Forecasting the future of climate change: What next?

Pomona geology professor Bob Gaines joined the Pomona Student Union for a “Chat & Chew” discussion on Climate Change Nov 28. (Courtesy of Pomona College)

5C students joined Pomona geology professor Robert Gaines in a discussion on the future of global warming and climate change last Wednesday, as part of the Pomona Student Union’s Chat and Stew series. The discussion stemmed from a recent Global Warming report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The IPCC is a climate assessment body composed of 100 scientists from around the world. Using criteria like sea level rise, drought and excessive moisture, and ocean acidification and extinction, the report investigated the different effects of global temperature rising to 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, instead of the currently projected 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) increase.

“They found that there are considerable benefits to try and arrest warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, that the consequences in each criteria are significantly worse at 2 degrees Celsius than they are at 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Gaines explained.

Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would lead to lower projected species loss and extinction, a reduction in the number of people exposed to climate-related risks and diseases, and a reduction in extreme weather patterns and events, like excessive drought or precipitation.

The report suggests that it is still achievable to hit 1.5 degrees Celsius if global society reaches net zero carbon emissions between 2030 and 2050.

In order to reach the zero net emissions goal by as early as 2035, our “energy infrastructure would have to move to non-carbon sources like nuclear and renewables” very quickly, Gaines explained.

Gaines outlined that some of the most important advances that could help us get to zero carbon emissions are breakthroughs in solar power. Solar panels work to convert the sun’s rays into energy. Efficient conversion is essential for establishing a sustainable, efficient, and extensive solar energy network.

“Solar is really dependent on the ability of the [solar] panels to harness that energy,” Gaines said. “So our investment in that [research], industry’s investment in that [research], government’s investment in that research will be huge toward making solar a more viable source of energy.”

There is also a lot that can be done on the individual level to reduce carbon emissions.

“I think one of the most important things that individuals can do is be politically aware and politically active, and to try and use your vote to do things that encourage these newer technologies,” Gaines said.

According to Gaines, it is also important to limit our overall consumption. This can mean being intentional when ordering items on the internet, and making sure to bundle your orders so that delivery trucks do not have to commute to campus again and again. Taking public transit will not only help save fuel, but will benefit and support ridership on Southern California’s public transit system, Gaines said.

“The meat industry has a pretty heavy carbon footprint, so trying to reduce meat and dairy to the extent that it works for your body is something to consider as well,” Gaines explained.

Gaines has noticed that students on campus are conscious of their water bottle usage. Plastic water bottles are one of the most carbon intensive products as emissions are produced from shipping the water, creating the plastic, recycling the plastic, and moving the bottles from place to place. All of those processes have a big carbon footprint. Measures to reduce this emission are already seen on campus with the proliferation of water bottle filling stations and the widespread use of reusable water bottles.

Only time will tell whether society is able to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and the effects it will reap on the environment. The report does not outline the feasibility of reaching zero carbon emissions, but it does state that the plan will need to be an interdisciplinary and collaborative initiative — between scientists and politicians, individuals and states — which supports innovations and policy that will safeguard the environment.

D’Maia Curry is a geology major at Pomona College. She loves dancing, reading, and looking at really cool rocks.

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