Amasia and the Climate Crisis, 1/3: The Facts

Over the next few weeks, in a trio of essays, I will lay out Amasia’s investment thesis around the climate crisis (spoiler: it is not quite obvious). 

The subject is so complex, there is so much “noise”, and the general consensus is so grim, that it takes some doing to concentrate on what we can and should do. We therefore needed an “FAQ“ for ourselves, based on our primary and secondary research, to get to the facts that matter for Amasia.

That is what this first essay is: factual answers to what we think are the most important questions, to cut to the essential. It should give you all the basics. If you want more, we provide a short list of books and articles for further reading at the end.

My thanks to my colleague Alina Goh for all her work in helping put this together. Contact me if you’d like a PDF version.

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TL;DR

The single most important paragraph in this essay:

Issues as large and widespread as climate change suffer from the paradox of rational choice: while it is collectively rational to take action in the face of climate change, it may seem individually irrational to make fundamental lifestyle changes due to the high personal cost and immeasurably small effect a single set of actions will have on the environment as a whole. The importance of change at the individual level, however, is far greater than most people recognise, and such change when taken up by billions will make a decisive difference.

Answers to the four key questions:

Q1: Is the planet changing for the worse?

A: Yes.

Q2: Is human activity contributing to this change?

A: Yes.

Q3: Can alterations in human behavior ameliorate this change?

A: Yes.

Q4: Can an individual’s actions actually make a difference?

A: Yes.

***

Q1: Is the planet changing for the worse?

What is climate change?

Climate change can be defined as the “the long-term alteration of temperature and normal weather patterns.” This distinguishes it from weather, which describes the short-term state of the atmosphere, and global warming, which describes “the long-term warming of the planet’s overall temperature”, although these phenomena are all closely intertwined. In our current context, climate change most often refers to the unequivocal warming of the climate system, triggering a multitude of secondary consequences manifesting at an unprecedented rate. 

In about fifty years, large swathes of the planet will likely look like this. Really.

In about fifty years, large swathes of the planet will likely look like this. Really.

What are the natural causes of climate change?

Solar Irradiance/Milankovitch Cycles

Total solar irradiance is the total output of light energy from the Sun, measured at the Earth. The seasonality and location of solar irradiance that the Earth receives is dependent primarily on three cyclic processes labelled “Milankovitch Cycles”, after the scientist Milutin Milankovitch, that cause long-term climate variations:

  1. Earth’s Obliquity/Axial Tilt

    • Earth’s obliquity, also known as its axis of rotation, is tilted at an angle that varies over long geological periods - approximately 41,000 years - between 22.2-24.5 degrees. Obliquity determines which parts of the Earth receive more sunlight during different stages of the year, thus influencing climate over long periods. Decreasing obliquity allows for more moderate seasons, while increasing it yields the opposite. At zero obliquity, any temperature variation would be attributed to the Earth’s elliptical orbit as it moves slightly closer to or further away from the Sun, but the planet would lack the seasonal change brought about by non-zero obliquity. The Earth’s current obliquity is approximately 23.5 degrees and decreasing.

  2. Earth’s Orbital Eccentricity

    • One natural cause of climate change over long periods of time is the changing shape of the elliptical orbit of the Earth around the Sun, also known as its eccentricity. The orbital path of the Earth is prone to shifting between a very elliptical and nearly circular shape within 100,000 year periods. Currently, there is only a 3% difference or 5,000,000km distance between the points closest to and furthest from the Sun, as opposed to a more eccentric orbit that would exhibit 20-30% differences between the points. 

  3. Axial Precession

    • Axial precession can be defined as the gradual shift in the orientation of the Earth’s axis of rotation over a period of roughly 23,000 years. Like obliquity, this rotational movement also affects the extremity of winters and summers over millennia by altering the location of solstices and equinoxes, effectively causing variations in the amount of solar irradiation received by the hemispheres in a given season.

The Greenhouse Effect

In order to understand the impact of natural activity on climate change, one must first understand the primary mechanism that keeps the earth warm in the first place: the greenhouse effect.

  • Greenhouse effect is the natural process that maintains an earth warm enough to sustain life, aided by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. When electromagnetic solar radiation reaches the earth’s surface, some of it is reflected back into space while some of it is absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere and surface, thus heating the earth. 

