As climate change continues to alter the landscape or our planet, we are beginning to see large changes that affect our every-day lives. Massive wildfires have devastated large areas of the Americas, Australia, and Europe; sudden changes in precipitation and temperature have destroyed agricultural communities around the world; and melting glaciers and ice sheets have led to rising water levels that threaten coastal cities and islands. These are some of the most apparent effects of climate change, which have noticeable impacts on international economies, infrastructure, and wildlife. However, perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of these environmental repercussions is the impact they have on human health. With COP28 less than a week away, it is essential that public health be addressed in the context of climate change in order to strengthen public health systems and adapt to increasing incidences of human disease.
Climate change and cancer
In the United States, some of the largest signs of climate change have been the increasing number and intensity of wildfires that occur every year. Cities everywhere have experienced noticeable decreases in air quality, but the resulting smokey air may be more than an inconvenience. In fact, one study done at McGill University found that people who live closer to wildfires may have a higher risk of developing brain and lung cancer than those who do not (1). This would likely be due to the release of carcinogens and particulate matter from fires. This assumption also agrees with another study, which found that cancer deaths related to the presence of particulate matter have been increasing over the last 30 years (2). Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have been exploring the relationship between climate change and cancer as well, and have also noted that the hurricanes and storms that are strengthened by the effects of climate change may be wiping out the medical resources needed to treat cancer patients (3). Because of this, climate change may be increasing the incidence of cancer, as well as limiting our ability to treat it.
Climate change and infectious disease
Climate change has also had a significant influence on the movement and migration of animals and insects. As their ecosystems change, these organisms must relocate to survive, and when they do, they bring all sorts of pathogens with them. As a prime example, we can look at malaria. This disease is caused by a protozoan parasite which is transmitted by mosquitos. As climate change warms the planet, these pathogens can develop at faster rates (4). Additionally, there is also evidence that these warmer climates expand the habitable regions for mosquitos, and that climate-related disasters are creating more optimal conditions for mosquito reproduction (5). This aspect of climate change also affects viruses that are transmitted by mosquitos, and it isn’t the only example of how climate change creates a perfect storm for diseases to spread and persist.
Topics at COP28
As an urgent issue related to climate change, public health will be an important topic at the upcoming COP28 climate conference in Dubai. In fact, this year will be the first time that a COP conference incorporates a “health day” into its programming (6). These sessions will cover everything from public health adaptation to health finance and will be an essential part of the climate discussion. Hopefully, they will take us one step closer toward building public health resilience in a time of uncertainty around the world.
Author: Benjamin Shindel, PhD Candidate in MSE at Northwestern University
While the proceedings at the UN Climate Change Conference will undoubtedly focus on avoiding the global catastrophic risks that climate change threatens, another topic will compete for attention in 2023. Over the last few years, the risks associated with the development of artificial intelligence have risen to the forefront, reaching a fever pitch with the release of software from tech industry leaders that suggests humanity is on the cusp of developing “weakly general artificial intelligence”, or an AI that can rival the average human in its capabilities. OpenAI, Google, Meta, and others have developed AI capable of writing, locomotion, logical reasoning, and the interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli. Simultaneously, researchers around the world have made substantial progress in the application of narrow AI tools for specific scientific problems.
While AI offers tremendous promise in accelerating humanity’s timelines for solving grand challenges, including climate change, it also poses an existential risk to humanity. While there’s an ongoing debate as to the shape, likelihood, and severity of this risk, many of the world’s top AI scientists and thinkers have signed onto statements endorsing the need for action to study and avoid the risk of extinction from a superintelligent AI. The recent leadership crisis/coup at OpenAI, the current unquestionable vanguard of AI development serves as a particularly shocking example of the rift within the AI world between pushing forward AI capabilities and ensuring the safety of humanity.
