By Chaitram Aklu
Sunday, September 17, 2023 saw the largest gathering of people in Manhattan since the global COVID19 Pandemic when tens of thousands from many parts of the country and representing some 700 organizations and a great diversity of people participated in The March To End Fossil Fuels. The action coincided with the annual UN General Assembly meeting of world leaders where a Climate Ambition Summit was also convened on Wednesday 20.
The peaceful marchers made their voices heard through chants, graphic signs – “Stop Fossil Fuel Dependency”, “Cancel Willow”, “Protect health End Fossil Fuels”, A Livable World for all Beings”, “We can’t Work in Wildfires”, and 3D models of the earth, birds, whale, fish, and other animals and an oil pipeline. Their message: move away from fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) to non-carbon emitting renewable forms of energy – solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal and tidal. They demanded that the US and other world leaders stop new oil and gas drilling.
A number of personalities and politicians joined the gathering with Alexandria – Ocasio Cortez, the Congresswoman from New York announcing, “We are all here for one reason: to end fossil fuels around the world”.
Fossil fuels in the earth were formed from carbon rich organic matter buried below the earth’s surface during previous geological periods of the earth’s history, and chemically transformed by heat and pressure into coal, oil and gas. Once remained trapped underground, there is no harm to the planet and life on it.
But extracting fossil fuels brings all of the stored carbon to the surface and burning them to produce electricity for human use for heating homes and buildings, manufacturing and transportation releases the carbon in the form of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases into the atmosphere where they trap radiation. Methane accounts for 50 percent of emissions from burning fossil fuels and is 80 percent more damaging than carbon dioxide. Trapped radiation produces the Greenhouse Effect which leads to global warming.
Seven countries together make up the biggest Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emitters – China, United States, India, European Union, Indonesia, Russia Federation, and Brazil. Together they accounted for nearly 50 percent of all global GHG emissions in 2020.
According to an article in the current issue of Smithsonian, in 1896 the scientist Svante Arrhenius noted that rising carbon levels will make the earth warmer and proffered that rising carbon levels could be offset by planting more trees to absorb the added amounts released in the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels. A balance could therefore be maintained. Arrhenius could not have foreseen the extent of unlimited GHG emissions.
Some 9.5 billion metric tons of carbon is released into the atmosphere each year by burning fossil fuels. And 1.5 billion metric tons is added through deforestation globally. In 1950 carbon in the atmosphere was measured at 315 ppm. By 1919 that measure was 410 ppm. Forests and other vegetation absorb about 3.2 billion per year. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has increased by 50 percent since 1750.
The consequence of uncontrolled GHG emissions is now better known. The decade 2011 – 2020 was the warmest on record and each of the last four decades has been warmer than any previous decade since 1858.
Published data which is now available almost daily for many more areas of the earth verifies that nature’s balance is disturbed and climate change – the long-term changes in temperatures and weather patterns in regions globally is happening. The burning of coal, oil, and gas has been the main cause of climate change. It is a phenomenon that can no longer be taken lightly or ignored.
There are daily reports of the effects of intense droughts, water scarcity, fires, rising sea levels, flooding in areas where floods were unknown for generations, accelerated polar ice melting, deadly and destructive storms, and loss of biodiversity. Over the last years many more countries have committed to join together to achieve net zero emissions by the year 2050. But commitment with action is the only way to achieve that goal. It would mean cutting GHG emissions in half by 2030 in order to keep global warming below 1.50 C. It would require canceling fossil fuel extraction by more than two thirds of the known reserves in order to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change.
There is a sense of urgency when what is presently known is seriously considered. In the US there were 80 active wildfires as of August 30; wildfires averaged 40 000 per year between 2013 – 2022; for 31 consecutive days phoenix recorded 1100 F in June – July – a new record; 147 people in 5 western US states died from extreme heat; Utah’s Great Salt Lake has lost 70 percent of its water as of last year; the US northeast now gets 70 percent more rainfall during the heaviest storms; the arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the planet resulting in greater ice and glac
ial melt causing rising sea levels; sea levels are now 1 foot higher than 100 years ago and is predicted to rise another 5 feet by the next 100 years.