Don’t Look Back; We’re Not Going That Way
Will Charouhis, Founder of Forces of Nature
Closing the books on 2022, we end one of the hottest years documented in human history. Although scientists have long predicted global warming would lead to more frequent and intense extreme weather events, no one listened. But as one climate disaster after another broke records across the globe-in virtually every category-that science debate has ended. Behind the disasterous images of our crumbling planet that now roll across our screens with alarming regularity are a roster of stats.
The greatest crisis ever to face humanity, one years in the making, has arrived full throttle. This past year will be remembered as the year our planet started to flood-measurably. Antarctica's sea ice hit historic lows, melting at breakneck speeds so fast they can be caught on camera. Almost every single glacier on Earth is now shrinking. As the year rolled away from us, the escalating melt from Greenland and Antarctica is now on pace to add a foot of sea-level rise by the year 2050, with two-thirds of the world's glaciers expected to disappear completely by the end of the century. These ocean changes slowed down the north to south current that controls the world’s weather, and the world watched as one after the other, deadly weather events unfolded, affecting every continent on earth.
2022 saw relentless monsoon rainfalls drowning Brazil, Nigeria, and Southern Asia in record-breaking floods. Pakistan alone saw 33 million people displaced, 40 billion dollars in damages, and 1500 deaths, which is likely an undercount.
Temperatures skyrocketed across western Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, China and north-western Africa — reaching their hottest 12 months in recorded history. Ponds and streams vanished, with even some sections of the Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia, almost completely drying up. As an ominous sign of the speed at which the world is warming, the world oceans, our massive carbon sinks, hit their warmest levels on record for the fourth consecutive year in row. Dought conditions in the Horn of Africa, stretching into their third year, put more than 22 million people at risk of starvation.
Here in America, 18 climate-related disasters resulted in losses of over $1 Billion dollars, and more importantly, hundreds of lives. Our Great Plains, home to 90% of the US-produced food sources, experienced 40 consecutive weeks of drought in 2022. City, State, and federal governments issued water restrictions, rationing water in some places for the first time in history.
As this past year rolled to an end, our world slipped into its’ new reality. From the extreme floods in Venice, to Europe's heatwaves causing more than 61,000 deaths, to the floods in Pakistan, we ended the year in a way no one imagined when it started. The pictures of the death and destruction barreling in as we close out the year are those imagined in a bad science–fiction movie-except they are real.
More than half of all industrial greenhouse gas pollution since the Industrial Revolution has been created in the past 30 years. In the last decade, fossil fuel emissions have risen 10% higher, and are still increasing. We are by no means on the right path. To the contrary, the best science available indicates that we have already reached the point of no return—the tipping point beyond which we can recover the world as we know it.
As we kick off 2023, the state of the planet is dire. Preserving our planet as we know it is no longer possible. Our inaction this last decade has ceded the fate of coral reefs, some island nations, the displacement of millions of people, and our own Florida Keys. And the effects of this science experiment we’ve conducted on our planet are just beginning; this story is hurtling us towards an uninhabitable planet.
The climate shocks last year have made it clear the greatest issue to ever face humanity is here. Catastrophic climate change is our new reality. But did any good rise from the disasters?
Out of the death and destruction, our generation stood up. In the fight against climate change, an army of young climate activists began calling for the political, social and economic solutions necessary to fix things. Matching news reports of climate calamities are news reports of new technologies, directly capturing carbon from the atmosphere and scaling up renewable energy. For the first time ever, investment in renewable energy is matching investment in fossil fuels, and collaboration is taking place across the globe to scale it up.
A long barrier is being tested which has the capacity to remove half of the waste from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within ten years. Researchers developed an enzyme that can break down plastic in a number of days, rather than hundreds of years. Engineers tell us we may not be that far out from roads, windows, and even cellphone screens capturing energy from the sun. Thanks to record deployment of renewables and electric vehicles, fossil fuel emissions are finally slowing down.
And as the world watched, our leaders came together in a last minute decision to collaboratively resolve this global problem, entering into a breakthrough agreement for developed countries to take the lead on financing adaptations needed in developing countries hit hardest by climate change.
The message of hope is this: While it is too late to stop climate change, it is not too late to slow it. Every action we take slows the effects of global warming incrementally, giving us time to adapt to the changes, and therefore giving us our best chance for survival. The question is how does civilization make it through the inevitable change to our planet?
Do we have what it takes? I'm betting on humanity. As the new year rings in, I am reminded that the sand in the hourglass is running out. And I am emboldened by the millions of my peers who remain steadfast in their call to action.
Together we are unstoppable youth calling for immediate action to stop climate change. One of the people. By the people. For the planet. Because there is no planet B. We’ve all just got to do something. Stand with us.
Will Charouhis, Founder of Forces of Nature