This specific existential risk is challenging to describe in a short blog post, and it is even more challenging to convince the reader of its seriousness, since it can sound like science fiction, but I’ll try here:
While the effects of anthropogenic climate change are massive and have already begun, it is unlikely that they pose a true existential risk to the survival of humanity. It can be challenging to balance attention between a ~100% proposition of damaged ecosystems, enormous infrastructure costs, and issues of food insecurity, climate refugee crises, etc, that will develop over decades… against a ??% proposition of a world-destroying machine intelligence. There are parallels to be made to the rise of nuclear technology, where atomic fission posed a potentially unlimited clean energy source alongside the growing threat of mutually assured destruction pursued by the parties of the cold war.
At COP28, I expect that people will focus on the more pleasant or pedantic aspects of artificial intelligence. There will be discussions of the benefits of AI for scientific research in the fields of inquiry that can benefit climate and clean energy technology. AI has already proven invaluable in searching for more efficient materials for energy generation and storage, finding catalysts to synthesize clean fuels, and even in the genetic engineering of more resilient crops. There will also be discussions on the risks of AI in spreading misinformation about the climate, or perhaps for its benefits in combating that misinformation.
Unfortunately, these discussions will likely miss the crux of the debate. The growing power of AI will be immense and if we’re lucky, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of some of the utopian benefits that it can provide for the world. It’s easy to imagine a world where the efficiency, automation, and optimization brought on by tools that augment our species’ intelligence can lead to rapid solutions for the major climate challenges of today. However, if we’re unlucky, the risks of AI could outweigh these benefits, perhaps dramatically so.
Author: Chia Chun Angela Liang
Affiliation: PhD candidate at UC Irvine, USA; Science and Technology Advisor at Open Dialogues International Foundation; Western Onboarding Chair, National Science Policy Network
With COP28 coming in 2 weeks, more information has been released from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) authority. As an early-career scientist representing the American Chemical Society and the Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations (RINGO) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it is fascinating to attend COP28 compared to other COPs.
First of all, the COP28 leadership may present a conflict of interest to the UNFCCC itself. The president-designate of COP28, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, runs the country's largest oil company, i.e., the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. With its plan to expand fossil fuels, it presents a conflict of interest with the main goal of the UNFCCC as stated in Article 2 Objective, which requires parties to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions to a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic disturbances to the climate system [ref 1]. As a scientist who understands the physical impacts of fossil fuels on our climate system [ref 2], one key point to watch this year at COP28 is how the COP presidency discusses the role of fossil fuels in the future. In addition to this, there are other key topics that are worth taking a look at as scientists:
As an early-career scientist, COPs might be overwhelming because there are many items and topics being discussed and negotiated at the same time. Besides, there are hundreds of side events, exhibitions, and possibly protests happening in both the Blue Zone and the Green Zone every day. There are many ways that an early-career scientist can make an impact, and hopefully this article will be helpful to those early-career researchers who are attending COP28 this year in Dubai, UAE.
By David Baldwin
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change calls for the stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) to a level prevents further human interference with the climate. To meet this goal, it requires carbon sequestration: the capture and storage carbon back to either the environment or engineered system. That is where wetlands come in.
It is essential to appreciate the carbon sequestration capabilities of wetlands, even in urban settings. These ecosystems, whether in natural or constructed forms, possess a remarkable ability to lock away atmospheric carbon. Through photosynthesis, the wetland plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it through a series of molecular processes into cellulose and other carbon compounds in plants, effectively removing excess carbon from the atmosphere. Moreover, wetlands, by their waterlogged nature, inhibit the decomposition, of organic matter, allowing the carbon of the organic matter to accumulate in the form of peat-rich soils. This carbon storage is, in essence, an effective mitigation strategy against climate change. It's akin to a vault or carbon, securely tucked away from the atmosphere for centuries.
