Something has to give
Climate change and global warming have been a part of my generation’s vocabulary throughout our school life. The clear need for mass, wide-scale change has been an established fact for multiple decades. Yet from the state of the planet and the predictions for its future, you would think that we’ve all been blissfully ignorant to the reality of the situation. Arguably, that’s exactly what we’ve done.
The scientific community reached a consensus on the impact of human activities on the planet’s climate and future health a long time ago, and, to a degree, governments and the political elite acknowledged the hard facts and predictions and undertook moves to act on them. 1988 saw the WMO and UNEP establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Two years later the panel called for a global treaty to be put in place after finding that “emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.” The same year saw the UN General Assembly establish a committee to negotiate a Framework Convention on Climate Change. By 1994, the UN formally entered the Convention into force with an almost universal membership. Things were looking positive (-ish).
Fast forward 20 or so years and the history of climate change legislation and action on a global scale is dire. The very fact that the Kyoto Protocol (which extended the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), adopted in 1997, took 7 years to enter into force in 2005 is a reflection of the lethargy and reluctance that has surrounded the negotiations since its beginning. [Side note: the Kyoto Protocol commits states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the basis of the findings of the scientific community. It works on a common but ‘differentiated’ principle, whereby those developed states most responsible for the emitting of the vast majority of greenhouse gases have the largest obligation to reduce the global current contribution.] Annually, the Conference of the Parties (COP) meet to discuss progress, assess future decisions, and to establish the institutional and administrative practicalities of legislation.
Progress has, without doubt, been made. 2015 saw the 21st meeting of the COP in Paris, which established and led to the adoption of the historical Paris Agreement. It set an aim to strengthen the global response to climate change by keeping ‘global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.’ However, as with all of the major climate agreements, it lacked in reach and commitment.
For example, it is well accepted that if we continue to emit at the rate allowed under Paris, a 2 degree increase would be, sadly, the best possible outcome. More realistically, we are on track for a 3-4 degrees Celsius increase by 2100. A study by the University of Washington predicts that there is a massive 90% chance that by the end of the century temperatures could have risen between 2 and 4.9 degrees Celsius. John Schellnhubur, president of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research tells us that “if we venture far beyond the 2 degrees guardrail, towards the 4 degrees line, the risk of crossing tipping points rises sharply. The only way to avoid this is to break the business-as-usual pattern of production and consumption.” That could be read as ‘something has to give.’ We can only push our planet so far before turning back is no longer a viable option. Our lifestyle of extraction and emitting on its current level MUST change. “Crossing tipping points” can be read as food shortages, frequent and disastrous droughts, floods and storms, wars over resources and land and the eventual loss of major cities like London, New York and Shanghai. And have no doubt that those that will be the hardest hit by the monumental impact of climate change will be the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us.
So what do we do? Stick our heads in the sand and hope our governments and leaders solve the issue? Adopt an ‘I won’t be here when sh*t hits the fan anyway’ mentality? Remain ignorant or even try and downplay the issue? (Climate change denialists deserve a post all to themselves at a later date…)
No. We accept nothing less than a passionate, all-out, engaged response from everyone around us. Why? Because we have no choice. It’s as dramatic and as simple as that.
The clock is ticking, and it’s time we all opened our eyes to the reality of what’s approaching on the horizon. Whilst we can’t all pull up a seat at the next COP and start heckling world leaders to shut down their coal factories, we can be more vocal, active, and impassioned. We can take small steps to reduce our own carbon footprint, from turning off unnecessary lights, to walking instead of driving. We can back on the ground action, from signing petitions, to supporting NGOs and charities that are putting in the ground work involved in protecting and caring for our planet. And importantly, we must accept that there has come a time where we must make a decision. Whether we want to continue living our lives as we do which will mean continuing on a path whereby our planet could in the future become inhabitable to human life, or we say enough is enough. And we accept that doing something about the mess we are in will mean that our global economy and society must change, and dramatically so.
The human race is designed, at its core, to survive and to thrive. It is hard to see how those children in Beijing, who at times can’t play outside in school lunch breaks due to dangerously high air pollution, are thriving. Without pollution masks and government advice, they would barely even be surviving.
I want to talk about climate change and the politics and general mentality around it more frequently on this website in the future. I’m not an expert but I’m passionate, and that’s enough for now. At some point I aim to write up a more detailed, comprehensive list of things we can all do, individually, to make a positive and genuine impact in terms of more sustainable living.
Bottom line is, something has to give. We can’t sit by idly any longer, twiddling our thumbs and blocking out the scary news reports as we hurtle towards destruction. We value our planet too much to let political elites who care more about their wealth and prosperity than the ability of our species to thrive, long term, set us on an unchangeable and catastrophic path.
- This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (https://www.amazon.co.uk/This-Changes-Everything-Capitalism-Climate/dp/0241956188) –
Photos used (in order):
- Feature image by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash
- Photo by Dion Tavenier on Unsplash
- Photo by Thomas Richter on Unsplash
- Photo by D A V I D S O N L U N A on Unsplash
- Photo by Gian-Reto Tarnutzer on Unsplash