce” emissions in “one country.”
But here’s the problem I have with that: Every time you compromise, people die. For every degree the earth warms because of human cowardice and greed, ecosystems are dismantled and families are torn apart.
I won’t stand for taking the slow, compromised plan, the plan that favors corporate interest over the public interest. So that’s why I did my research and have drafted my own way for the entire world to eliminate 100% of emissions from all greenhouse gases by the year 2050.
Let’s start with where our emissions come from, then find out how to eliminate them. Here are where the world’s emissions come from according to the EPA:
Electricity and Heat Production (25%) – burning fossil fuels for energy
Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (24%) – majority comes from livestock, with other small portions come from landfills and rice
Industry (21%) – most direct and indirect emissions come from burning fossil fuels for energy, while steel, cement, and F-gases account for smaller portions
Transportation (14%) – burning fossil fuels to power automobiles
Buildings (6%) – burning fossil fuels for energy and electricity in buildings
Other Energy (10%) – mostly from the process of producing fossil fuel
IMPORTANT NOTE: A lot of the emissions, specifically those from landfills and agriculture, come from non-CO2 gas sources (methane, nitrous oxide, and F-gases). Although CO2 is emitted the most by far, a pound of CO2 traps much less heat that a pound of those other gases. CO2 only causes 76% of climate change, so I made sure that my sources-of-emissions information above is all-gas-inclusive!
Now that we have the background knowledge, let’s put it into play: Using the sources-of-emissions information above, I have broken it all down into 7 categories that all of our emissions fall into: landfills, fossil fuel consumption, animal agriculture, steel, cement, f-gases, and rice. Below, I explain how we can eliminate all emissions from each and every one of the seven categories:
Landfills (about 3% of climate change) – Every year approximately 1.534 trillion pounds of waste go to landfills, releasing methane. This equates to approximately 74.46 billion cubic feet! Fortunately, we can use a waste-to-energy generator to convert the trash into usable power! Each generator consumes 2100 cubic feet of waste per minute, or 110 million cubic feet per year. To account for the 74.46 billion cubic feet of trash we emit per year, we would need 677 generators. Each will generate 87.66 million kwh of energy per year. For all of the 677 processors together, we have a total of 59.346 billion kwh generated each year. At a production cost of 17.45 cents per kw, the price would total a mere $10.36 billion! The result? No disgusting, methane-emitting landfills, plus clean energy!
Fossil Fuel Consumption (about 63% of climate change) – our electricity and energy consumption from fossil fuels (for transportation, electricity/heat, buildings, industry, and other energy) require over 104.4 trillion kwh of energy per year. But to eliminate emissions from transportation, we need to switch to only selling 100% electric cars…not immediately, but over the course of 35 years. By eliminating gas cars, our fuel consumption will go down by 25%. By adding electric cars, our fuel consumption will increase by 4.7 trillion kwh. Also, we have already provided 59 billion kwh from the waste-to-energy generators. So, in the end, the total energy we would need to provide would be (.75)(104.4)+4.7-.059 = 82.941 trillion kwh per year, from renewable sources. The current record for cheapest solar energy is 3.87 cents per kwh, but due to Swanson’s Law, these prices are dropping by 14% each year. Using calculus, we can find that, at this rate, over the next 35 years, the average cost of solar energy will be 0.729 cents per kwh. This is because, although the cost starts at 3.87 cents, it quickly drops, leaving the “35-year-average” to be 0.729 cents per kwh. Despite this, let’s be conservative and put the 35-year-average at 1 cent per kwh. At this rate, over the next 35 years, the entire world’s energy (82.941 trillion kwh) can be provided by an average of $829.41 billion per year, and 100% of it would be solar. But the best part is that for the subsequent 35 years, 2050-2085, the annual price would start at $73.12 billion per year and go down. The result? All of our energy costs would be paid, making everyone’s energy (heat, electricity, etc.) 100% free!…and there would be no petroleum, natural gas, or coal in any market!