The protection of wetlands holds significant implications for Earth's natural carbon cycles, as a substantial proportion of the planet's carbon resides within wetland soils. For example, peatlands in tropical regions house an impressive carbon pool exceeding 600 petagrams (PgC), or billion metric tons, making them some of the world's largest carbon reserves. This is comparable to the carbon stored in global forest biomass. In the continental U.S., wetlands a reservoir amounting to 13.5 billion PgC according to the Global Change Research Program
Carbon comes in many forms, and it is not just the abundant carbon dioxide that wetlands can sequester. Methane is a hydrogen and carbon compound about 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Wetlands, however, have a fascinating dual role concerning methane. While they can be sources of methane due to anaerobic (low oxygen) conditions in waterlogged soils, they are also sinks: a natural mechanism for nutrient storage. Microorganisms within wetlands, in a remarkable act of ecological balance, consume much of the methane they produce, preventing its release into the atmosphere. This helps in keeping a check on methane levels and mitigating its impact on global warming.
I now want to turn to what we can do with all this information. Wetlands are a recurring topic of discussion at COP events. During COP 28, a significant focal point in the discourse on water quality and access is the enhancement of urban water resilience. I eagerly anticipate engaging in productive conversations regarding the contribution of wetlands to this critical issue.
Urban wetlands are clear player in reaching the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate Action. I believe they are also a powerhouse in environmental justice and can aid in our journey toward reducing inequality and sustainable communities: Goals 10 and 11. These ecosystems, natural or engineered, offer a beacon of hope, especially for marginalized communities facing disproportionate environmental challenges. Minoritized groups often find themselves residing in areas more vulnerable to flooding and lacking the necessary resources for recovery. Wetlands play a pivotal role in maintaining water quality, both within their boundaries and downstream. Their unique hydrological and biological characteristics (the soil, plants, and flow of water) allow them to absorb excess nutrients and filter out various contaminants. This purification capacity ensures that water, as it flows through wetlands, emerges cleaner and less burdened by harmful substances. In this manner, wetlands play a fundamental role in mitigating the detrimental impacts of chemical pollution, thus preserving the health of aquatic ecosystems, and safeguarding the surrounding communities.
In a similar process, a process called sedimentation relies on the slow-moving nature of water, allowing nutrient-rich particulate matter sediments to settle. As water flows through the wetland, these sediments are captured and retained, preventing their downstream transport. Additionally, aquatic plants within wetlands serve as biological sponges, absorbing nutrients from the water. Through a process known as nutrient assimilation, these plants incorporate nitrogen and phosphorus into their tissues, effectively removing excess nutrients from the ecosystem. A healthy wetland has nutrient rich sediment, and nutrient poor water, and a healthy environment promotes a healthy community.
Protecting wetlands is not just a matter of ecological importance; it's a matter of justice and equity in our pursuit of sustainability.
By Mohammed Aldulaimi
The year 2050. People have stopped recycling their waste since 2024. Factories are throwing their waste into the ocean. Governments succumbed to economic pressures, and they’ve abandoned the international environmental agreements they once had. Plastics are still being used, now more predominantly, and are not being recycled. Fossil fuel is still our only major source of energy, continuing to pump greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Despite the early concerns about global warming, no action has been taken to reverse the effects, and now, the temperatures around the globe are 6˚ F higher than they were in the past century. With some countries having reached as high temperatures as 115 degrees in 2018, many of these countries are on the verge of turning to real-life furnaces and may eventually become ghost towns.
Where some cities and villages are experiencing deadly droughts and famines, other cities are on their way to being completely flooded and submerged under the ocean, succumbing to the drastic sea level rise, another product of global warming. On the other hand, animals are quickly becoming extinct. As we continue to cut down forests and fuel global warming, many animals are losing their habitats and experiencing deadly temperatures. For instance, red wolves, Bornean orangutans, and Hawksbill turtles have vanished and haven’t been observed since 2030, they’ve gone extinct. We’re slowly losing our planet, not in a thousand or million years, but it’s happening now, in real-time.
