climate change – the cause, cost, and cure


“I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic.
I want you to act like your house is on fire, because it is.”
– Greta Thunberg

Industrialization, race to space, overpopulation, world wars, famine, the rise of the digital age… these are just some of the many problems and changes that humans have faced in the past millennium. We have managed to overcome all of those obstacles and advance as a civilization. However, mankind is currently facing its biggest challenge yet – one that can determine the fate of our survival.

Climate change – it is plastered all over the news, the screens, even posters on sidewalks. Headlines read: “Why Philippines’ Super Typhoon Haiyan was so deadly”, “Japan struggling to make significant progress on reducing its emissions”, “China begins to embrace global sustainable investment trend, but big names still missing”. You’ve heard it, seen it, and most likely experienced it. In case you haven’t, here is the definition of the term: “a change in global or regional climate patterns apparent since the mid- to late-20th century attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels”. Climate change has been taking place for over a hundred years and is only now capturing people’s attention.

So, with numerous precedents of us overcoming the odds, why can’t we solve climate change just as we did all the other problems? You see, we’re a little too late.

It’s only appropriate for me to remind everyone that we are the last generation who can steer climate change in another direction. This phenomenon is inevitable and the only way past it is to adapt and anchor it. As former UN chief Ban Ki-moon put it: “Delay and pay, or plan and prosper”.

The Cause

So, what is ailing our Mother Earth? If your answer is global warming, you’re on the right track. Scientists have attributed the rise in global warming to the greenhouse effect, where certain gases in the atmosphere prevent heat from escaping into space, as a result, transforming our planet into a gargantuan oven. These gases include nitrous oxide (N­2O), methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2).

The first is produced primarily by soil cultivation practices through the use of both commercial and organic fertilizers. The second, methane, is classified as a hydrocarbon gas that is found in the decomposition of waste and frequently associated with manure and domestic livestock.

Carbon dioxide is the reverberating name in the world of climate change. Here is a compound that takes up 0.04% of our air but has the ability to scorch up our world. Natural processes that produce carbon dioxide include respiration and volcano eruptions. However, since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, humans have voluntarily accelerated the emission levels of the compound. Deforestation, combustion of fossil fuels, and increase in livestock farming are just some among many of the activities that spiked up carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and as NASA puts it “[human activities are] the most important long-lived ‘forcing’ of climate change”.

The second-largest contributor next to carbon dioxide would be chlorofluorocarbons (better known as CFCs). These are gases that are found in coolants, foaming agents, fire extinguishers, pesticides and aerosol propellants – all items that we utilize daily. The significance of this gas is that they have an extended atmospheric life, allowing them to affect the climate for decades to come.

Asia is the leading continent in pushing out the most global warming emissions annually. Just a few years back in 2017, China, India and Japan were respectively ranked first, third and fifth on “World’s Worst Polluting Countries”. The government’s defense to this was that developing countries should be allowed to increase their emissions as they industrialize, but that is questionable.

Take a look at Indonesia and its annual fires; that doesn’t strike as an attempt to industrialize. Those fires are not just causing haze and sickening people locally and in neighboring countries; this year alone, 360 million tonnes of carbon dioxide have been released within a month. All this just because their agriculture still applies the slash-and-burn technique of farming. Skies were burning red in Indonesia and the air was filthy. Additionally, the burning was not just a danger to us but to innocent animals as well. Indonesian students have been protesting for better environmental policies because the government wasn’t ameliorating the situation. Some comfort can be found in the younger generation pushing for a change, but are the country leaders hearing them?

Back to the topic at hand, we can’t place all the blame on carbon dioxide. The United Nations has reported that Asia’s massive population, recurring natural disasters, and occasionally chaotic urbanization make the continent exclusively vulnerable to the danger of climate change.

Now, let’s zoom in on the population problem in Asia by looking at a case study of Delhi. Delhi is India’s capital territory, a beautiful metropolitan area that houses quite a handful of the country’s most iconic landmarks. However, in the last decade, the population in Delhi has grown by over 7 million. Population growth means there’s a spike in demand for basic necessities such as food, shelter, and transportation. While Delhi’s construction and increase in vehicle usage contributed to the increase in carbon dioxide levels, agriculture is the biggest enemy here.

Neighboring Delhi is Punjab and Haryana, the country’s main source of rice. Paddy fields mark the areas and farmers have been feeding the country for years. Unfortunately, due to water shortage, farmers are only allowed a brief window of time to plant, grow, and harvest their crops. This means that all processes have to be quick. Consequently, farmers started burning their crop stubbles because they can’t prep their fields in time for the next wave of farming. This burning of crop fields produces deadly clouds of smoke that travel over to Delhi (being pushed by the cold wind from the Himalayas), covering the entire city with a hazardous smog blanket.

You’d be surprised to know that this activity has been going on for quite some time now, yet India still hasn’t enforced a ban on crop burning and that is putting the lives of millions in danger. People are falling ill from the heat and the air pollution and car accident rates have gone up because the thick smog deprives drivers of their ability to see the road ahead clearly.