  • In order to maintain a life-sustaining degree of heat, some infrared radiation is emitted from the earth back towards space, although a portion of that is absorbed by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This process typically ensures that the delicate temperature balance of the planet is kept at an optimum. 

2018GreenhouseEffect.png

Source

Significant changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been attributed to pre-industrial periods of global warming or cooling, although those climate events can largely be explained by natural occurrences rather than anthropogenic ones

Natural events that cause a significant alteration in atmospheric composition, such as large-scale volcanic eruptions, have triggered periods of global cooling or warming that may have lasted for months or even years by altering the atmospheric composition to include heat-trapping greenhouse gases or solar radiation-preventing ash particles. 

How do we measure climate change?

Scientists today measure climate change not just by global temperature and atmospheric composition, but also by many aspects of the earth that are affected by these factors across air, land and the oceans. For instance, the mass of polar ice sheets indicates the rate of melting as a result of temperature increases, while increasing ocean acidity is partially attributed to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels causing more carbon dioxide to be absorbed into the ocean. The following five “vital signs”, however, provide the clearest markers of our changing climate:

Measurement Factor Rate of Change Latest Measurement
Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide +2.48±0.9ppm per year (2018 average growth rate) 414.83ppm ( May 2019 , compared to pre-industrial average of 280ppm)
Global Temperature +0.17C per year ( average rate since 1981) +0.93C ( April 2019 , compared to 20th century global average)
Arctic Sea Ice Minimum -12.8% per decade4,600,000km-squared (2018, compared to 1979 area of 7,000,000km-squared)
Ice Sheets -127.0±39Gt per year (Antarctica); -286.0±21Gt per year (Greenland) [June 2017, compared to 2002] -1870±175Gt (Antarctica); -3771±98Gt (Greenland)
Sea Level +3.3mm per year +91±4mm (February 2019, compared to January 1993 height of -0.5±4mm)

What are the historical trends for climate change?

Through compositional analysis of ocean/lake sedimentation, fossils, ice cores, coral reefs and tree rings, paleoclimatologists have been able to reconstruct an estimation of the climate conditions of different historical time periods. Analysis indicates the following:

  • Natural warming and cooling cycles over past periods, as well as several deep freeze and greenhouse earth periods. In some cases, major volcanic or meteoric activity was deemed responsible.

  • The Holocene period (~12000 years - present), however, was characterised by a generally stable climate despite cyclic cooling and warming periods. 

  • One point - the Holocene Climatic Optimum - had a higher global temperature estimate than current global temperatures. This could be attributed both to the precession of the Earth as well as its obliquity. The main difference, however, is that carbon dioxide ppm was still far below current levels, remaining roughly below 300ppm until the start of the industrial era, at which point its concentration began to increase above the Holocene maximum. 

Is this current period of climate change worse than its predecessors?

While the earth has historically experienced “worse” conditions in the form of extreme warming or cooling periods that resulted in mass extinctions, the rate at which warming is occurring, considering the general stability of the last few millennia, is a clear deviation from the trend. In addition, there are no significant natural drivers of this accelerated warming (elaborated below). While a mass extinction is not necessarily imminent, the planet is changing for the worse in that continuation along this trend will not only be disruptive to much of the biological life on the planet, but also to the way of living humans have cultivated for themselves. 

Climate change might be worse for the planet -- but is it worse for humankind? 

Primary and secondary consequences of climate change span nearly every aspect of modern human life, affecting physical, economic and social systems in a plethora of ways. There is an extensive literature, growing by the day, on the likely effects of climate change on the human species. The Recommended Reading section, especially the books, are a good starting point to go much deeper. We could fill this essay with evidence-based details but here we provide a highly abbreviated summary:

Physical infrastructure

With sea levels having risen nearly 100mm in the past 3 decades, the issue of subsiding coastlines is becoming ever more pertinent, especially for coastal cities and island nations. In the USA, Miami faces the possibility of 20% of its land being underwater during high tide in 2045, while the Maldives - the world’s flattest nation - is set to lose 77% of its land area by 2100 due to a projected rise of 0.5m. Coastal erosion, in addition to heightened storm flooding, poses a looming threat for vulnerable areas, especially those with highly concentrated populations. Displacement and resettlement bottlenecks for those seeking habitable places inland could see the emergence of up to 2 billion “climate refugees” by the end of the century. 

