[Special Feature]
Put a Halt to Climate Change Dystopia
Oct, 2021

“All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” U.S. President Joe Biden quoted famed Irish poet WB Yeats while addressing the severity of climate change. The expression, “all changed, changed utterly: a terrible beauty,” refers to the disaster that could befall humanity due to the climate crisis. Recently, a major wildfire was unleashed in California, a short while after a hurricane had also hit the Eastern U.S., causing massive damage. These events show that the ‘all changed’ climate crisis is happening right now and not in the future. 

Climate change is not only a problem in the U.S. An abnormal climate is a problem that no one in the world can escape. As the frequency of natural disasters continue to increase, resulting damage also rises sharply. UNISDR (The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) estimated damage reaching USD 2.55 trillion was the result of climate-related disasters over a 20-year period (1998-2017). The estimated cost was more than twice the amount for the previous 20 years (1978-1997) and is expected to expand further. Considering accelerating climate change, the ‘terrible beauty’ will also grow. Therefore, it is time to act on climate change that causes great damage to society and the economy. Climate experts speak with one voice, “Speak now and act now for the future.” 

Q CELLS prepared this special feature on climate change to take an in-depth look at the climate crisis happening around the world. The first feature article covers how serious today’s climate crisis is, and how the damage will affect humankind. 

 Secure the Maginot Line of Land Surface Temperature: 1.5°C 

1.5°C is the temperature that needs to be kept in mind amid the climate crisis. The *IPCC defined the critical point for global warming to be 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in its special report in 2018. Experts warn that if the temperature of the earth’s surface rises by 1.5°C, a point of no return will be reached. The IPCC special report also warned that at current warming rates, the planet would reach that critical point some time between 2030 and 2052. Moreover, the Sixth Assessment Report by the IPCC disclosed that the rising trend has been accelerated by about ten years. In other words, the timeframe for the 1.5°C threshold has been fast-forwarded to between 2021 and 2040 while the world was still in the phase of worrying about it. What is more serious is that the estimate is unavoidable even in the best-case scenario we can draw, which is to achieve complete carbon neutrality by 2050. Moreover, it is expected if climate change accelerates further, all glaciers at the North Pole will melt before 2050 at this rate. The signs have long been clear. In Greenland, North America, which is more than 80 percent covered with ice, 532 billion tons of glacier ice melted last year alone, an amount of water equivalent to filling seven Olympic-sized swimming pools every second. When glaciers melt, sea levels consequently will rise and we may witness coastal cities disappearing from the map. Will where you live now still be on the map in 2050?

*IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change): is an intergovernmental body of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) established to assess climate change-related global problems and provide international measures.

< Global Average Temperature Rise, June 2021, Source: NOAA >

The problem is not just rising sea levels. As the global surface temperature increases, heatwaves will sweep the globe. Heatwaves are direct evidence that a climate disaster is happening in full swing. In Greece this year, a heatwave of 47°C caused a massive forest fire. The U.S. also reported more than 80 wildfires in 13 states in July alone. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), North American cities experienced the hottest June in U.S. history and the highest daytime and nighttime temperatures were recorded between the 24th and 30th of June 2021. The Antarctic, where no one expects anything related with heat, was no exception. Last year, the temperature of Seymour Island in the Antarctic rose to 20°C for the first time in history. Unprecedented events like this are happening all over the world. The problem is that abnormal temperature will recur again and again. There are warnings that heatwaves will continue to break records every year and heat the world. According to the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report, we are up to 40 times more likely to experience extreme weather compared to before industrialization. Extreme weather that has occurred previously once in 50 years will become common, like the typhoons we experience in Korea every summer. That is why the 1.5°C threshold is important in terms of climate change. In order to stop the rise in land surface temperature, concerted efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have to be made from now on. 

 Climate Crisis, Threatening Human Health and the Health of the Earth 

The climate crisis is not a disaster we will face in the future. Although the future is indeed more worrisome, it threatens human life in many different ways even today. It has impacts on diseases with heatwave-caused heat strokes, and abnormal weather leads to a dramatic increase of insects, which increases the chances of virus transmission. Wildfires caused by heatwaves generate fine dust and pollute the air even more severely. Ozone pollution, which first comes to mind in terms of global warming, is still acute. Especially, air pollution leads to a vicious cycle, causing the climate crisis to worsen. Air pollution is the main threat to human health and is getting more serious. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), annual premature deaths due to air pollution in 2019 reached 4.5 million. This number was about 2.3 million in 1990, but it has nearly doubled since then. Disregarding the death rate, it is a serious risk factor because sulfurous acid gas and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere causes asthma, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases in children and youth. In fact, four out of ten children suffer fine dust-related diseases. 

