Climate Change Knows No Borders

By Traver Kennedy, Chairman and CEO on March 23, 2016
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Earlier this month, astronaut Scott Kelly came back from a record-setting 340 days in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS). During his stay in orbit, and between his formal daily duties in space, this accomplished NASA astronaut took some amazing pictures of Earth. Scott Kelly’s photographs capture views of Earth at all times, day and night.

In an NPR interview aboard the ISS, Kelly made some reflections that should make all of us stop and think. “The more I look at Earth, and certain parts of Earth, the more I feel [like] an environmentalist,” he said. “It’s just a blanket of pollution in certain areas.”

SpaceWindow

Earth, as seen from the International Space Station.

By NASA on the Commons (Glass Bottom Spaceship Over the #Bahamas!) [Public domain or No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Climate change you can see (from space)

When civilization’s footprint is so significant that it can be clearly seen from space, it is time to pay attention. A warming planet affects everyone. It is a problem that makes national boundaries invisible. Literally.

Facts and data confirm what astronaut Kelly saw from the International Space Station. Data from the State of Climate Report released by the National Centers for Environmental Information (part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) indicates that the February 2016 global temperature set a new record for “highest monthly departure from average.” It goes on to indicate that the December–February 2016 global temperature also set a record for “highest departure from average for any 3-month period.” This comes on top of July 2015 being the warmest month ever recorded (since records started in 1880) and 2015 being the warmest year on record.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a United Nations body, in their Status of the Global Climate Report, “Levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere reached new highs and in the Northern hemisphere spring 2015, the three-month global average concentration of CO2 crossed the 400 parts per million barrier for the first time.”

How many records must be broken before we get serious about reversing the huge impact we have on the Earth’s climate? The fact that 15 of the top 16 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000, with each successive year becoming the warmest on record, should be enough to spring us into action. Urgent, focused action.

“We can fix that if we put our minds to it.”

This is how astronaut Scott Kelly concluded his remarks about the pollution he could see from the ISS—an optimistic note from a man who became quite familiar with viewing our planet. After all, he orbited the Earth 5,440 times (that’s about 15 times per day).

Climate change is a global problem, a problem that many of us believe can be fixed. However, to do so, the problem must be solved from several fronts. There are three focus areas to ensure we work in a direction that has an impactful and lasting positive effect to tackle a warming planet—and fix it on time:

Policy

This is probably the most effective collective tool we have at our disposal. Governments around the world have finally made solving the climate problem a priority. Policies that encourage people and industry to actively do their part are sprouting everywhere. For example, the set of policies adopted last December at the Paris Conference (collectively known as “COP21”) are a huge step in the right direction and have definitely focused the minds of our leaders on tackling a problem we can no longer ignore. No matter your nationality, the size of your country, or your ranking on greenhouse emissions, the solution to global warming must be global in scope. Climate change does not recognize national borders.

Culture

Good policies serve to set the stage. Lasting change needs the focus of everyone, everywhere. Encouragingly, more and more people around the world are taking actions like biking to work, conserving energy and demanding clean fuel with the objective of doing their part. After all, the pollution and climate impact seen by astronaut Kelly from space are felt every day by people down here. Industry and vehicles contribute to climate change by emitting carbon dioxide. Just ask the people of Beijing. In December, China issued a Red Alert over air pollution for the first time ever. That meant the air was too toxic to breathe.

Innovation

The third pillar to tackle climate change must come from sheer human ingenuity. We all know there is a limit to what people, and governments, will do to reduce global warming and that “comfort zone” is a reality we cannot ignore. Innovation is crucial to solving our global warming problem. Thousands of entrepreneurial companies and organizations around the world are working hard on technology innovations to tackle the greenhouse gasses that result in climate change. From clean energy to clean transportation to clean manufacturing, the collective efforts of industry are starting to make it to market and are starting to make a positive impact. The policies of our governments plus the demands of our customers help technology companies like ours “put our minds to it” as astronaut Kelly suggested during his interview with NPR.

Putting our minds to it

The WMO Status of the Global Climate report also indicated that global warming is occurring at an alarming and unprecedented rate. “The future is happening now,” said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas in a statement released alongside the report. “The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emission is unprecedented in modern records.”

We should all take note. We can see the imagery of this data on the accelerating pace of climate change all around us. Photographs of the Bird’s Nest, the stadium built for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, shrouded in gray smog, or a lone polar bear floating on a small chunk of melting ice, remind us every day that climate change is an urgent problem waiting to be solved.

Scott Kelly’s call to “put our minds to it” is one we are working to answer. At Joi Scientific, we are working hard to make our contribution to a better planet through innovation. Our mission is to expedite the world’s transition to clean and affordable hydrogen energy and to make it available to all so that future generations can view the spectacular beauty of our planet—whether from the ground or from space.

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