Public health has seen better days. Many, once known as, healthy adults, are now frequent patients in hospitals. Our diet has been enormously affected by the drastic environmental change we ceased to address. Now, it is very hard to find food that is clean of plastic particles. The microplastic ‘epidemic’, being untreated for years, has become part of our daily diet. Plastics are known to cause damage to our cells, slowly degrading our overall health and our life expectancy.
Today, wildfires have become very frequent and have been worsening our air quality and destroying our forests. Air pollution is a global health hazard that seems to have become an intrinsic character of our cities. For instance, cities like New Delhi have become so extremely polluted, they are now unsafe environments for many people. Air pollution, partially caused by wildfires, may potentially contribute to cancer occurrence in global populations. The age expectancy around the world is quickly shrinking, and so is the life quality of people. Whether it’s because of our food or our environment, the Earth is on its way to becoming another ghost planet in the universe, vacant of the once-thriving creatures that walked on it.
Global environmental conditions seem to only worsen. It is not only a simple rise in temperatures, but a global loss of the quality of life. Is it enough of a wake-up call for us? Our world is no longer our envisioned utopia, did we really give up? Is there still hope for change? In reality, it’s never too late. Now, government entities have realized their mistake. Cooperations are joining hands again, in an attempt to reverse the impact we humans are contributing to. In fact, you can become part of the change. It’s now only one click away (and possibly a few thousand miles away).
By Cailey Carpenter
Eat plant-based! Buy local produce! These may be claims you’ve heard in connection to reducing your environmental impact. You may be wondering: Are these claims founded? How much do your food habits affect your carbon footprint? Globalization has disconnected citizens in developed countries from the source of their daily meals, making it difficult to see the direct impacts our food choices have on the environment.
Where do our food emissions come from?
Food accounts for approximately 26% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by humans. In the United States, food is responsible for 10-30% of the average household carbon footprint; this category is the third largest, preceded only by transportation and housing. These numbers may not seem particularly shocking, as we all rely on food to survive day-to-day. It is easy, and reasonable, to focus efforts on reducing less necessary emissions, such as biking instead of walking or making sure to turn the lights off when leaving a room. However, many people don’t realize that their choices in the grocery store dictate whether they are releasing 5 or 15 tons of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) into the atmosphere annually. Consider this: one ton of CO2 requires an offset of approximately 50 trees to offset. This means that small lifestyle changes to reduce the GHG emissions of your diet can make the same environmental impact as planting 500 trees.
These numbers can be broken down further into categories such as land use, farming practices, resources, processing, and transport. In 2018, Poore and Nemecek published a comprehensive study of the environmental impacts of farms in 119 countries that make up 90% of global food consumption. The results of this study are well summed up by this figure from Our World In Data:
Our World In Data
What’s the deal with plant based?
It can be seen from the graph that there’s a large disparity in the total greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram between produce such as peas or wheat and red meats such as beef or lamb. We may rationalize this by considering that 1 kg of beef offers 2,500 Calories, while 1 kg of peas only offers 814 Calories of energy to the body. When normalizing these CO2 emissions to dietary Calories offered, though, we see a strikingly similar result:
Our World In Data
Animal-based consumption results in significantly higher CO2 emissions, despite the higher caloric value per unit mass of these products. In the average American diet, approximately 75% of the GHG emissions from food are a result of meat and dairy. However, there’s no need to splurge on expensive plant-based imitation meats to reduce your carbon emissions. Legumes (tofu, groundnuts, other pulses – chickpeas, lentils, peas) are a significant alternative source of protein that results in only a fraction of the carbon footprint of meats and their derivatives (and a fraction of the cost!). In fact, research shows that a vegetarian diet saves an average of $2 per day compared to the traditional American diet.
Why do animal products result in much higher emissions?
