Pollution, global warming and consequent ice melting, excessive use of fossil fuels: the health status of our planet, especially in the course of World Day for the protection of the Creation, is a very current problem, which affects us personally. This is because, if our moral duty requires us to ensure that the environments in which we live are duly respected, it is equally true that, never as in this moment, the matters relating to the environmental conditions of the earth are of a growing importance for the public, increasingly aware of a climate change in act and determined in good part by the influence of the human action. It goes without saying that, without an awareness that is the most urgent path to undertake in order to initiate concrete actions of contrast, a strong consciousness is also required: ‘The scientific community – has explained to in Terris Dr Vito Vitale, researcher at the CNR – now agrees on the phenomenon of global warming and on the human contribution to its occurrence. What they are trying to do now, to respond to one of the objectives of the COP21 of Paris, is to try to contain the increase in the global temperature within a limit of 2 degrees. A boundary that has been established in order to try to prevent a distortion of the system that would lead to particularly heavy conditions for the human society”.
Understanding future scenarios
In this respect, it should be specified how the climate is not “a simple system which can be stopped by pressing a switch. It is all very complicated and what we know now, is that we are in a phase in which the management of the soil and the composition of the atmosphere are changing. And the latter phenomenon is well evidenced by the impact it has on the average temperature of the planet”. The objective of containing the raising of the planetary thermometer within two degrees, then, is essentially the minimum, to be inserted in the context of a sustainable development: “What we have decided in Paris does not find in practice that harmony that we would have expected. The climate is changing and we will find ourselves increasingly in situations like this year, because the two degrees that we are assuming mean more extreme events and drought, heat waves or very intense precipitation and concentrated in time”. The phase of change that the planet is undergoing, requires “the understanding of the future scenarios”, bearing in mind that, “in this moment, we have a very big uncertainty on the forecasts and that the margin of error is very large even with the same economic scenario”.
Perception of the problem
It is important to bear in mind that the temperature, although it represents one of the main tools to analyse the problem of global warming, is not the only factor to be taken into consideration: “Our knowledge of the system should be further improved because, in order to take decisions, politicians are asking the scientific community to be precise on the effects and therefore on the actions that should be undertaken to reduce and mitigate the effects expected or to simply be able to adapt the society… Thinking of the increase of the sea level, for example, we need to consider different types of societies… The problem is that it is difficult to understand these aspects: in Italy, we have had a severe drought but few rains would be enough for the people to cease to have a correct perception of the problem”. However, we shall say that from the cognitive point of view, climate change seems to have gained several positions in public opinion compared to a few years ago: “Of course it is not the first problem that is taken into consideration – explained once again the researcher – but we made considerable progresses and also the politicians started to become more active. There is still a lot to be done, because the risks entailed are still many: for example, if the cap of Greenland should dissolve (and data tell us that the tendency to dissolve highlights every summer), we would have a rise of 7 meters in sea level. Obviously, the conditions vary from year to year but, if we want to analyse the problem properly, the scientific community must think on a more extended period of time”.
Although it is positive that the common perception finally identifies the existence of a ‘climate issue’, it is necessary to continue on the path of prevention: “Clearly, every action moves some kind of interests promoting others. Considering that there are still several risks, we shall be farsighted, we must remain vigilant, because, especially in the polar areas, there are possible phenomena that could create problems on a global scale… The 2 degrees set as a goal, are not there by chance, but to find the right compromise between the actions that should be taken in order to contain the increase in temperature within this limit and the effects that they will have in this moment. Climate change should be interpreted as an opportunity to develop new technologies and new systems to preserve the ill health of the Planet”.
Local and global effects
In this complex framework of factors, the priority is to act as soon as possible: “What we must understand is that we need to take decisions based on the information we have, because we will never manage to have 100% precise answers. For example, we generally relate the temperature rise to drought. We need to consider, however, that the same phenomenon may lead to other effects such as evaporate seas or create more clouds (which does not necessarily mean more rain). The effects of the change take a global aspect which, however, must not make us forget that this can branch out into a series of actions at local level which can be completely different. This year, for example, we had drought in Italy but also a dramatic monsoon season”.
According to the researcher, we need to take in serious consideration the amplification effects that are intrinsic to the climate system: “The poles are an example: the same effect that at medium latitudes produces an increase of one tenth of a degree, there produces a double increase. This means that in our climate system there are mechanisms and instruments of amplification. Moreover, its complexity, due to the fact that, at 90%, it consists of natural processes, does not allow us to reduce the effects by simply interrupting the cause that determines them. From here the risk, because we may not have the time to stop what we know it is too dangerous”. Essentially, to have full understanding of the change in act, we need to developed a sensitivity that passes, inevitably, through the understanding of the common good: “The important thing is to not disregard the facts. It is not easy to determine which is the common good but it is certain that the public is the only force capable of pushing the politicians… We can only operate for the better, trying to make the planet liveable, realizing that humanity has never experienced a true radical climate change and it is certainly not equipped to survive one”.