Increasing global surface temperatures fuel increasingly extreme weather patterns in multiple ways. For instance: higher evaporation rates lead to more droughts, more water vapour in the air provides “fuel” for more powerful storms to develop, increased heat in the atmosphere and on the ocean’s surface intensifies tropical storms. An upward trend in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters has become evident, and infrastructural safety measures of many affected areas have proved ineffective. Hurricane Irma, one of the deadliest hurricanes of the current century, sustained winds of 295km/h for 37 hours at its peak, overturning trains, ripping roofs off houses and even pulling the ocean away from shorelines. It left a trail of destruction throughout the Caribbean, as well as across Southeastern US states. The British Overseas Territory of Barbuda was left “barely inhabitable”, with most of its buildings irreparably damaged. 

Economy

There is a continuing debate about how well traditional economic analysis can deal with long term climatic impact studies. Despite variations in quantitative estimates, the general agreement is that there will be (and already are some) significant economic costs to climate change, such as  negative aggregate economic growth, reduced capital stock and productivity in the world economy, rising inflation, increasing energy costs and rising insurance premiums. 

Rising temperatures will be increasingly detrimental to communities and populations that have typically relied on agriculture and outdoor work for income. While warm temperatures are positive in the short-term to crop yield, temperatures above the optimum could adversely affect growing conditions for many crops. Especially in developing countries, where outdoor labour is common, hotter temperatures have seen a resulting dip in labour productivity. The global productivity in rural labour capacity - defined as those who work in outdoor manual labour in rural areas, but excluding agricultural workers - fell by 5.3% from 2000 to 2016, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people significantly affected in their capacity to work and provide for their households. This will continue to become more aggravated as temperatures steadily creep upwards.

The U.S., to provide one vivid example, has sustained 246 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including CPI adjustment to 2019). The total cost of these 246 events exceeds $1.6 trillion - the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are still on the rise, as are the economic costs. 

Health

While the destructive nature of natural disasters captures headlines, a far more pervasive consequence of climate change is the climate health crisis. A report released recently by The Lancet Countdown, a project involving 24 institutions and intergovernmental organisations around the world, laid out the effects of climate change on global health using 40 indicators. A major point made was that while the average global temperature is already increasing at an alarming rate, the rate of change is up to three times higher in human-populated land areas. This leads to a 125 million increase in “vulnerable” people (over 65 years old) who were exposed to heatwaves between 2000 and 2016. Heatwave exposure is well-known to be deadly across the world - summer heat extremes in 2003 saw a death toll exceeding 70,000 in Europe, and Moscow heat waves in 2010 took 11,000 lives

Increased temperatures are also a breeding ground for the proliferation of disease and spread of infection. Warmer conditions increase areas containing ideal conditions for virus replication and bacterial reproduction, thus increasing the possibility of pathogenic outbreaks. One of the most prominent outbreaks in the last decade has been the outbreak of dengue fever, a disease spread by the Aedes mosquito, across warmer regions in Southeast Asia, Central and South America and Africa. When compared to 1990 levels, the spread of dengue has shown a 3-5.9% increase in rate, likely driven by more favourable environmental conditions. 

The other major contributor to climate-related health crises is the loss of life resulting from natural disasters. Hurricane Maria, which hit Dominica, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in September 2017, claimed a total of 2,957 lives  in Puerto Rico in a short span of time. Natural disasters have and will continue to claim lives and cause severe harm to human populations in vulnerable areas. 


Note on inequality

A common thread running through these subsections is that in every respect, it is those who have less that will suffer more. The bad news is, greater climate change may just widen this divide, and those who have contributed least to emissions may end up bearing the heaviest burden.

Is there more to planetary change than just the climate?

One important consideration to note is that climate change is, unfortunately, not the only issue beleaguering the planet. Planetary change as a whole, of which climate is a part, also includes climate-independent issues, the most glaring of which is plastics. The conversation surrounding plastics doesn’t quite seem to fit into the climate box, although every single stage of plastics production, usage and disposal contributes in some way to carbon pollution. Climate aside, the scale and effect of plastics on the planet are problematic in ways that must be recognised and tackled alongside climate-related issues.

