Before the Point of No Return

You’ve seen the videos of giant ice chunks breaking off and drifting into the Artic. You’ve seen the photo of the secluded polar bear, trapped in a tiny ice glacier. Global warming is happening, period.

This is according to Dr. Richard Peltier, who spoke at the Global Warming “Futures” lecture in Ted Rogers last Wednesday. Part of the University of Toronto’s Physics Department, Peltier analyzes global warming models and scenarios backed up by a variety of measurements and readings from around the world. The numbers don’t lie.

“There are many out there in the world who wish to convince you that this is a chance correlation,” he said. “This is not a chance correlation. This is not something that is new to scientific minds.”

According to such models, Earth has seen a rapid increase in its mean temperature beginning in the mid-1980s. Do a little research and you’ll find that this matches up a little too conveniently with the industrial revolution – maybe all that fossil fuel burning is catching up with us.

Greenhouse gases are natural and have been around before the first human set foot on Earth, trapping enough of the sun’s heat to make life possible. But because of continued waste and pollution on our part, the levels of carbon dioxide are increasing at such a rate that too much heat is staying within the atmosphere instead of bouncing off to space. This is what we call global warming.

But why do politicians continue to refute the evidence of our environmental footprint?

“If you’re a politician sitting on Queen’s Park and you wish to see results, and you know you won’t see the fruits of your labour until 30 years you cease participating in politics, you won’t be too excited. The difference wouldn’t be too big until the end of the century, and then it would be huge.”

We might never get to experience the benefits of leading green lifestyles, but things might very well get worse if nothing gets done now. The question then comes down to what you can do about it. And as it turns out, you can start right now by taking part in several initiatives on campus.

Tonga Pham, director of Ryerson’s Sustainability Matters department, says Ryerson has been striving towards sustainability for years now by installing environmentally-friendly lighting, using smarter printing techniques, and encouraging waste reduction on campus.

This all means a reduction in fossil fuel burning.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, we’re a bit closer to 7,” said department director Tonga Pham. “We’ve been really striving to reduce our energy usage around campus.”

The department has also worked alongside the Ryerson Student Union’s Green Action Group, most recently securing the water bottle ban. But you don’t have to be in a group to make your contribution. Sustainability Matters allows for anyone to pitch their ideas online.

“Usually it’s through an academic group or the RSU, but we wanted to give people that didn’t want to participate in either of those forums and opportunity to participate. We’ve only had two or three people come through suggesting initiatives, but in the past I’ve noticed students are quite engaged.”

However, Ryerson is one school. And as noble and important as every initiative may be, change will only be brought about at a global level. If policies and minds don’t change now, data indicates there will be a point of no return at a mean temperature of two degrees Celsius. Projections indicate the northern hemisphere would be well above that in 100 years if business continues as usual.

“We’ve begun to suffer, and we believe we will suffer more and more excruciating circumstances in the future because of our greenhouse gas emissions,” Peltier said.

Consider that to be a warning.