A 1.5°C Warmer World

How a seemingly small decimal could change life as we know it

“There is no doubt that Climate Change is an existential threat,” explained Dr. Pam Reynolds, a chemistry teacher passionate about sustainability. “Prediction of our tipping point is difficult.” As the sunshine reflects across the glassy facades of metropolis skylines, an innovative attraction was unveiled on September 21 upon the massive public art installation known as the Metronome located along the south end of Union Square. 

Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, the two creative artists behind the project, introduced a digital climate clock that counts down to an approaching “doomsday”—the time we have left to control greenhouse gas emissions enough to allow Earth a 67 percent chance of keeping the world under 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. This design takes a step further into showing a visual deadline regarding how long the world has left to act. The project concurred with the city’s climate week and was intended to be an imaginative invitation that inspires others to create their own climate clocks. “This is our way to shout that number from the rooftops,” Golan announced just before the countdown began. “The world is literally counting on us.” 

As of October 22, we have approximately seven years and 70 days to make changes. Just what would our world be like if we did not meet that deadline?

When most people think of summertime’s hottest days, they might imagine a sunny day where temperatures reside around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Sure, another degree or two may just be a little bit more uncomfortable, but that hardly feels like doomsday. Though the changes may not be directly apparent for humans, scientists point out that we will notice some of the climate impacts we already recognize everywhere today begin to go from bad to downright terrifying. We will likely see many of nature’s organized systems start to pass critical points of no return, triggering permanent modifications and transforming the peaceful normalcy that we enjoy right now.  

Boyd and Golan partnered with scientists and advocates for the technological installation that functions similarly to the carbon clock developed by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change. The institution employs data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Containing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is critical, say experts, to avoid some of the most severe consequences of climatic fluctuations, including rising sea levels, flooding, loss of coral reefs, and wildfires, and other disasters.

The 1.5 degrees of warming refers to the Earth’s average temperature increase. This increase is measured from a baseline average temperature in the mid-to-late nineteenth century—when the Industrial Revolution rocked into high gear, and people began burning fossil fuels on an unprecedented magnitude, inflaming climate change. “Several regional changes in climate are assessed to occur with global warming up to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels, including warming of extreme temperatures in many regions,” reported IPCC. 

This growing problem is particularly close to home for many of us. In early September this year, an extreme heatwave shattered temperature records in numerous areas in Southern California. The dry, thermal circumstances helped stoke new and existing fires. These intense events fit a long-term pattern toward more prolonged and more intense heat waves in Southern California, according to recently published studies. “All of the fires in California, Oregon, and Washington are hurting our air quality too,” explained Sarah Kaplan (‘23), a member of Bishop’s sustainability club Go Green. “Unfortunately this unhealthy air will become a new normal as the earth keeps warming at this pace.” 

The IPCC also stated that human activities were the cause of roughly one degree of global warming. With all the greenhouse gases we have already put in the air, average temperatures will keep rising. Nevertheless, it also said that “these emissions alone are unlikely to cause global warming of 1.5°C,” suggesting that we still have a shot at drawing the line at 1.5 degrees.

“When people start to understand the severity of the issues they tend to become more interested in becoming part of the solution,” said Sarah. As an active student knowledgeable about sustainability, Sarah explained that individuals can slowly introduce new habits into their daily routines like using reusable products, walking and biking to places, eating less meat, and more. “You are constantly setting an example for the people around you and might provoke others to follow these same actions.” As a community, Bishop’s actively composts a lot of the food waste on campus and encourages reusable water bottles with our purified water stations. But there is so much more we can do. Sarah encourages students who are interested in learning more and getting involved to reach out or attend meetings. “We can all do things individually and as a campus community!” exclaimed Sarah.

“Get involved, be informed, ask questions,” said Dr. Reynolds. “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” This is a big task to accomplish in such a limited amount of time. However, the future of our Earth is upon our shoulders. As the teenage activist Greta Thunberg said, “I want you to act as if our house is on fire.” We should all start worrying about how to put it out before it is too late.