The History of Plastics

Plastics refer to a family of synthetic or semi-synthetic materials that are characterised by their malleability and lightweight nature. They pervade nearly every possible industry due to their material versatility, from packaging to electronics to building and construction. Their usefulness comes attached, however, with a major and environmentally devastating caveat: plastic items can take up to 1000 years to decompose. This is how plastics grew into the issue they are today:

  • Following the development of Bakelite, the first synthetic mass-produced plastic material, in 1907, plastic usage grew exponentially and with unblemished optimism. Driven by the need for natural resource preservation in World War II, the US expanded plastic production by 300% during that period alone. Effective waste disposal, however, did not keep up with the plastic boom. 

  • After the first plastic ocean debris was sighted in the 1960s, concerns over plastic disposal began to emerge, and the material’s persistence became an increasingly prevalent issue. 

  • The 1980s saw the plastics industry introduce the concept of recycling, which theoretically worked but practically was too flawed to be effective.

  • In the present, environmental activism has brought plastics to the forefront, but the lag in action against plastic in the environment has seen oceanic gyres transformed into plastic islands three times the size of France

The Effects of Plastics

Besides their extremely long decomposition periods, plastics pose other environmental concerns:

  • As plastics accumulate in landfills, they release fragments and toxins into groundwater that is highly detrimental to agriculture.

  • Plastic debris in the oceans is easily ingested by marine life, poisoning them and potentially causing death. Microplastics - plastics that have broken down into microscopic particles - have pervaded oceanic waters as well, making removal solutions infinitely more difficult.

The Future of Plastics

As good as a plastic-free world sounds, it is clear that human practices have evolved to become inextricably intertwined with the material. The solution to the plastics problem then splits into three: 

  1. Remove and effectively dispose of existing plastics. Projects like The Ocean Cleanup aim to tackle this by trying to remove plastic waste from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest oceanic gyre of plastic.

  2. Take steps to remove as much plastic as possible from your lifestyle. This individual solution is championed by environmental activists and organisations as a feasible way to contribute regardless of one’s ability to engineer larger scale solutions.

  3. Innovate to make plastics less toxic and more biodegradable. 

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Q2: Is human activity contributing to this change?

Does human activity produce greenhouse gas?

It is indisputable that many human processes produce carbon dioxide as a by-product. The largest human contributor to carbon dioxide production is the burning of fossil fuels for energy to be used in various sectors (depicted below):

The Global Carbon Project, an initiative led by Stanford University scientist Rob Jackson, estimated in its December 2018 report that emissions from fossil fuel sources, representing approximately 90% of all anthropogenic emissions, would reach a record peak of 37.1 billion tons, 2.7% higher than emissions in 2017. Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations would also be at an all-time high of 43% above pre-industrial levels. This uptick was attributed in part to higher energy demands due to extreme weather in countries like the US, while energy demands in countries like China and India continued to eclipse considerable growth in the renewable energy sector.

Are some countries much worse than others?

While focusing on global emissions provides the big picture on the effect of human activity on climate change, it is also important to understand the stark discrepancies between each country’s share of total emissions:

top_10_emitters.png

*LUCF: emissions stemming from land-use change and forestry

This set of graphs illustrates that while total emissions by country peg China as a clear leader in total emissions, per capita emissions tell a different story: one where developed countries (e.g. the United States and Canada, which have populations of 329 million and 37 million respectively) are emitting egregiously high amounts of carbon for relatively small populations, in comparison to countries with far larger populations (e.g. China, which has a population of 1.420 billion). 

While countries such as China bear real responsibility to reduce their total emissions, the carbon-heavy consumption patterns of smaller, developed countries such as the US and Canada are disproportionately large contributors to the problem. In fundamental ways, “we in the West” created the problem. As individuals we contribute disproportionately on a continuing basis towards exacerbating the problem. The view here is that we therefore also need to contribute disproportionately to the solutions, rather than moaning about developing countries.

What evidence is there that human actions are the dominant contributor to greenhouse gas production?

