We have finally entered the last 90 days of the 2010s. Starting Jan 1, 2020, the world and the planet will enter into a new era - an era that will be defined by climate change. If the 90s were famous for liberalization, the 2000s for the internet, and the 2010s for smartphones and social media, the 2020s will make a mark for climate change, global warming, environmental crisis, and plastic epidemic.
In a sense, the world is coming around full circle - while the turn of the 20th century was marked by the roaring twenties and exuberance, the 1930s witnessed the great depression that plunged modern civilization & economies into despair. The 2020s will be the decade of reckoning. Every single action taken by every individual from their personal consumption to an investment decision, will determine our survival or not in the 2030s.
We are in the beginning of a mass extinction - Greta Thunberg, 23rd September, 2019, UN Climate Action Summit
One of the biggest dissonances about climate change shared between experts, activists, scientists and lay people, is the understanding of the severity of the crisis. Almost every individual today will recognize the climate crisis, except for a few grey-haired republicans.
But for most of the population, it hasn’t really set in. There is next to no panic about the impending trouble. Greta is just another activist. Environmental news is just another source of noise. While some of us “do our bit for the environment”, we also glee over it with self-congratulatory posts on social media. However, we continue business as usual.
On Jan 25, 2019, Greta urged global leaders to act on climate with her words, “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” Well, I want to redirect this statement and question to bystanders, non-leaders, regular professionals, engineers, doctors, and every other capable man or woman, “You need to panic, and you need to act as you would in a crisis - as if your house was on fire, because it is.”
On a personal level, even as recently as 2017, I had not grasped the extent of the situation. In my mental calculations, the climate crisis was to arrive by 2050–60. Climate change was going to kill about 700 million to 1.1 billion people. And being the educated, high-income person, I assumed that I had a low probability of counting myself among the dead.
If these words sound harsh, just ask anyone some basic climate change questions along the lines of “Hey - when do you think Bangladesh would submerge and how many people will vanish?”, or “What do you think of the probability of people surviving in 50°C+ temperatures in Indian states like Rajasthan, UP, or Bihar”, or “How many days can a city like Bangalore or Chennai can survive without water?”
Most of our political and business leaders haven’t panicked yet. Because most of them make a mental note of the disappearance of a few million insignificant people. And again as crude as it sounds, there is some truth to it. If you are a first world person reading this English language article, you have also made that mental calculation: climate change is coming - the world will be a hotter, uninhabitable place, but it won't really affect me and my family.
But what if I told you that it will. By 2050, our oceans will have more plastic than fish. Even today, you are consuming almost one credit card worth of plastic per week. And that my friend, is a sure shot way to get cancer. We thought that the 2018 and 2019 forest fires in Amazon, Siberia, Alaska, and California were extreme. We have only begun to scratch the surface of climate extremes in 2020. Unless actively protected, the 2020s will mark the end of a majority of forests as we know it.
The Paris Agreement of 2015 is a joke, because warming of 2–4°C is absolutely certain. Even if we stop all carbon emissions, every single car on the street, electricity in houses, plastic in our clothes and packaging today, a warming of 2 to 4°C is already locked in. And, unless we seriously question and change all “business as usual” setups in the 2020s, we will be looking at a likely warming of 4°C by 2050s. Is human life physiologically possible in this scenario? Mostly, no!
What does all of this mean for the coming decade? What does it mean for all of us? The 2020s cannot be a decade of technological advancement, cool investments, political turmoil, or any climate discussion. The 2020s has to be about survival. The 2020s has to be about collective action like never seen before.
Starting with every global investor, from a $2 million shop to a $200 million committed focusing on sustainable ESG investing. As an entrepreneur who has experienced both sides - the fundraising and disbursing side - it pains me today when people talk about returns. Do you even think any of us will be alive? The global capital market has to seriously rethink and up their game, probably more than our political leaders.
Every time you spend money you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want - Anna Lappe
Employees resigning en-masse and investors divesting from fossil fuel companies and plastic manufacturers, will be nothing short of a miracle. However, in the 2020s, every single big philanthropic shop must commit capital for survival. Problems like education and health and poverty are all well and important, but nothing will matter if we simply don’t live.
If anyone tries to placate the situation, please read the numbers and statistics. The science of climate change isn't supposed to raise alarm in vain. We have all been witness to the melting in Greenland, burning of the Amazon, and unforgiving heatwaves. But where there is a will, there is a way. If we mark our journeys for the coming decade with a steadfast focus on climate change, we can definitely survive.