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Are we doing enough to fight climate change?

By Courtney Barrow, AccuWeather staff writer
August 01, 2017, 4:57:05 AM EDT

Our Earth’s climate is changing, but are we facing imminent doom, or are we doing more than enough to avoid disaster?

If you ask a climatologist, most will tell you we’re somewhere in between.

“You don’t need to exaggerate it,” climatologist Michael Mann said. “The fact is that we need to deal urgently with the problem of human-caused climate change.”

Mann is a meteorology and atmospheric science professor at Penn State University, known for the famous "hockey stick graph" of depicting the spike in global temperatures in the 20th century.

Flooding India 7.28.17

People wade through a flooded street following incessant rains, in Ahmadabad, India, Friday, July 28, 2017. Over 100 people have died in India amid torrential rains. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

A recent article published in New York Magazine offered a bleak picture for Earth’s future, painting a “doomday” scene with unbreathable air, lethal heat and a war-torn global economy by the end of the century due to man-made climate effects. Mann said that while the extreme theory of mankind's extinction is possible, it’s by far not probable.

“We need to distinguish between these two things... some pretty bad things are likely to happen, and some catastrophic things could happen," Mann said.

While the probability of a doomsday scenario is far-reaching, there are elements of it that are already having impacts on the Earth. Rising sea levels are already threatening coastal communities around the United States with regular flooding.

Congress acknowledged just last month that climate change is a “direct threat” to national security. Some experts, Mann included, say part of the instability that allowed ISIS to achieve such a stronghold within the Middle East was due to one of Syria’s worst droughts in history.

“The impacts of climate change on our lives are no longer subtle,” Mann said. “We’ve seen thousand-year flooding events around the country in recent years.”

“We’ve seen the strongest Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere hurricanes over the past two years. It’s not a coincidence.”

However, Mann said that the alarmist point of view, that life on Earth is doomed and there’s nothing mankind can do about it, is as destructive as those that say there’s no climate change at all.

“That sort of narrative of hopelessness and despair leads us to the same place,” he said. “It leads us down a path of inaction at a time when there’s great urgency and we need to act.”

There are many actions individuals have already taken in the fight for a cleaner environment, such as buying hybrid or electric cars, recycling and seeking out more renewable energy sources, but some say that’s not enough.

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“People need to change their entire lifestyle,” said Alina Szmant, a professor in marine biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “Be a vegetarian, don’t have kids, walk and bicycle more.”

Szmant studies the bleaching of coral reefs. She said the loss of vibrant coral around the world is a response to temperature-related stress.

When asked what can be done to prevent coral bleaching, Szmant said the answer is much bigger than individuals making one or two changes at home.

“People don’t want to listen and people don’t want to hear it because it brings a lot of personal sacrifice to our lifestyle,” she said.

She added that with the lack of regulations for business, specifically on CO2, we will continue to see the negative effects of a changing climate.

“As long as the economy is our primary concern, the Earth is going to die,” she said.

President Trump Paris Climate Agreement exit

President Donald Trump announces that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate change accord during a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“We’re not going to achieve the sorts of reductions in carbon emissions that we need to just based on voluntary measures alone,” Mann said.

Mann suggested implementing more marketplace incentives to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, such as a tax on carbon emissions, and moving toward more renewable energies.

“We’re going in the right direction, but we might even need to accelerate that transition if we’re going to avoid the changes in climate,” he said.

Some countries have taken the widespread steps to decrease their carbon contributions. The United Kingdom and France both recently announced they will ban the sale of diesel- and gasoline-powered cars by 2040. Despite the U.S. federal government pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, 195 other countries are still a part of the commitment to cut their carbon emissions.

Without these measures, Mann said the climate is going to get closer and closer to those doomsday scenarios.

“We’ll see less land, less food, less fresh water, competition for these resources among a growing population, and that’s why our national security is so concerned about climate change,” he said.

The lede of this story was adjusted from its original version for clarity.

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