I find this easiest to think of in terms of the trophic pyramid. Plants are primary producers, meaning that all of their energy comes from the sun. Furthermore, the biomass of these photosynthetic plants is made up entirely of CO2 from the atmosphere that has been converted to sugars, lignin, and cellulose. The species that eat these producers must take these compounds and transform them into smaller compounds that are digestible in their metabolism. This process takes energy, and only approximately 10% of the energy (calories) from this plant are transferred to the consumer. 10% is lost as heat at each level, meaning herbivores conserve 10% of the energy from the food they eat, while carnivores gain only 0.1-1% of the initial energy from their food. Metabolism works by expelling CO2, and moving up trophic levels requires more metabolic cycles to occur to get the energy we need. Eating plant-based can result in a ten-fold decrease in CO2 production in metabolism alone. Furthermore, cattle produce large amounts of methane (CH4), which has over 80 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) as CO2.
Buying local and in-season
A first step for many people in their journey of sustainable eating begins by frequent trips to the farmers market to buy local produce. This effort supports lower environmental costs from transport of goods, but often comes with a higher price tag. Are these efforts worth it? It depends on a few factors.
Food waste accounts for 25% of food emissions, equating to 6% of total GHG emissions. In the United States alone, 119 billion pounds of food enters landfills – this is 30-40% of all food in the country. Some of this waste is a result of food loss in transport, but a majority of food waste comes from individuals and restaurants. Food waste makes up 24% of landfills, where it rots to produce methane, and 22% of combusted waste, where it enters the atmosphere directly as CO2, CO, and particulate matter (PM) that contribute to global warming. While food is a necessary commodity, food waste is not. Actions such as planning meals and engaging in food waste recovery (e.g. donation to food banks) can have a significant impact on your carbon footprint while contributing to other UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Where do we go from here?
COP28 marks the halfway point between the 2015 Paris Agreement and the 2030 goals to limit GHG emissions to 50% of their 2005 levels. While food systems will not be the most pressing topic at this COP, this conversation is crucial for multi-level climate action. While ordinary citizens may not have a large impact on the politics of oil reserves or land use, they can directly impact climate change by making environmentally conscious decisions when it comes to their meals.
By: Tehreem Hussain
Climate change and antimicrobial resistance are intrinsically intertwined; this is one of the primary ways that rising temperatures are disrupting human health systems across the globe. The two main ways through which climate change exacerbates antimicrobial resistance are by creating greater areas of overlap between zoonotic species and humans, along with the increased use of antibiotics caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in larger amounts of contaminants saturating natural water bodies.
Even without the realities of climate change, antimicrobial resistance is a large public health concern; in the European Union alone, 670,000 infections have been reported annually and these infections have resulted in 33,000 deaths. However, with the environmental impact of climate change intersecting with global human health systems, the problem becomes much more dire.
In 2023, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) published a report outlining how climate change is linked to the transmission and proliferation of antimicrobial resistance. The report also highlighted the fact that pharmaceutical manufacturing, food production systems, and the healthcare delivery industry all contribute heavily to the rise of antimicrobial resistance.
Like other climate change related issues, antimicrobial resistance does not target communities and countries uniformly. According to a study published in The Lancet in 2022, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) had 1.5 times higher fatality rate in relation to antimicrobial resistance in relation to their high-income country counterparts. Given that the United States Agency for International Development estimated that the effects of climate change will disproportionately impact human health in LMICs, it can be reasonably deduced that this trend will translate to antimicrobial resistance rates as well.
Dr. Scott Roberts, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Medicine told CNN in a statement following the publishing of the UNEP report that, “Climate change, pollution, changes in our weather patterns, more rainfall, more closely packed, dense cities and urban areas – all of this facilitates the spread of antibiotic resistance. And I am certain that this is only going to go up with time unless we take relatively drastic measures to curb this.”
Rising temperatures due to climate change are challenging human inhabitation in more than one way. With antimicrobial resistance on the rise, human health systems will experience growing precarity as the climate crisis worsens. However, according to a World Bank proposal, an investment of $9 billion in LMICs to combat antimicrobial resistance will alleviate the burden faced by the healthcare systems in affected nations and preserve the efficacy of modern medicine in combating infections.
