People around the world want action to prevent the impending crisis from the changing climate, but are struggling to understand how to make a difference. We are proposing a collaboration between artists and scientists to promote action, communicate viable solutions, and better understand the risks we face from climate change.
Our goal is to engage:
We envision a multi-year, multi-cultural program that will promote dialogues amongst artists, social scientists, physical scientists and eventually with the public. We cannot narrow our focus to just one culture; climate change is a global problem and we need to work on global solutions. We want to begin with just two cultures – the United States and Japan. Of course, music and other art are an integral part of culture and different cultures will respond in different ways. A significant culture difference is the relative importance the United States places on the individual compared to the Japanese focus on the community. The interdependence of individual choices and communal choices is very important in the fight against climate change and working with both cultures provides an opportunity to better understand how this focus can affect our behavior.
Understanding the Problem
The molecules in Earth’s atmosphere let some radiation pass through and block others. For instance ozone blocks UV radiation and carbon dioxide blocks infrared radiation. Energy comes into the Earth from the sun in UV and visible light. Energy leaves the Earth as infrared heat. When the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher, energy from the sun still comes in but not as much heat radiates out and the Earth warms.
Carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere through animal respiration and burning fuel (fossil fuels or wood). Carbon dioxide is removed through plant respiration. Humanity’s industrialization, burning fossil fuels for the last 150 years has almost increased the carbon dioxide concentration by over 60%. This is like adding extra blankets and the Earth has warmed because of it and the rate of warming is increasing.
The report finds that unless there are immediate and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.
Understanding the Impacts
The Earth is a complex system so even a small amount of warming changes the behavior of the atmosphere. The changing atmosphere has different impacts on different parts of the Earth. Some of the most significant include:
Stressed ecosystems. Every ecosystem on Earth is now experiencing a different climate than it evolved in. Most of them are hotter and that lowers the relative humidity, so most plants are, on average, experiencing less water than they used. As a consequence, the rate and intensity of wildfires is increasing around the globe. Because the Arctic is warming faster than elsewhere the boreal forests of Canada, Alaska and Eurasia are experiencing more than twice as many fires as they were 20 years ago.
Extreme Storms. Heat is energy. A warmer atmosphere has more energy to drive storms. We are already seeing stronger hurricanes, more intense rainfall and higher floods, and these will continue to grow worse.
Droughts and Floods. As the currents and wind patterns shift, the location of rain is shifting. Some places are seeing more and some less, so our aqueducts and cities have different amounts of water than they used to and new water systems are needed to handle the changes.
Famines. As the rainfall patterns shift and temperatures rise, the types of crops that can grow in any location will be shifting. Some locations will become too hot or too dry to farm and the people who live there will need to move.
Sea level rise. The melting icecaps are adding water to the oceans and sea level is rising. Some cities are already seeing high tides flooding houses and the trend is accelerating.
Refugees. As farmland fails and cities go underwater, large numbers of people will be forced to choose between moving and dying.
The IPCC report also shows that human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of climate. The evidence is clear that CO2 is the main driver of climate change.
Understanding the solutions
Individual actions to reduce carbon output are important to slow the damage but are not the ultimate solution. The Earth has over 7 billion people who must eat and stay warm in winter. The only solution is an energy and transportation system that does not produce carbon. We cannot achieve this as individuals but together we can demand our government and businesses create the technology that will de-carbonize our energy grid and our transportation.