Make the Earth’s Deadline

On Saturday, Sept. 20, artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd presented their message on the Metronome clock in Union Square, New York: “The Earth has a deadline.” The numbers: 7:103:15:50:07 represent the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds until global warming leads to more catastrophic events as it races past 1.5 degrees Celsius, based on current carbon emission rates. 

According to a 2019 NASA report on climate change, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as opposed to 2 degrees Celsius, “could reduce the number of people susceptible to climate-related poverty risks by as much as several hundred million by 2050,” One 2017 study presented in the report also concludes that by every degree Celsius increase, the U.S. could lose 2.3% of its GDP, translating to more than $446 billion based on the U.S. GDP in 2017.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2020 indicates that 62% of Americans said, by October 2019, global climate change was affecting their local community. Within this 62%, over half are affected by more frequent wildfires, rising shorelines and water shortages. Associated with these changes are health risks, population displacement, economic losses and beyond. Meanwhile, global warming continues. We see more and more news stories on floods and wildfires and their subsequent impact on local communities, vulnerable populations and groups that did not feel so vulnerable in the beginning. We watch as global warming wraps its hands tighter and tighter around our throats.

A little over seven years. A little over seven years to save more lives from suffering. Change is critical, but change isn’t happening quickly enough. Climate change mitigation is a grand project. According to a 2017 New York Times explainer, we need large-scale, collective action to really mitigate climate change. Experts say our efforts need to “speed up drastically to head off the worst effects of climate change.” 

However, there is often too much on our minds, too much to do, too many things in front of our eyes. This moment in history marks an agglomeration of national and global unrest. We are trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, denounce racial and ethnic brutality across the U.S. and beyond, all the while balancing the stress of schoolwork and watching a bleak job market creeping up on us. Many of us barely get sufficient sleep. Some of us barely get any sleep. All of us are concerned. Sustainability is put behind. Sustainability becomes secondary, an afterthought.

But our efforts in sustainability do not need to come into conflict with the global pandemic and social distancing practices that we often find difficult to live through. In fact, living through the pandemic informs us of ways in which we can reconsider future sustainability. The substitution of in-person work and learning with remote work leads to a significant reduction in travel, slowing down carbon emissions. Of course, remote interaction is only fit for limited circumstances and is also subject to individual preferences. For many, nonetheless, remote interaction and video conferences, with our growing aptitude to them during the pandemic, enables future flexibility with work, conferences and traveling. Such creative ways of imagining future possibilities not only serve the purpose of sustainability, but also enable more expansive work by opening us up to more remote contributions.

While individual efforts are necessary, the successful mitigation of climate change still requires vast institutional improvements. Professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UCLA Alex Hall said that the reported drops in carbon emissions during the pandemic are insufficient to slow climate change in an interview with USA TODAY. Professor of earth systems at Stanford University, Rob Jackson, told USA TODAY that carbon capture efforts were crucial to successful climate change mitigation. 

The efforts of carbon capture largely relies on technology and landscape planning. Therefore, carbon capture requires policymakers to encourage technological advancement and inspire institutional changes concerned with carbon capture. Voting and demanding institutional changes in different ways, therefore, are also important steps toward a pressing need for more radical policy changes with regards to our impending doom.

We have a little over seven years to save our planet from the irreversible impacts of climate change. Please don’t take a little over seven years to realize you should have started taking more actions seven years ago. 

The Climate Clock was on display through Sept. 27, the end of Climate Week, but climate change is in motion before, during and beyond climate week. We have a little over seven years to save it. Most of us Colgate students will be in our late twenties. Seven years seems distant, but it is pressing. A Colgate education already takes up more than half of seven years. Seven years becomes shorter and shorter the older we get. It becomes shorter and shorter the more we put it into perspective. Yet many of us will come to have more people whom we care about deeply in seven years. Environmental sustainability is for us, for our loved ones and for the entire world. We often fail to recognize the urgency of issues when they are not coming tomorrow, when they are not coming next week. But it is time to recognize our alarming negligence and start taking radical actions before our foreseeable doom. The Earth is not school. There are no extensions in store, no other assignments on which to fall back. We have one try.