Beijing’s first red alert air quality warning on Monday and Tuesday should be all the fuel climate change negotiators in Paris need to take substantive action to reduce human use of fossil fuels.
More than 100 negotiators from countries worldwide have been meeting since Nov. 30 in Paris for the United Nations conference on climate change. The goal is for nations collectively to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels to keep the temperature of the planet from rising on average more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The conference ends Friday, so there is not much time left.
The countries that have the world’s largest carbon dioxide emissions also are among the planet’s largest economies. China is the No. 1 emitter with 8,715.31 million metric tons of CO2 in 2011. The United States was No. 2 with 5,490.63 million metric tons of CO2. No. 3 was Russia with 1,788.14 million metric tons of CO2 followed by India’s 1,725.76 million metric tons of CO2 and Japan’s 1,180.62 million metric tons of CO2. Germany, Iran, South Korea and Canada follow in their production of heat trapping CO2.
But climate negotiators should have their eye on China because of its horrid air quality. Schools closed Monday and Tuesday, and the number of cars on the road was restricted. Wearing face masks just to breathe in many Chinese cities has become a norm for residents because there are so few good air quality days.
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The pollution and red alert in Beijing were expected to continue for several days. The red alert sounds as if it is a cry to battle stations against an enemy force. But the enemy is humankind, and we are damaging our own environment. The air quality is a threat to life.
It’s fueled by emissions from factories, coal power plants generating electricity and the increasing number of vehicles on the road and in the air transporting people in the world’s most heavily populated country.
Winter is always worse. But China’s choking air doesn’t just stay in that country.
It moves throughout the planet and becomes a shared concern. Already 2015 is expected to be the warmest year on record with higher temperatures anticipated in the coming years.
That’s not good because of the melting polar ice, rising seas, shrinking shorelines, increasing droughts in some areas with wildfires and heavier rainfall in others, threatening more species, creating more violent weather, resulting in more climate refugees and driving up the cost to repairing the damage industrial pollution is causing.
Combine that with rainforests being clear cut for farmland in other countries like Brazil, taking out the planet’s “lungs,” which have always helped to maintain better air quality.
There is an urgency to the climate change work taking place in Paris despite global warming deniers insisting there is no problem and developing countries’ reluctance to stop polluting when they are merely trying to catch up to the high-quality, energy-enhanced lifestyle of the Western world. Dropping an energy producing dependence on coal, oil and gas would help all nations in addition to turning to green energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power.
Scientists, however, aren’t sure whether any action will be enough to prevent the continuing warming of the planet and the damaging results.
However, some steps away from fossil fuels and more toward conservation and renewable energy sources are better than going along on the same path where the results are certain to be catastrophic.