Sustainable Catalysis: Efficient Chemistry Reduces Industrial and Pharmaceutical Waste for Economic and Environmental Gains
Illustration by Peter Allen.
The UN Climate Change Global Innovation Hub brilliantly — and essentially — envisions reimagining future communities so that fewer resources are needed by design. However, while we are building the blueprint for the future, there are also concrete steps we can take to mitigate environmental damage occurring right now because the climate crisis can’t wait. Some of these measures may even be necessary well into the future. For example, even in a healthier world, the demand for small-molecule drugs and medicines is unlikely to ever vanish, so we should continue optimizing the efficiency of the relevant chemical syntheses.
An emerging tool to realize such optimization is metal-organic layers (MOLs). MOLs can be thought of as molecular-scale K’Nex, that is, sets of junctions and linkers arranged to form scaffold-like extended structures. Specifically, they structure themselves as flat sheets of atoms to maximize their available surface area. Scientists then cover this surface area with catalysts, which are small molecules that accelerate and, in some cases, enable the chemical transformations used to synthesize other molecules such as drugs. Once finished, scientists mix the catalyst-covered MOLs into solutions that already contain the building blocks of drug molecules, and the MOL-catalyst structures begin assembling them. By taking the extra step of affixing their catalysts to MOLs, scientists can keep the catalyst molecules from accidentally bumping into each other in solution, a process that typically deactivates both colliding molecules. Thus, the isolated catalysts can continue transforming building blocks into products for much longer, sometimes hundreds of times as long as without MOL supports.
The efficiency of myriad processes has been improved with MOLs. Last year, they improved the efficiency of certain cross-coupling reactions by 200 times — even without MOL-based improvements, cross-coupling won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2010. In February, MOLs contributed to the cheapest, most efficient ever synthesis of vesnarinone, a cardiac medicine. MOLs can even directly address the climate crisis — last year, researchers developed a MOL that realizes artificial photosynthesis an order of magnitude more efficiently than previously reported systems. Moreover, this MOL could generate useful fuels such as methane from its supply of carbon dioxide (the potent greenhouse gas) and water.
MOLs still suffer from limitations, such as the scale at which they can be produced and the high cost of some of the materials needed to build them. But as successes such as the vesnarinone synthesis make clear, they constitute a worthy topic of future investigation.
By Julianne Rolf
Climate change is drastically altering the hydrologic cycle. Water vapor concentrations, precipitation patterns, stream flow rates, ice sheet sizes, and cloud formation have been affected. Furthermore, wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests, driven, in part, by climate change and the resulting sea level rise. Wetlands are some of the most carbon-dense ecosystems, maintaining surface water supplies and acting as a carbon sink. Additional stress is being placed on other potable water resources as both extreme droughts and heavy rains become more frequent. Billions of people do not have access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and 129 countries are not on track to provide these resources for all by 2030. With 3.4 million people dying every year from waterborne illnesses, the United Nations (UN) analysis shows that current progress needs to double to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6.
Water production and transportation requires energy, with energy consumption accounting for as much as 40% of treatment costs. Similarly, the energy sector constitutes up to 15% of freshwater withdrawals globally and even more domestically. Water is also essential for electricity generation, mineral mining, oil extraction and processing, and biofuel cultivation. The International Energy Agency estimates that the energy sector will consume almost 60% more water over the next three decades. Certain electricity generation stations will be affected by water cycle changes. Suffering from too much or not enough water can prevent reliable energy access. Extreme droughts can lead to longer fire seasons and larger fires that can disrupt energy supplies. Thus, utility companies, for example in California, have resorted to temporarily cutting their services to prevent fires.
