In the early 1900s when the idea that industrialisation could potentially result in global warming was first posited, the consensus was that it was unlikely, and in any case, an increase in temperature was to be welcomed. What possible harm could it do?
Well, we are now witnessing the widespread consequences of climate change. Destructive, life-threatening effects, which demand a fundamental shift in the way we are living if we are to preserve the integrity of the planet, and protect the rich abundance of life on Earth.
Warmer year on year
The industrial revolution, beginning in Britain in the late 17th century, then Europe and later America and Japan, is the birthplace of man-made climate change, previously known simply as Global Warming. All the power required to feed the new factories, light the streets and heat the homes was generated through burning fossil fuel. It was thought by some scientists at the time that the consequential increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would indeed result in the Earth’s temperature rising. Others disagreed; the evidence was slim, the science new and the impacts comparatively slight.
Today however, the evidence that anthropogenic (man-made) climate change is a reality is overwhelming: data from all manner of scientific institutions shows the clear, and one would imagine, unquestionable link, between rising global temperatures, climate change with its myriad impacts, and endemic human activity. Despite this, many people including blinkered, duplicitous politicians deny the fact and continue to live life in the same exploitative, complacent manner.
Since 1880 the global ground temperature has increased by 0.9˚C (1.4˚F); two-thirds of which, NASA says, “has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade.” An increase of less than one degree C sounds tiny, irrelevant, but as NASA points out, in the distant past “a one or two degree drop in global temperature resulted in a minor Ice Age.”
Steadily increasing emissions of greenhouse gases – particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) – has meant that the last 10 years have been the warmest on record. Every year trumps the previous one, setting new record highs, resulting in more extreme weather patterns than had previously been experienced; intense heat and driving cold, tremendous storms, forest fires and life-threatening droughts, seasonal shifts causing changes in wildlife activity and disruptions to ecosystems.
In 2016 hundreds died in India as temperatures hit 51˚C (123.8˚ F); terrible flooding swept through Myanmar, Argentina, Indonesia, Spain and Egypt, and in December the Arctic experienced a heat wave, the second in the same year. Recorded temperatures were 15˚C above normal – whatever that is now – at -7˚C. This in turn impacts on wildlife, sea levels and weather patterns further south: all is interconnected.
Bizarre weather patterns like these examples occur everywhere and have become commonplace: destructive, extreme and forecast to increase and intensify. Set in motion by mankind’s continued burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas. Reckless, irresponsible human activity driven by rabid consumerism and the ongoing obsession with material goods to satisfy a deep yet unfulfilled longing for joy and contentment.
A 2˚C World picture
Global climate change is the greatest crisis facing humanity, but politicians and the corporations that pull their political strings, continue to place short-term economic interests before the integrity of the planet, the survival of wildlife and the health of the human population. International agreements and national emission targets are often postponed or totally ignored.
In such an environment, euphoric rhetoric, the like of which we heard at the close of the pivotal 2015 Paris Climate Change Summit (COP21), becomes little more than meaningless theatrics.
The accord reached in Paris was tailored to be the climate template for governments around the world up to and beyond 2050. It was hailed as historic, a collective triumph of responsible good sense over ignorance and apathy. But whilst it achieved – on paper at least – more than seemed possible, as George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian, put it days after the summit, “by comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”
Described by the EU as “a bridge between today's policies and climate-neutrality before the end of the century”, a year on little of substance has been done to change behavior that could eventually lead to realization of the Parisian aims.
Government delegates from 197 countries agreed “on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible [an acceptably vague term to elicit official signatures], recognizing that this will take longer for developing countries”; and, most significantly, shook hands on a proposal to limit “the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C.”
Such a target, they stated, is dependent on global emissions of greenhouse gases being ‘net neutral in the second half of this century’. Bearing in mind greenhouse gases are still increasing, even these targets, which many believe are too high anyway, are probably un-achievable.
Leading up to Paris, each country submitted a climate plan, the ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ (NDC). It detailed how respective governments were planning to reduce emissions and stay below the warming target. Well, interestingly, analysis of these national Statements of Intent, by The United Nations Environment Programme, reveals that even if “all the Paris pledges were implemented in full, global temperatures would rise between 2.9C and 3.4C by the end of this century.”
Such a rise would be catastrophic; even if warming could be limited to 2˚C the consequences, scientists predict, will be widespread and life-changing, affecting tens of millions of people, devastating ecosystems, killing off wildlife and further poisoning the air we breathe.
With higher global temperatures come melting ice caps and rising sea levels. Since 1870 the mean sea level has risen by eight inches, almost half of which occurred between 1993 and 2003, according to a report from the National Research Council. Should the level rise a further 12 inches large parts of the world’s surface would become less habitable, and coastal flooding could threaten up to 200 million people, they state – this would create an unprecedented refugee crisis. Back in 2009 at the COP15 gathering in Copenhagen, a number of Caribbean states decried the prospects of a 1.5˚C increase even – and now the hope is to restrict it to 2˚C – saying, it “would undermine the survival of their communities… and threaten the continued existence of small island states.”
A 2˚C increase would endanger low-lying islands and coastal cities, where population growth is largely concentrated, resulting in huge numbers of people being displaced. The populations of the worst affected areas, George Monbiot relates, “are likely to face wilder extremes: worse droughts in some places, worse floods in others, greater storms and, potentially, grave impacts on food supply.” With Arctic ice melting, the poisoning of the seas and the destruction of coral reefs, “entire marine food chains could collapse…mass extinction [of wildlife] is likely to be the hallmark of our era.”
Many of the cities in greatest danger are situated in developing countries, where, generally speaking people remain uninformed about climate change. Having produced less of the pollutants that cause the problems, they are the greatest victims of this man-made catastrophe: Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia, Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh, Kolkata in India and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia – where drought in 2016 triggered a ‘minor’ famine.
Such is the potential 2˚C world picture, the temperature increase being aimed at and hailed as a major achievement a little over a year ago in the French capital. It is an alarming image, which should motivate all to act; but apathy, duplicity and greed all too often hold sway.
Ignorance or arrogance
In addition to the temperature target, one of the key agreements in Paris was funding for The Green Climate Fund, established in 2010 to “assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change”. Swept up in the excitement of the day the US generously pledged $3 billion to the fund – a third of the total, but to date has only given $500 million. This is symptomatic of the discrepancy that often exists between many governments’ rhetoric, good intentions and actions, which are commonly inadequate at best, criminal at worse.
Saving Our Planet is not, it seems, terribly important for the men of power – the politicians and corporations; the priority is national economic growth and the exploitation of everyone and everything through the cancer of commercialization and rabid consumerism. Every natural resource, every tranquil valley and peaceful forest, every waterway and mountain range; everything drained of all inherent goodness, in the pursuit of financial profit and market dominance.
And with the imminent arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, the chances of the life threatening environmental crisis being further side-lined, or completely ignored, loom large.
In a depressing sign of the ‘Trump Times’, Scott Pruitt, a proud ‘climate change skeptic’, is to head the US Environmental Protection Agency, and it is reported that the President-elect intends to “remove the budget for climate change science currently used by NASA and other US federal agencies [as well as many international groups] for projects such as examining Arctic changes, and to spend it instead on space exploration.”
If carried out this would be the first of what threatens to be many catastrophic climate mistakes, based either on ignorance or dishonesty, and one is a bad as the other. Such irresponsible, reckless behavior adds grist to the mill of those both inside America and throughout the world, people content to bury their heads in the sands of denial and continue to carry out actions, and live lives, which are causing far-reaching, perhaps irreparable damage to the Earth, its diverse ecosystems and to humanity itself.