Times change, and so do we?
It is funny how quickly we (humanity) forget things, once we feel we addressed / solved them. Now, all we all talk about is Global Warming. Climate Change!
As if it was the first time that we faced a global environmental issue. It is not! Once before, merely some 30-40 years ago, we were faced with a pressing issue that would have affected life on our planet as it was. We managed to take aggressive action and attack the ozone ‘hole’. It was and is through continued international concerted effort that we entered an aera where we allow the ozone ‘hole’ to “heal”.
So what is different now in our willingness to step in to prevent catastrophic events caused by climate change? Both atmospheric issues triggered international treaties:
- We established the Montreal Protocol in 1987 to eliminate Ozone Depleting Substance (ODS) use.
- We adopted the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 to reduce Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Sounds like a very similar approach, right?
Let us look at the details a bit closer. They may give us an indication as to why the results of both international treaties don’t match.
The Montreal Protocol entered into force in 1989, only 2 years after it was first agreed upon. It was ratified by 197 parties, making it the second universally ratified treaty in the history of the United Nations. The first universally ratified treaty was the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. Two treaties to protect the ozone layer by phasing out, and eventually eliminating ODS. Both universally ratified.
What’s still more remarkable than that is the expeditious implementation of these treaties! From basic scientific research discovery to signing international agreements only 12 and 14 years passed, respecitvely.
It was first discovered in 1974 that CFCs had the ability to act as a catalyst to breakdown Ozone in the presence of high frequency UV light, and comprehensive worldwide ozone measurements started in 1978 with the Nimbus-7 satellite.
The Kyoto Protocol and its not so straight forward history:
- 1992: The first intent to reduce GHG was actually made in 1992, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) firstly committed 41 nations to reduce their GHG emissions by a little more than 5% below 1990 levels.
- 1994: The UNFCCC didn’t gather 50 signatory parties until 1994, which was the milestone with which it entered into force.
- 1997: In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was adapted, which basically extended the 1992 UNFCCC.
- 1999: Drip-feeding the ‘inconvenient truth’ to the international community took its time. It wasn’t until 1999 that another 84 signatory parties were added.
- 2005: The Kyoto Protocol entered into force in 2005, 7 years and 3 month after its adoption in 1997.
- 2007: and it took until 2007 to get 192 parties under the belt of the Kyoto Protocol.
It was first argued in the late 19th centruty that human emissions of GHGs could change the climate, and this fact became increasingly convincing in the 1960s. Compare these 40+ years between basic scientific research discovery and adaption of an international binding treaty with the 14 years above. Maybe the differences don’t appear so subtle anymore.
Successful baby versus sluggish teenager
I like to draw a mental picture here, as dates and facts are hard to recall. I named the paragraph above ‘subtle differences’, for a reason. To lay the ground for my comparison. The subtle differences in my post refer to the wording too.
Did you note that the Montreal Protocol was established whilst the Kyoto Protocol was adopted? Yes, as in child adoption. That is, and you can see this from the timeline above, because the “climate concern child” has been around for quite a while before its adoption. Maybe “child” isn’t even appropriate in the climate context; 1992 to 2005. Come on, that’s more likely a teenager. And don’t hate me for saying this, but many would agree that teenagers are harder to adopt than babies.
Which brings me to the “ODS child”. Merely 2 years old when it conquered the entire world in a storm!
It becomes quite obvious by now that the ‘ODS child’ and the ‘GHG child’ weren’t created equal, nor did they get the same chances to succeed in life. Look at the treaties’ targets: ODS elimination versus GHG reduction?
No wonder we’re now feeling the heat from an upset teenager that nobody really wanted to embrace for a decade. Angry teenagers make for fierce adults. Our ignorance is fueling his/her fire now!
Different level of responsibility
The fundamental road-block that I see in the climate change debate is that we still don’t seem to grasp the complexity of climate change. Many are even confused about the different terminology. Cimate Change. Global warming. Is this the same?
Globally yes, locally no. That is my short answer. The terminology climate change is more accurate as climate patterns and regions are shifting due to global warming. That will take a separate article at another time.
Whilst it seemed easy enough in the 1980s to throw out some spray cans and aerosols from our household, combating global warming sems so much more complex. CO2 emissions are deeply entrenched in our way of living today. The majority of us still consume energy from non-renewable sources through large established utility providers. Those can struggle with old SF6 leaking assets, which let’s your carbon footprint form your fossil fuel based energy consumption fade into the background. Maybe worth another article? It’s not only our energy consumption though. It’s what we eat, where we buy our groceries from, how much plastic packaging we carry back home and throw away, how much electronics we consume and discard, how much fast fashion we consume, and the frequency of that viscious cycle.
To reduce our personal GHG emissions we need to dissect our entire lifestyle. It goes beyond chucking out hairspray…
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It was this video that I saw today that inspired me to write this article. I guess I should share it!
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