This article is published as an external submission via the EFGeoBlog. It may not reflect the official positions of the European Federation of Geologists. 

Climate change is a pressing issue impacting both the natural and human-induced greenhouse gases. Its consequences include global warming, shifts in seasonal patterns, alterations in temperature and precipitation, and the occurrence of unprecedented catastrophic events.

However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that climate change is not a new phenomenon. While we may not be solely responsible for its inception, our actions are accelerating its progression unlike any previous species. This process has been a constant throughout Earth’s 4.6 billion-year history.

Without delving too deeply into the distant and hardly understandable past, the current geological epoch, known as the Holocene, commenced immediately after the last ice age, according to the International Commission on Stratigraphy.

Approximately 12,000 years ago, the Earth underwent a glacial period, resulting in a substantial temperature drop and widespread ice coverage. During this time, the sea level was 120 meters lower than it is today. The melting of ice caused a rise in sea levels, which in turn altered the physical features of the continents. For instance, in Europe, this separation led to the isolation of Great Britain from the mainland. Since the industrial age, which commenced less than 200 years ago, rapid climate change has ensued due to the massive emission of gases such as CO2, NO2, F-gases, and methane into the atmosphere. Some scientists advocate for recognizing this period as the Anthropocene, marking a new geological age, although this is a controversial topic and has been rejected by the International Union of Geological Sciences.

The most recent geological age, the Meghalayan, was established in 2018 through the study of paleoclimate using stalactites from caves in India’s Meghalaya region.

Cave speleothems serve as invaluable records of past climatic conditions, akin to tree rings, revealing insights into droughts, rainfall variations, and changes in rainwater gas levels that dissolved limestone in the caves.

By studying the stalactites, we can gain insight into various aspects of the climate’s evolution. Understanding solar activity cycles, such as the Gleissberg cycle, as well as El Niño and North Atlantic Ocean oscillations, is crucial for comprehending their impact on climate. It is important to consider the greenhouse gas emissions and the role of forests in mitigating their effects.

However, the vast amounts of gases released by human activity since the beginning of the industrial age have altered the equations and models. Although we do not have records as detailed as those of stalactites due to the brief period of time since 1850, predictive models anticipate phenomena such as desertification expansion and sea level rise. Attaining zero emissions on a planet through the use of renewable energies is a desirable but challenging goal. While various reduction targets are proposed, the realities of achieving them must be acknowledged.

Renewable wind and photovoltaic deployment in Europe, led by Spain, and worldwide, continue to break records annually. However, decarbonizing the economy demands time and concerted effort, reliant on accurate information to effect meaningful change The manufacture of wind turbines, solar panels, and the electrification of the economy, as well as the replacement of the current car fleet with electric ones, are still far from being achieved.

This is not only a project for Spain or Europe, but for the world as a whole. However, the continents with higher population and less environmental legislation may not be progressing at the same pace. It is necessary to consider them as providers of the minerals, metals, and other necessary materials to modify our industrial and lifestyle models without sacrificing economic potential and the current welfare state, despite the new European mining legislation.

The mining and electro-intensive manufacturing industries consume a significant amount of energy, which is still largely derived from oil and gas. Geopolitical conflicts highlight the pre-eminence of oil and gas over any other source of energy.

The recycling of critical metals is still in its early stages, and given the overwhelming quantity of metals required for the energy transition, geological exploration of our subsoil and marine resources is once again a priority. This priority has been particularly pronounced in mineral exploration since the Second World War.

Climate change and its mitigation to preindustrial levels are global issues that require the attention of international organizations such as the UN. Success in addressing this issue relies on the economic power of major players such as the EU, USA, China, Russia, and other principal countries. While some may not be significant emitters of greenhouse gases, they may possess the necessary resources for effective mitigation efforts.

Finally, the concept of a circular economy remains a challenge for the global community. Achieving the necessary reuse and recycling of critical resources is essential for the energy transition and decarbonisation of the economy. This requires significant investment in global research and development, as well as a reduction in the prevalent practice of ‘green washing’ by governments and companies.

By taking action, we can avert the alteration of the planet’s climate by the human species. Among the myriad species that have inhabited Earth over its long history, humans stand as the sole entities altering the rules of nature. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is the laws of nature and the planet that will ultimately reign, whether or not humans intervene. Thus, proactive measures are imperative.

About the Author: Chartered geologist. Former General Director of Environmental Quality and Water Resources and former President of the Water and Waste Consortium of the Autonomous Government of La Rioja (Spain), he has been working since September 2023 in the private industrial capital goods sector in the direction of the Department of quality management and assurance.
He is also a researcher at the IER Research Center – Government of La Rioja in the Area of Natural Sciences.
EurGeol (European Federation of Geologists) since 2005 and member of its Panel of Experts on Minerals and Sustainable Mining. Former Delegate of the Spanish Association of Professional Geologists (ICOG) where he held the position for 8 years. Former member of the UNECE UNFC Expert Group. Member of the Editorial Boards of the Journals Tierra y Tecnología (ICOG), Zubía and Zubía Monográfico (IER) and the European Journal of Geologists (EFG).

Rubén Esteban

Instituto de Estudios Riojanos (IER) - Government of La Rioja

Disclaimer: This article expresses the personal opinions of the author. These opinions may not reflect the official position of the European Federation of Geologists (EFG).