Animal Agriculture (about 23% of climate change) – This is the hard-to-accept truth: there is no such thing as a world where meat and dairy can be produced at their current rate without significant impact on the environment. Every proposed solution to livestock emissions that I’ve read has not even come close to a 100% reduction. So, if we’re serious about this, we would need a shift to veganism over the course of 35 years. Fortunately it’s not as hard as it seems – with a larger market for vegan foods, emerging ideas (such as in-vitro lab grown meat) would be given potential. Now that we have gradually shifted away from animal-farming on a massive scale, we can reduce the world’s water consumption by 33%! Also, because 30% of Earth’s ice-free surface (15.46 million square miles) is currently used to raise livestock, we can restore an astounding 30% of Earth’s ice-free surface from farmland back to nature! Of course, to do this we would need to increase our production of certain vegetables, so there might not be a full 30% restoration rate, but it would be very, very close, as meat is by far more land-intensive than vegetables. Either way, this would be a much-needed project, because many scientists say that 50% of the Earth’s land should belong to Mother Nature, and we are currently at 17%. Adding 30% would be every environmentalist’s dream! The cost to restore 15.46 million square miles? Well, current prices for the restoration of forest are $320,000 per square mile, and for the restoration of prairies they are closer to $250,000. Let’s say that we restore 15.46 million square miles at a generous cost of $300,000 per square mile, and we have 35 years to do it. The grand total is $132.5 billion per year. The result? A gigantic reduction in CO2 emissions, land abuse, water abuse, and animal abuse, as well as more nature to enjoy and to “suck up” CO2!
Steel (about 5% of climate change) – all basic oxygen furnace steel mills would be replaced with electric furnace steel mills over 35 years. The emissions from these electric furnace mills come primarily from electricity, but since the electricity would be 100% provided by solar power, we would have practically zero steel emissions.
Cement (about 3% of climate change) – Half of these emissions come from burning fuel, which was already covered in “Fossil Fuel Consumption”. The rest, 1.5% of climate change, can be 100% eliminated with a “dicalcium silicate γ phase admixture” that would essentially absorb CO2 in the process of curing the cement, resulting in zero emissions.
F-Gases (about 2% of climate change) – Where I live in Wisconsin, the notorious Governor Walker recently lifted a ban on HFC-134a, a refrigerant that accounts for the majority of F-Gas emissions, and is on a path to account for a whopping 12% of all emissions by 2050. Fortunately, there’s a way to stop it: there is a substitute for practically every high emitting F-Gas. For example, by banning HFC-134a and replacing it with HFO-1234yf, the amount of emissions would be lowered by 99.7%, because a pound of HFO-1234yf traps 325 times less heat than a pound of HFC-134a.
Rice (about 1% of climate change) – According to wri.org, “Several well-established water management techniques (a single drawdown of water during mid-season, alternate wetting and drying [AWD], dry seeing, aerobic rice production) are available to reduce flooding, and perfect water management can theoretically reduce emissions by up to 90 percent compared to full flooding.” Since rice doesn’t contribute all that much to climate change, I will accept a 90% reduction for lack of a better plan.
Conclusion: We just freaking eliminated essentially 100% of all emissions by 2050! With this our temperatures will rise less than 2 degrees celsius!
One Problem Remaining: Sea Level Rise
Unfortunately, staying under 2 degrees celsius won’t solve all of our problems. We will still have a significant problem with sea level rise (although much, much reduced compared to not eliminating emissions at all). Fortunately, it is theoretically possible to suck up the 1260 trillion liters that are rising in the world’s oceans each year and use desalination plants to turn the salty ocean water into non-salty drinking water. Our world currently uses 9087 trillion liters of water per year, but with our elimination of Animal Agriculture we will reduce this usage by 33% to 6088 trillion liters per year. 1260/6088 means that, by desalinating the exact amount of water that rises in our oceans every year, we can provide more than 20% of the world’s water!
