The first step in dealing with a problem is to face up to the reality of it. Facing up to the reality of our climate is not a comfortable thing to do. I put it off for years and instead carried around thoughts in my head that oscillated from ; “It’s really bad isn’t it?” to “It will probably sort itself out though won’t it?”
When I finally did face up to it, reading up on it in books and scientific reports I was pretty shocked. I knew it was serious but I didn’t realise quite how serious it was. After the initial shock came a feeling of desperation. Once the reality of it set in though I was able to turn my thoughts to what part I could play in solving our environmental crisis. In my best moments I feel truly inspired by this. I am also inspired by the possibilities that solving our climate crisis can have for our society. It is going to take one almighty collective effort to avert climate crisis, and that collective effort alone has the power to transform our society in remarkable ways. I strongly believe that finding solutions to climate change can empower people and communities and play a powerful role in building a better society based on justice, respect and sustainable prosperity for the many and not the few. More on that in later posts, for now let us get back to the situation as it stands.
This is my summation of the current situation based mostly on two books I have read; This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein and Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen but also a number of reports, articles and videos I have seen (most significantly the IPCC reports) that support the picture of the overall situation described in those two books.
Our climate is in peril. We are currently heading towards dramatic changes to our climate that will have very severe consequences for all life on this planet, not least of all the human race. With our current rate of CO2 emissions we are on course for four degrees of warming by the end of the century. The consequences of this are almost unimaginable. The resulting sea level rise will mean island states like the Maldives are simply wiped off the map. Areas like California and Holland will most likely be permanently evacuated. Major cities like London, New York and Shanghai would be in serious jeopardy. Brutal heat waves and violent storms would kill tens of thousands alone, and this is before we consider the impact of major crop failures and social chaos due to ever-increasing migrating populations.
If that sounds bad it gets worse. Four degrees of warming will almost certainly see the passing of major tipping points that will send the climate spinning out of our control. Many experts believe there is a real danger of this happening even at two degrees of warming. The hotter the planet gets the more the arctic ice sheet retreats. The arctic ice sheet reflects heat from the sun back out to space. If global warming were to bring about the collapse of the ice shelves in the arctic ice sheet then it wouldn’t matter how much we reduce our emissions, it would already be too late. The planet would continue to warm triggering other major tipping points such as the melting of the permafrost in the tundra, in turn releasing huge amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere which has a greenhouse effect 11 times more powerful than CO2.
The consequences of this are so severe that it threatens the very future of our species.
These nightmare scenarios are of course not inevitable. We have the resources and technology necessary to prevent them. What we are lacking is the will from our political establishment to take on the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry has its claws firmly grasped on our political system; it is estimated that it spends around 440,000 dollars a day lobbying the US congress. Since the adoption of the Kyoto protocol in 1992 designed to reduce carbon emissions, we have instead seen a huge spurt in the growth of carbon emissions. This has left us severely running out of time. If we do not start making significant reductions to carbon emissions within the next decade then the hope of a future without dangerous climate change may be out of our reach.
The recent Paris agreement gives some cause for optimism but there are still major flaws with the agreement. The individual commitments made by nation states taken as a whole do not prevent us passing two degrees of warming. It does not address the fact that the fossil fuel industry has in its untapped reserves 5 times the amount of fossil fuel that the earth can tolerate if we are to prevent more than two degrees of warming, and it has every intention of mining every last drop. It is even pursuing more unconventional fossil fuel extraction such as tar sand extraction, which mines bitumen, a dirtier version of conventional crude oil. There is not a strong enough commitment from the signatories of the Paris agreement to take the absolutely necessary steps needed to save our climate.
These steps defined by a growing consensus of climate experts are;
- A rapid phasing out of coal within the next 15 years.
- A complete and immediate stop to unconventional mining methods such as tar sand, shale oil, shale gas and fracking.
- The phasing out of fossil fuels almost in their entirety by the middle of this century.
The Paris agreement is also far too reliant on the “cap-and-trade” system for emissions which has shown itself to be completely ineffective. Its introduction has not brought about any significant reductions in CO2 emissions. This is unsurprising as the fossil fuel industry had a significant role in designing the system, a system it supported so that it could buy the right to continue emitting CO2. Carbon Fee and Dividend would be a far better alternative to cap-and-trade in my opinion.
So were does this leave us?
I firmly believe the only way we can secure a safe future for ourselves and coming generations is by creating a huge groundswell of public support for a carbon free future that will drown out the influence of the fossil fuel industry. A global grassroots movement is already under way and is making significant inroads but it needs more people to the cause and it needs to shout louder. I will be examining some important campaigns that you can get involved in in future posts so stay tuned.
In the meantime please do post any questions, comments or thoughts! Are there any campaigns that you are involved in or aware of that inspire you? Is there anything in this post that you agree with, disagree with or would like to expand on? Would you like references to the information provided in this post? I would really like to hear your thoughts so do leave them in the comments!