I could keep explaining the causes of climate change with all the scientific terms, but that wouldn’t give any idea of exactly what it’s doing to our world. With this, we delve into the cost of climate change.

The Cost 

All actions come with a price, this is a known fact. Our insane usage of fossil fuels and continuous exploitation of nature’s resources are stamping an irreversible and only ever-increasing price on our heads. You may wonder: “How exactly is climate change impacting us?” I’m glad you asked, let me show you the menu prepared by Chef Earth:

For the appetizer, we have a great selection of burning forests, boiling oceans, dying coral reefs, collapsing ecosystems and accelerating emissions; for the entrée, melting glaciers, increased floods and landslides, change in the Yangtze river (and many other Asian water-bodies), additional cyclones, typhoons; and the grand finale – the dessert (or should I say desert?) – a delicately carved scorched Earth made with exceedingly intolerable heat and just a dash of ignorance.

Brick by brick, we are destroying our only home and all for wanting an easier way of life. Newsflash, Mother Earth has not been living an easy life all this while. Inadequate action will put 100 million people in developing countries well below the poverty line by 2030. Forecasts show that sea levels will rise between 1 to 3 meters by 2100, submerging 71,000 square kilometers of Chinese coastal areas underwater. According to the World Bank forecast, “South Asia will see a decline in living standards due to climate change, impacting agricultural production and likely triggering mass migration”. Can you even imagine living in a world like that – going back to square one? I doubt anyone can and no one should, not when we still wield the power to do something about it.

Let’s pan towards Australia that is still being ravaged by bushfires. It’s staggering to know that the fires were only reported in 2020 when they have already started spreading in the year before. The catastrophic event started because global heating made it easier for wildfires to start and spread. As a result of the heaty environment, we have sacrificed the lives of a billion wildlife animals and worsened the air quality to the extent where a tennis player collapsed while playing an open match in Melbourne. Yet, the severity of the issue is overlooked.

Is this what humankind is striving toward? A world where nobody wins? A world of suffering? What will we tell our grandchildren? That it was us and our negligence that ruined this planet for them?

The Cure 

In darkness, there is always hope, but miss your chance to grab it and that’s endgame.

There are many evident solutions to slow climate change: minimize consumption, forego fossil fuels, use hybrid or electric cars, reduce deforestation, penalize companies that exceed certain emission levels, provide better cooking alternatives to rural families, and improve ways of agriculture. Investment in climate-resistant infrastructure, mangrove protection, and freshwater resources will eventually pay for itself several times over. Without a doubt, the things that we can do to curtail the situation are endless. We’ve always been good at coming up with solutions; the trick is to get people to act on them.

Thankfully, the news saw the light in humanity regarding the Australian bushfires. Facebook helped raise US$32 million to relieve the situation and there were numerous heartbreaking footage of people saving animals from the fires. One in particular caught my attention: it was of a cyclist who stopped to give a koala water. The poor animal drank being dehydrated for God knows how long and, dare I say, it was tear-inducing. The United States has deployed its best firefighters to help out in Australia and among other news, “Truth Hurts” singer Lizzo even took a break in her tour schedule to volunteer at an Australian food bank to assemble packages for families who fell victim to the fire crisis.

This is simply a great example of how we can all help in combating and saving the environment. Many people are aware of this, yet, we return to the decade-old question: are the world leaders listening?

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement was a great demonstration by global leaders. The agreement included a provision for developed countries to chip in financial support for emerging states to favor renewable resources over fossil fuels, starting from US$100 billion a year from 2020. Their hearts and minds are in the right place, but we shouldn’t be putting a price on our home. We should do whatever it takes to save it.


Politicians are who the masses look to take charge and affix a solution, but instead, 16-year-old children are going on school strikes at the parliament to get said politicians to take action. Greta Thunberg, the aforementioned teen named Person of the Year by Times Magazine, spoke at the UN last year, urging everyone to talk about climate change and do something about it.

Perhaps she is right: the first step that everybody should take is to raise awareness. It has been 120 years since climate change has taken place and despite all the marches and protests, there are still people who don’t believe that it is a pressing issue. We have been living selfishly in our bubble, trying to elevate our ease of life and happiness at the expense of our Earth. It’s about time we gave back to the planet that carried life for 4.5 billion years tirelessly.

We can think climate change has nothing to do with us all we want, but our future depends on this planet, and it is at stake. We can say that there are more important things and direct our money flow elsewhere, but without Earth, money will cease to have value and we will cease to exist. In the time that you’ve spent reading this, our Earth has been progressively falling ill. We are its doctors – students, professors, lawyers, politicians, business executives, police officers, and virtually everyone.

If we can adapt to the environment and industrialize, map out routes to space, accommodate 7 billion people and counting, sign treaties to end wars, and go from rotary dials to smartphones, we can delay climate change, but only if everyone does it together.


– my entry for the Asian Scientist Writing Prize 2019