Are you familiar with the term ‘climate anxiety’? It sounds new but you may get used to it someday, because the climate crisis also threatens our mental health. Climate anxiety refers to the chronic fear of environmental damage and was first defined in a report by the American Psychological Association in 2017. About 67 percent of Americans fear climate change, and over half of them are concerned that their mental health may be adversely affected by the climate change. In particular, many people who have experienced the climate crisis directly – vulnerable groups, natives, scientists and researchers – frequently claim lypophrenia. Britt Wray, a science author, said that many people experienced psychological anxiety related to climate change and victims of extreme weather, like hurricanes, reported an increased tendency to PTSD or suicide.  

 Growing Food Problems Due to Climate Change 

The impact of climate change is critical to human society and the economy as a whole. It also has a great impact on food production, which is of course essential to our survival. The rise of sea level and land surface temperatures directly affect animals and plants living on earth. For example, for every 1°C increase in the average global temperature, crop yields decrease. A decrease in average crop yield of wheat (6%), rice (3.2%), corn (7.4%) and soy (3.1%) makes the food problem even more serious. If the 1.5°C threshold were exceeded, the existence of entire species could be affected. If the temperature increases 2-3°C, up to 54 percent of species on land and in the sea would be endangered. If that happens, the changes will not be limited to our dining table but to the whole world we live in. 

In Korea, the temperature is rising twice as fast as the world average. Fish species and catch have changed along with the sea temperature increase. Squid have migrated from the east coast to the west coast, and the catch of cold-water fish, like pollack, has declined sharply. In addition, the temperature increase has hampered green onion harvests and hiked the price, causing a green onion crisis. The price hike led people to grow their own green onions at home and coined a neologism in Korean - ‘patech (investment in green onion by cultivating it at home).’ The impacts of climate change seem to be minor, but the climate crisis is affecting our lives whether we realize it or not.  

Greater harm can be easily foreseen. Last year, most European countries, and including Russia, suffered severe drought, which led to a drop in wheat production. On the contrary, a record-breaking flood that hit China hard ruined farmland in the Yangtze River valley. Since the river valley’s agricultural land accounts for about 70 percent of rice production, it also created a serious food problem. In East Africa, desert locusts bred abnormally due to climate change, and swept the area. Agricultural land equivalent to one million football fields in Somalia and Ethiopia was devastated by a swarm of desert locusts, and the damage directly led to a food crisis for local residents. 

<Locust swarm in northwest Kenya, Africa, Source: Huffpost Korea)>

Locust swarms always spawn on food problems because climate change abnormally increases the propagation of locusts. Locusts can cause food-related issues for one-tenth of the world population. Problems arise because the population of some creatures decreases while some drastically increase. These uncertainties make climate change more feared. It is estimated that the world population will reach 10 billion by 2050. In a sense, food is a critical resource. Therefore, securing food will determine the survival of humanity amid the climate crisis. 

 Start Making Changes From Where We Are Now 

The things we’ve talked about so far seem very gloomy, right? This reflects the fact that the problems caused by climate change are serious. However, we cannot just sit here and wait for the dystopia to come. Each government and many companies around the world are aware of the severity. This is the reason why more eco-friendly regulations are being implemented across the globe. Recently, the number of companies taking climate change-related measures seriously has increased. It also requires citizens’ attention and efforts. Fortunately, climate action is actively taking place among ordinary people these days. Young people also are participating in actions, or even leading the way. 

An eco-friendly movement led by ‘Kpop4planet’ is drawing attention. It actively seeks changes in daily life beyond considering eco-friendliness. ‘Kpop4planet’ is an organization formed by K-pop fans around the world, including fans of BTS and Blackpink. It calls on major entertainment companies in Korea to plan performances that generate low carbon emissions and minimize the use of plastics in album and goods production. Such efforts might be unexpectedly effective. According to the BBC, music performances held in Britain generate 405,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, Coldplay, a famous British rock band, announced that it would suspend touring in consideration of environmental problems originated from their rock concerts. The voice of fans can make an eco-friendly change in industry.

<Source: Kpop4planet Website >

Some medical students at Oxford University, UK, demanded adding mandatory climate change-related classes to the medical school curriculum. The students realized that it is necessary to learn how to treat people with injuries or for failing mental health due to natural disasters resulting from extreme weather. This movement shows what we can do in each field of one’s interest as a member of society. It is the same with a non-profit organization called eXXpedition, formed by women in engineering, that strives to measure the microplastic pollution level of the ocean and analyze the cause. Since 2019, members have traveled the world to study how to stop the dumping of plastic waste into the ocean. Changes like these can be made in whatever field we are working in.   

The climate crisis is the most critical issue our world faces today. Changes and efforts by all, including governments, companies and those who are reading this article, are urgently needed to protect our homes and our lives. 

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