It all seemed like a good idea at the time…

It all seemed like a good idea at the time…

  1. Measuring Carbon Emissions

    Ice core reconstruction indicates that pre-industrial levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide ranged between 275-285ppm, with the highest historical carbon dioxide level peaking at around 300ppm. The current concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (as of May 2019) is 414.83ppm and still on the rise. The correlation between the concentration of carbon dioxide and global temperature, as well as the commensurate rates of increase in fossil fuel combustion, unequivocally point to human action as the dominant contributor to greenhouse gas emission.

  2. The Isotopic Argument

    Carbon can exist in several forms that chemically behave in the same way but differ in weight due to a difference in their composition of protons and neutrons - these are called carbon isotopes. Carbon can exist as C12, C13 or C14, with the numbers indicating the atomic weight of each isotope. C12 and C13 are both atomically stable, while C14 is less so and deteriorates over time. Organic matter tends to be composed of carbon dioxide containing more C12 than C13, while carbon emitted from volcanic eruptions leans much more heavily towards C13 isotopes. Using this information, scientists can analyse isotopic ratios in the atmosphere to determine if recent carbon emissions can be attributed to sources dominant in C12 or C13. 

    Up until around the time of the Industrial Revolution, isotopic ratios derived from fossilised organic matter indicated a relatively stable ratio of C12 to C13. From that point, roughly 150 years ago, the proportion of C13 compared to C12 began to exponentially decrease, taking an especially sharp dive in the last 50 years. This fact alone rules out volcanic activity as a primary driver of accelerated global warming, and  deviation from the previous stability of the C12/C13 ratio points to an external driver of C12 emissions. Given the time frame and acceleration of this change, the scientific community is at a near-consensus that this external driver must be the increasing rate of fossil fuel combustion, much of which is composed of C12 from ancient organic matter. 

  3. Ruling Out Volcanoes

    Aside from the above point that volcanoes primarily emit the C13 isotope, studies have pointed out that total annual carbon dioxide emissions from volcanic activity lies at about 0.26Gt/y, while that of human activities is approximately 35Gt/y. This rules out the notion that volcanoes are significant contributors to atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, as their level of emissions is easily eclipsed by human contributions. Additionally, the fact that large volcanic eruptions actually have cooling effects on climate due to the large volume of light-reflecting aerosols released into the atmosphere further emphasises the fact that these eruptions are not the cause of recent accelerated warming. 

  4. Ruling Out Milankovitch Cycles

    The common factor ruling out all three Milankovitch cycles is that change due to these factors manifests over tens of thousands of years, thus failing to provide an explanation for recent climate change trends. Additionally, currently decreasing obliquity, near-circular orbital eccentricity and precession trends all point to a more moderate climate, definitively ruling out these factors as explanations of recent climate trends.

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Q3: Can alterations in human behavior ameliorate this change?

What are the main human behaviors contributing to greenhouse gas emissions?

The single largest anthropogenic contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is fossil fuel combustion, which reached 89% of total carbon emissions in 2018. This is followed by land-use changes such as deforestation for urbanisation or agriculture and fires, comprising 10.6% of the 37.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted last year

Reports from the Global Carbon Project echoed the sentiments of the UN Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, about which more below)  that greater urgency is needed in the form of far more ambitious green policies in order to hit the increasingly ambitious target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees celsius. 


How can these be altered to help counter climate change?

As more climate modelling is completed, it is evident that there are potential ways forward. Large-scale change is imperative — but large-scale change begins with small-scale change. It is billions of individual decisions that got us into this pickle, and billions of individual decisions will be needed to get us out of it.

Eat more veggies. Even better, mostly veggies. Best of all, only veggies. It is good for you AND for the planet.

Eat more veggies. Even better, mostly veggies. Best of all, only veggies. It is good for you AND for the planet.

The main task that needs to be fulfilled in order to reach our climate goals is to, in some way or another, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This can occur on an individual or collective level, and can involve reducing activities that emit greenhouse gases, innovating to replace those activities with carbon-free alternatives or ramping up carbon-capture processes. Individually, daily behaviors can be altered to be more conscious of energy usage as well as contribution to carbon-emitting activities. Landmark reports definitively outline behavioral solutions that have the highest projected carbon emissions reductions. The top three are, in order: reduced food waste throughout the food supply chain (est. 70.5-93.7 gigatons of CO2 mitigated), plant-rich diets (est. 66.1-87.0 gigatons of CO2 mitigated) and the increased use of electric vehicles (est. 10.8-52.4 gigatons of CO2 mitigated). 