Regions with limited or no access to electricity, which are mostly situated in sub-Saharan Africa, suffer from a compounding lack of both clean water and energy. Managing the water-energy nexus effectively and equitably will have significant implications on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for providing clean water, sanitation, and energy to all. We will need to rely on non-traditional water sources, such as wastewater, for drinking water. Less water-intensive electricity generation processes with low or no carbon emissions, such as wind and non-concentrated solar power, will need to be widely deployed. The water-energy nexus should be a priority in future technology and policy changes needed to mitigate the causes and effects of climate change. Without additional incentives from government agencies, power and water treatment plants will not be built or upgraded fast enough to meet the UN Sustainable Goals while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions.
By Cailey Carpenter
There’s no doubt about it: large corporations are largely responsible for furthering the climate crisis. How can we, as individuals, help these companies take accountability for their impacts on the environment?
The Carbon Majors Report
The Carbon Majors Report is an annual collaboration between the Carbon Majors Database and the Climate Accountability Institute to identify the top emitters of greenhouse gasses internationally, namely carbon dioxide and methane. Analysis of the 2015 Carbon Majors data revealed that only 100 companies were responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Although this data is from 7 years ago, many of the top producers from the list remain in the most recent 2018 report. It’s no surprise that these headliners are fossil fuel extraction, refinement, and distribution companies. For years, environmental policy has focused on the replacement of fossil fuel energy sources with renewable energy sources.
What about consumer goods?
Tackling the large problem of fossil fuel emissions is key, but what about manufacturing of other consumer goods? This is an often overlooked, but important part of maintaining the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. Industry currently relies on the burning of fossil fuels for energy, and therefore results in 24% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US. A study by the Rhodium Group found that China, a large industrial center, was responsible for 27% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, followed by the US at 11%. There is a clear correlation between the amount of industry and greenhouse gas emissions, yet this is often overlooked in our climate policies that focus on the largest sector of emissions: transportation. Fossil fuels for energy won’t disappear overnight - once the dependence on non-renewable energy sources is reduced for transportation, the next largest contributor will be industry. Industrial emitters currently have little incentive to reduce their climate impact; the major focus is on being profitable, and fossil fuels are the cheapest and easiest to implement with their ongoing use. This issue likely won’t be a major point of global conversation for a few years, so how can we as individuals begin the push towards climate-cognizant manufacturing?
Greenhouse gas emissions policy at COP27
COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland saw the completion of the Paris Agreement Rulebook with the creation of the Glasgow Climate Pact. The Glasgow Climate Pact focuses on maintaining the target of keeping the world temperature from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. This agreement has 4 goals: Mitigation, Adaptation, Finance, and Collaboration. Under the category of mitigation, 153 countries agreed on new 2030 emissions targets, and the largest greenhouse gas emitting countries (G20) agreed to return to COP27 with stronger commitments to reducing emissions. At COP27, this commitment was maintained, and discussion focused largely on the implementation of carbon-reducing measures. While this implies stricter policies across all sectors, there was no explicit discourse on reducing the emissions of large industry. It is understandable that the parties at COP27 favored addressing the large topics of energy sources and finance, it is a bit disappointing that big business was not held accountable for their actions. This makes it even more important for individuals to take action.
Ways to support green manufacturing practices
Reduce your demand. Companies operate on the fundamental principles of economics: supply and demand. By reducing your demand, the supplier has less incentive to manufacture certain products that increase their energy cost (and therefore emissions). Ways to decrease your demand include:
Commit to companies with set plans to reduce emissions. Evaluate the products you use daily, then research these companies and determine how they are handling emissions. Shift your consumption to corporations with a clear plan to reduce energy consumption and handle emissions. Check in every once in a while to ensure they are making progress towards these goals. Not sure where to start? Green Citizen has compiled a great list.
Become involved with the government. Contrary to popular opinion, affecting environmental policy does not require you to be a lawmaker. Lawmakers make decisions based on the issues that are important to their communities, so simply voicing your climate concerns can make a difference. Support lawmakers with climate policies that will help us maintain the 1.5°C goal, and who have proven their ability to act on their promises. In democratic countries like the US, support can come in the form of voting, making your opinion known to governments through protests and lobbying, or having a direct impact in creating laws by holding a local government position.