Today is 24 March, and it’s been snowing heavily in Tsavkisi for the past few days. My yard and street are covered by about a full meter of snow. Cars are stuck on the snow-covered streets and our small community is physically cut off from the rest of the world. Locals can’t remember such a snowstorm, especially in March. Coincidentally, on this very day, The Economist revealed that in the Arctic this March 18 temperature reached 40°C warmer than the average for this time of year. I cannot help but think about how this unusual weather – both here and in the far Arctic – is a direct result of climate change, just like the numerous natural catastrophes and disasters the world has experienced over the last decade (blazing fires in Turkey and Australia, droughts in Pakistan, floods in Europe, and storms in the USA). According to official scientific estimates, 2020 was the hottest year in Earth’s history. If not climate change, how else can we explain surging temperatures in colder states and notable drops in warmer locales; unusual snowfall in places it’s never snowed before; or unbearable heat in areas where it’s never been a concern for locals?
Of course, we in Georgia have heard that climate change is a global threat and a challenge to humanity, however, the issue is still not given adequate attention. Somehow, it’s never a good time to focus on these issues. We seem to have more pressing issues: a substantial part of the population works tirelessly for low wages, concerned with providing for their families; while pandemics, wars, occupations, and violence have claimed the lives of millions of people around the world. Additionally, due to the current politicization and polarization, many important concerns are viewed only in the context of political dividends that draw our attention away from other issues. As a result, we find no time, money, or energy to invest in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
However, if we think about it for a moment, we’ll realize that we are in the midst of a major existential dilemma. Tomorrow, climate change may have the same negative consequences for our children and future generations as pandemics and armed conflicts have today. Perhaps now is the time to start thinking about our climate? Perhaps now we must choose between our short-term priorities and the long-term interests of the future generation.
Well-founded scientific research, and certain assumptions, show that the average temperature on Earth has risen by 1.1°C since 1980, and if current trends continue, this average will be 3°C higher by 2100 (numerous reliable sources can be found on the subject, i.e., https://climate.nasa.gov). Consequently, our current problems will worsen – forest fires will be more severe and frequent (in the last 15 years Samtskhe-Javakheti has experienced 34 forest fires), causing woodlands and agricultural areas to be destroyed, more animals to die, and more people to be displaced; there will be further droughts and floods; while glaciers will melt and rivers will rise. All of this will, in turn, devastated agricultural land, crops, settlement infrastructure, and even human lives. It’s also abundantly clear that ice has begun to melt in the Arctic, where studies have shown that ice cover has decreased by 13% every decade since 1979. This itself increases the risk of spreading new bacteria and viruses. More notably, since 1993, ocean and sea levels have risen by 10 cm, although scientists predict that by 2100, this mark may significantly exceed 1 meter. As such, some areas will be permanently submerged – including coastal cities, those which currently house up to 150 million people globally. Using Georgia as an example, according to a World Bank study – Georgia: Towards Green and Resilient Growth – floods and soil erosion caused by climate change resulted in a coastal loss, reaching 5% GDP in 2018.
Such troubling statistics are becoming near inescapable, for instance by certain official sources, without immediate climate change adaptation, by 2050 staple food yields could be reduced by 30%. Moreover, the United Nations predicts that the world’s population will rise by 2 billion (25%), up to 9.7 billion. This will result in a lack of water and food resources, thereby causing starvation. By 2050, our grandchildren’s generation will be indifferent to present-day political battles or our current short-term priorities, yet climate change may prove the greatest future tragedy, causing no less damage and necessitating no less sacrifice than pandemics and wars to our generation.
Since around 1994, active global campaigns have been launching to halt and mitigate climate change. Today, world leaders are devoting significant time and energy to these issues, and a number of crucial agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, have been reached and signed. While the most recent COP26 agreement, adopted in Glasgow in November 2021, was endorsed by almost 200 countries. Its goal is to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, for which a total of billion USD will be allocated. Georgia, also a signatory to this global pact, has adopted its Climate Change Strategy 2030 and Action Plan, both of which are public documents that can be freely accessed in a digital format (in Georgian and English). Notably, our country has agreed to a 35% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. Although the starting point is good, if ordinary citizens do not shoulder our share of responsibility, and change our attitudes and lifestyles, these inspirational documents may become a purely utopian doctrine.
Let’s run a quick test together:
Do you think climate change poses a real threat to humanity?
- No, I don’t think so.
- Yes, but I haven’t done anything yet.
- I do, and I accept my portion of the responsibility (I try to use resources rationally, limit personal car travel, etc.)
If you chose the first option, you are a climate change skeptic; the number of whom, luckily, is decreasing annually around the world. More people are swayed by global catastrophes, costing thousands of lives and billions of dollars annually.
If you answered (b), you’re likely a member of the ‘informed but indifferent’ group. You believe that climate change is a threat, but you’re preoccupied by family, personal, professional, social, or political issues that are higher on your priorities list. However, if you believe in climate change, you’re aware that doing nothing today may impose hunger on your grandchildren’s generation, increase the risk that coastal cities will be submerged, and much more still.
If you answered (c), you are attempting to balance your current priorities with those of the next generation! Hopefully, a growing number of people will join you from among the skeptics and the indifferent.
P.S. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Norwegian Embassy in Georgia for financing ISET Policy Institute’s project for media training on climate change and the green agenda. This will help Georgian journalists effectively convey information on these crucial issues to the broader population.