Is there a unified international effort to come to consensus on the facts and the solutions?

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for “assessing the science related to climate change.” Established in 1988, it releases regular scientific assessments on the “state of knowledge about climate change”, providing recommendations and potential response strategies to policymakers. In 2018, the IPCC released a special report on limiting global warming to 1.5C. The report covered the estimated impacts of a 1.5C world compared to one with 2C of global warming, and provided Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) - a range of possible avenues that could limit warming to 1.5C, what it would take to achieve them and what the consequences could be. 

While the report was clear that reaching the target temperature of 1.5C was far more difficult to achieve than reaching 2C, it also demonstrated that there are possible climate trajectories that can limit warming to 1.5C in 2100. That window of feasibility was further explored and confirmed by an independent study in 2018 that assessed the possibility of hitting the 1.5C goal in each of the SSPs using six integrated assessment models, finding that scenarios achieving the 1.5C goal incorporated:

  • A rapid shift away from fossil fuels

  • A move towards large-scale low-carbon energy supplies, reduced energy use, and carbon dioxide removal

How can behavioral change affect climate change?

Issues as large and widespread as climate change suffer from the paradox of rational choice: while it is collectively rational to take action in the face of climate change, it may seem individually irrational to make fundamental lifestyle changes due to the high personal cost and immeasurably small effect a single set of actions will have on the environment as a whole. The importance of change at the individual level, however, is far greater than most people recognise, and such change when taken up by billions will make a decisive difference. 

An often overlooked fact is that a majority of global emissions is linked, directly or indirectly, to human consumption. It is then no surprise that changing human behavior will potentially have a significant effect on reducing global emissions, even by conservative estimates. 

Published packages of projected on sector-based solutions such as Project Drawdown began to touch on the idea that climate solutions need not be restricted to industry-wide change, factoring in community-focused educational and equality-based social solutions as viable pathways to reducing emissions. The Rare Center for Behavior and the Environment goes one step further to advocate for behavioral change to take a larger role in climate solutions, proposing a set of 30 “innovative solutions that meet [people] where they are”, potentially mitigating 19.9-36.8% of global emissions from 2020 to 2050. Solutions are presented over 4 categories: Food, Agriculture & Land Management, Transportation and Energy & Materials. Some include:

  • Normalising plant-based food and presenting it as equally accessible to all by scattering plant-based options amongst other items on a restaurant menu, making diners more likely to choose such items.

  • Using technology (e.g. transport apps) to provide commuters with real-time information on affordable, reliable, convenient and safe travel methods that remove reliance on private vehicles (i.e. public transport).

  • Appealing to desires for autonomy and independence to promote the installation and usage of rooftop solar panels in homes, which could also spur those nearby to similarly desire the same thing.

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Q4: Can an individual’s actions actually make a difference?

This guy got a lot done on his own. And so can you.

This guy got a lot done on his own. And so can you.

What are the benefits of individual action?

Behavioral change is not only potentially highly impactful as a climate solution, but it is also typically less complex and less costly to implement compared to industry-wide or national solutions that require economic and infrastructural overhaul. 

Behaviorally informed solutions are also capable of being easily scaled, giving them the potential to be a transformative change-maker in the climate crisis. Most importantly, it spurs action in places where widespread paralysis would otherwise occur, calling a larger number of people to action against climate change. 

Give me some examples, dammit.

A behavioral response requires a two-pronged approach, split between what we can do in our personal lives, and what we can do in our professional lives. 

In our personal lives, we typically engage with a multitude of products and services tied directly or indirectly to greenhouse gas emissions. Through simple shifts in personal consumption patterns, measurable emissions reductions can be achieved. Personal solutions can fall into several sectors, such as:

  • Transportation: using hybrid or electric cars, ride-share services, choosing public transportation or riding bicycles as a means of transport all contribute to reducing emissions. Another vector for transportation-related solutions is removing the need to travel at all - this is where remote work innovations such as video conferencing and virtual workspaces come into play. 

