Stepping Up To The Climate Crisis Of This Generation


Derek Mak, Harry Lee, Bipasha Ray

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word MOSAIC as a surface decoration made by inlaying small pieces of variously colored material to form pictures or patterns. No matter how unstructured the pieces of inlay seem, the final product forms a bigger image, the whole pattern, but never unstructured. What does Mosaic have to do with the climate crisis? Everything!

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report in 2018 warning that temperatures will likely reach 1.5°C above preindustrial levels between 2030 and 2051 if warming is allowed to continue at the current rate. This would cause huge ecosystem damage and economic damage to the tune of $54 trillion. If we continue on the current trajectory, we will see increased extreme weather events, sea-level rise and therefore land loss, climate refugees, species extinction, food and water scarcity and even more severe pandemics.

These are no longer predictions. They are happening all around us:

  • Temperatures have risen by 2.05 degrees Fahrenheit (1.14 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century

  • Greenland lost around an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2019 and Antarctica lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year in the same period.

  • Globally there has been an 8-inch rise in sea level in the last 100 years and the rate has doubled in the past 20 years

  • Oceans have acidified by 30% due to carbon dioxide uptake in the past 200 years

  • Extreme Events such as the California and Australian fires have increased. Since 2015, there have been an average of 100 more large wildfires every year than the preceding year in the US

  • The economy has already been impacted. In 2019, damages caused by extreme weather events spurred by climate change caused a loss of $100 billion

In 2019, during a high-level meeting on the relationship between climate change and sustainable development, the UN General Assembly warned that we have just over a decade to prevent an irreversible damage from climate change. The United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has spurred the initiative to reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 40-70% by 2050 with the 2010 figure as the baseline.

2020 is a wake-up call for those who still have the slightest doubt about the coming climate crisis. We live in California and at the time of writing, it is the state with the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases. The wildfires in the summer of 2020 rendered our air unbreathable for months. The climate crisis is right at our doorstep, warning signs are everywhere. It is the single most pressing challenge for this generation. The world needs to come together to address this problem and slow down the impacts, to adapt better to the imminent changes, and to reduce the intensity of the changes. This is our time to step up!

The clock is ticking. It is not about doing one or two things differently. We must change how we live. Delivering real impact to slow the growth of carbon emission into the environment is a multi-dimensional chess game. It is not about just relying on governments to impost regulatory changes. There is no one single silver bullet. To make a real change for our future, governments, corporations, and people all have vital roles to play. That is why it is multi-dimensional. We are advocating a portfolio approach to bring an ecosystem of public and private entities, and people together in a unified, orchestrated way to deliver results – just like what a MOSAIC would do, small pieces forming to a unified whole. A portfolio of initiatives by governments, innovations by private enterprises, and everything in between that creates a network effect in an orchestrated way. We call this the MOSAIC approach. The keywords here are portfolio, network effect, and orchestrated. These are the elements for success.

Where do we focus? Energy, Transportation, and Waste, a few of the largest sectors contributing to the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions (see figure below). Why?

ENERGY. We need energy to power goods and services productions; humanity's progression depends on it; the economic engine cannot function without it. In a capitalistic society, we are under constant pressure to keep producing more.

From the moment we wake up to the time we go to bed, everything we do, everything we use, are contributing to carbon emissions. Even when we are sleeping, all the devices like Amazon Alexa, the smartphone chargers, the printers, the coffee machines, and everything else that is connected to the Internet are consuming electricity. The Internet of Things is not a hype but a reality. Today over 10 billion devices are already connected to the Internet. By 2025, IDC estimates over 41 billion devices will be connected.

The point is not to say that we need to reverse the trend of connecting smart things, thereby reducing the use of energy. That is just not realistic. It is like asking companies to reduce their annual production, and thus revenue targets. But we can certainly work on rewiring ourselves to power these connected devices with renewable energy sources. Rewiring America is doing exactly that:

“Fighting climate change starts at home. Nearly 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from what’s in our households and garages. If we electrify everything in our houses, we go a long way to confronting climate change. This transformation isn’t going to happen in Washington – and we need your help to do it.”

TRANSPORTATION. Production requires workers to go to work, and the production output needs ways to deliver goods from A to B. The global network of transportation from sea, to air, to ground are generating massive carbon footprint. Nearly all forms of transportation, excluding trains, rely on petroleum products. Passenger travel is responsible for 60% of CO2 emissions from transportation, with freight accounting for the other 40%. In 2018, a total of 24% of global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion came from