How much would it cost to suck up and desalinate 1260 trillion liters of water? Well, the current cost of desalination is .079 cents per liter, but this is reducing at a rate of almost 2.3% every year! Using calculus again, we find that over the next 35 years, the average (not constant) cost would be .0543 cents per liter of desalination. Again, though, let’s be conservative and put this number at .06 cents per liter. At this rate, for 1260 trillion liters, the average (not constant) cost would be $756 billion per year. The result? A fifth of the world’s water needs would be provided, and the rising seawater would be sucked up in a precise and controlled matter, so that no Bangladeshis would have to flee! Problem solved!
This is a 35 year plan that entails 10 things:
(1) All landfills will be replaced by waste-to-energy generators by 2050
(2) All fossil fuel consumption will be replaced by renewable (solar) energy by 2050
(3) All gas-guzzling cars will be replaced by electric cars by 2050
(4) Animal agriculture will be slowly fazed out, with the farmland being replaced by forest by 2050
(5) All non-electric steel furnace mills will be made electric, and the electricity will be provided by solar power
(6) All cement will be replaced by CO2-absorbing cement
(7) All F-Gases will be replaced with an alternative (e.g., all HFC-134a will be replaced by HFO-1234yf)
(8) The aforementioned water management techniques would be applied to all rice farms
(9) The exact amount of sea water that rises each year will be desalinated and turned into drinking water
(10) #3,5,6,7,8 will be accomplished with simple legislation. #1,2,4,9 will be provided by government funding from an international coalition – the cost of these four in total will be a 35-year-average of $1,728,270,000,000, or approximately $1.728 trillion, per year, and rapidly decreasing – again, as an average, not a constant.
In the end, we reverse climate change, stop sea level rise, reduce water consumption by 33%, turn 30% of our land from farmland to nature, and provide 20% of the world’s water! Sounds great to me!
Again, this plan would not be armageddon! The real armageddon would be if we didn’t follow this climate-change-reversing plan…
Feasibility of This Plan
In terms of funding, the $1.728 trillion would be provided by a coalition of countries. I think that the rich, high-emitting countries that are putting the poor, low-emitting countries in jeopardy should bear the brunt of the cost. Let’s say that, as explained in my Worldwide Train System article, we have the G20 coalition pay for it, and let’s be generous and say that even though the US accounts for 22% of their combined GDP, the US would take a leading step and pay for 35%. This 35-year-average cost for the US, then, would be about $600 billion (and $1128 billion for the rest of the G20) – which means that for a cost less than that of our military spending, we can stop climate change in it’s tracks, provide 20% of the world’s drinking water, and revert 30% of the world’s land back to forest! Sounds like a reasonable tax increase that would save lives and create millions of jobs!
The corporate regulation part of my plan, of course, would be an overwhelming challenge, especially for the US. In our world today, 63% of all emissions come from a pool of 90 corporations, and so far, as seen in the overwhelming approval of deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the United States is incredibly corporate-friendly and would be reluctant to commit to serious, comprehensive regulations, especially to industries like the automobile industry, the petroleum industry, the coal and natural gas industries, and the meat and dairy industries. This is a problem, because small personal acts like recycling and turning the lights off, while still very important, provide a small impact compared to systemic, governmental change (corporate regulation). Corporate regulation is key to solving climate change!
That’s why it disappointed me when I received the responses to the third question of my high school survey (that I brought up at the beginning of this article):
What’s your action plan to stop climate change?
NOTHING – 36%
PERSONAL HOUSEHOLD ACTS – 62%
ACTIVISM/SYSTEMIC CHANGE – 2%
The activism and systemic change are important, and I think that we kids, the next generation, will have the potential for a strong sense of action to fight and work hard to follow a comprehensive, corporation-regulating, emissions-reductions plan like this one, and maybe, just maybe, those living in coastal Bangladesh will never have to flee.