  • Food and Waste: with close to a third of the world’s food production - around 1.3 billion tons - being wasted in 2018, it is clear that food waste is a problem that is far bigger than it needs to be. Policy and industrial solutions exist that could drastically reduce waste produced along the food supply chain, but personal solutions such as not overbuying groceries, household composting, understanding expiration dates and repurposing vegetable scraps are viable ways of reducing waste on an individual scale.

  • Energy and Materials: while large-scale solutions such as wind and solar farms may come to mind, a variety of individual solutions can effectively reduce household energy usage. For households located in areas with optimal weather conditions, rooftop solar and micro-wind solutions could provide partial clean energy solutions, while switching to energy efficient lighting (e.g. LED) and installing smart thermostats are more widely applicable solutions. 

Solutions that directly pertain to one’s profession are as varied in nature and applicability as the range of professions in the workforce today. For any one chosen profession, however, there are likely at least some actions we can take that are both beneficial for the Earth and for our work. 

Where do we go from here?

Venture capital fits particularly well with a climate change agenda given the inherent nature of the work. The answer is clear: invest in companies that innovate to solve climate change as well as the secondary issues surrounding it. In our next two essays, we will first lay out an “ontology” for how we think about the spectrum of companies addressing climate change, and then we go into more depth on the sub-sectors that fit within Amasia’s overall #GetGlobal focus and leverage our expertise as a firm.

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Recommended Reading

These are the books and articles we found most useful in our research for this essay. If you want to climb the learning curve quickly: the first two books and the first two articles are the “best”.

Books:

  1. Climate Change: What Everyone Needs To Know, Joseph Romm: Despite the “Climate Change for Dummies”-ish title, this is the single best primer on climate change currently available. It is a super-FAQ, written in Q&A style, and is incredibly informative for any audience, not just a lay one.

  2. Introduction to Modern Climate Change, Andrew Dressler: This is the best of the general academic works -- it is a real college-level textbook, but a readable one. You’ll have to grind through it, but it is worth the effort.

  3. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, David Wallace-Wells: There is no shortage of apocalyptic books about the effects of climate change. This may be the best of them in terms of accessibility. Reading the first chapter should be enough to spur you into action.

  4. The Ends Of The World, Peter Brannen: This is an outstanding recounting, to the best of current scientific knowledge, of the five previous mass extinctions in Earth’s history. The simplest learning is this: all five have been associated with massive changes to the planet’s carbon cycle. The asteroid theory around the last one heavily obscures this important point. 

  5. No Immediate Danger, William Vollmann: We put this here because it is a great example of a horrible book on climate change -- sprawling, very poorly written, and relentlessly negative. However the “get off my lawn” tone will appeal to cranky old people, so if you’re a cranky old person, this book is for you. The end justifies the means!

Articles:

  1. Climate Change Needs Behavior Change: Making the Case for Behavioral Solutions to Reduce Global Warming: The Rare Center for Behaviour and the Environment presents a comprehensive list of solutions, adapted from Project Drawdown, that range from individual behavioral modifications to large scale changes in modes of activity. This is a prime read for individuals seeking direction in how to change their consumption patterns in ways that most effectively reduce their carbon footprint.

  2. Apocalyptic Climate Reporting Completely Misses the Point: Daniel Aldana Cohen’s 2018 response to the IPCC report provides a fresh counterpoint to the apocalyptic climate reporting that has become so prevalent in the climate change news space, pointing out “cautiously optimistic” aspects of the report that many overlook, and framing the way forward.

  3. Consuming Differently, Consuming Sustainably: Behavioural Insights for Policymaking: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides a breakdown of policy options for tackling climate change across different sectors, offering behavioral solutions spurred by policy decisions that could lead to more climate-friendly consumption patterns. 

  4. IPCC Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report: Summary for Policymakers: The IPCC’s fifth assessment report, the main points of which are condensed in this summary, provide a comprehensive overview of the state of the climate, its possible futures and the policy measures that need to be implemented in order to prevent the least desirable projections from becoming a reality. 

  5. Explainer: How “Shared Socioeconomic Pathways” explore future climate change: This report delves into the multiple envisioned pathways to our future laid out by the IPCC, evaluating them against a range of assessment measures and aiding clearer comparison between mitigation outcomes and a “realistic range of baseline worlds.”