Does it ever feel like we’ve come too far? Climate change is the single greatest issue in our species’ history, yet we’ve consistently exhibited a failing in desire to tackle it. Not the capacity, but the willingness. Which is the greatest tragedy. The ability is within our grasp. We just have to seize it.
Climate change is preventable. We are aware of the problem, and the potential scope, and the direction in which it’s vital to move. It’s already depicted in various facets of popular culture. Tackling climate change has been every villain’s motivation in every action film of late. It’s so blatantly obvious.
Why, then, do we repeatedly squander available opportunities to act? The sad, and ironic truth: it’s not profitable. Not in the short-term, at least. It’s easy to argue combatting climate change would be economically ruinous. It demands lifestyle changes. It requires an acknowledgement of our past sins, our gluttony and ignorance and lasciviousness. That, not only could these costs be mitigated with some lateral thinking, the ultimate outcome of keeping us alive into the next century should outweigh these considerations is irrelevant.
Climate change prevails, therefore, and we tumble inexorably closer to an avoidable demise.
Climate change: is it too late?
Let’s confront some climate change facts. These are far from the only relevant indicators, but they’re what immediately sprung to my mind. At this exact moment, Turkey is grappling with some of the most severe wildfires in decades, spreading into Greece. Simultaneously, smoke has enveloped Northern Siberia in a perpetual darkness following extreme wildfires, generating apocalyptic scenes, alongside there being massive fires in California.
This, too, fails to include the devastation witnessed in the Western US last year, or the carnage that eviscerated much of Australia in early 2020. Such events, exacerbated by climate change, already unleash immense destruction, becoming increasingly difficult to control. Climate change doesn’t simply manifest as rising temperatures, however. There have been clear signs of increasing weather volatility and unpredictability, tragically exhibited by the widespread flooding in Germany and Belgium throughout July. Heavy rainfall had been monitored and was expected, though the sheer scale of the downpours proved shocking.
To a much lesser extent, flooding also occurred across much of the UK. Apparently, extreme weather is here to stay. Last year managed to one of the hottest, wettest, and sunniest, and I can anecdotally report this year has felt just as uncertain. Our mild climate appears to be slipping into the past. As such, we can begin to expect much more dangerous weather events with increasing frequency.
Whether these will prove the wake-up calls so desperately required remains to be seen.
Combatting climate change:
The natural world functions in equilibrium and can restore itself when unhindered by the unprecedented actions of humanity. Some of the most significant contributors in this battle are carbon sinks. I’m not necessarily a scientist, but I understand these as any body capable of storing carbon dioxide away from the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s over-simplified, but it informs my thinking.
I’m relatively sure these include oceans, forests, glaciers, peat bogs, effectively most large, natural environments. As if to deliberately escalate our climate crisis, we’re also destroying them.
The numbers probably won’t surprise you. They’re shocking, but so oft-quoted we’ve all become numb to the unfathomable rate of devastation unleashed by our presence.
More than 20% of the Amazon is gone. Over 200,000 acres are burned each day. We lose roughly 13% of Arctic sea ice each decade. In the past thirty years, the oldest Arctic ice has declined by 95%. Over the past century, the Sahara Desert has expanded by 10%. It’s all connected in a vicious cycle.
Deforestation of the Amazon is especially distressing for the abundance of natural life we are callously driving to extinction. Most recently, the Brazilian President is forging ahead with a 1,000km railway project extending deep into the rainforest. Exploitation of the Amazon is perhaps the most blatant depiction of economic motivations trumping climate necessities. I perfectly understand economic imperative. I appreciate the hypocrisy of European nations having previously exploited their resources without remorse now condemning South American nations for doing the same. But this is a global struggle.
It’s time to internationally prioritise precious regions in action, not rhetoric alone. In this specific example, the UN could subsidise Brazilian exports in exchange for the Amazon’s preservation.
Prevailing attitudes towards climate change:
Infuriating, and overwhelmingly complacent. Maddeningly so. For many, it’s not an abundance of ignorance, but a failure to grasp reality. It is bad.
We’ve known about climate change for so long. We could have been inhibiting the most harmful practises for over fifty years, perhaps seeing significant improvements. Sadly, the narrative has been driven by vested interests in fossil fuels, motivated by their short-term profit margins. Bribing ‘scientists’ and politicians has culminated in stagnant climate policy, and vast misinformation throughout the general public. Outspoken climate change-denier Donald Trump even ascended to a prominent position, attempting to leave the Paris Climate Accord. For so many reasons, we can rejoice at his departure, but have yet to relish in his declining influence.
But the disease of climate change ignorance is more pervasive than one figure. A recent investigation into ‘Queen’s Consent’ has revealed the major influence still wielded by our monarchy through her privileged access to draft laws by an archaic process. Scary enough, it also exposed the Queen’s lobbying for her Scottish properties to be exempt from a major green initiative to cut carbon emissions. Sturgeon’s government likely failed to formally declare this exemption.
It becomes even more frustrating when coupled with statements from Boris Johnson’s climate spokesperson. When queried on how people should respond to Conservative’s unambitious climate goals, she said “they can do many things, they can join Greenpeace, they can join the Green party”. Hardly the same thing, and hardly helpful advice. This, of course, being the same person who insisted diesel cars are superior to electric, and much better suit her needs. Wonderful.
Fresh revelations ensconce Alok Sharma, the President of the UK’s Cop26 climate conference. In the past seven months, he’s visited over thirty countries. The primary story has been his utter disregard for the ongoing pandemic, frequently bypassing quarantines and freely manoeuvring through Red-listed nations with abandon, but it’s also a colossal waste in emissions.
People are evidently unwilling to adapt even in the most minor of circumstances, let alone the broad changes that are required.
Capitalism: the gruesome nail in the climate change coffin?
In another inspired meeting of the world’s wealthiest nations, the G20 coalition was yet again unable to reach an understanding on phasing out coal power, or halting global warming. Failing over a conclusive decision, the odds truly seem insurmountable.
“The core issue is capitalism. Capitalism’s unfettered pursuit of economic growth is what caused climate change, and capitalism’s inability to reckon with externalities is what is preventing us from solving climate change.”
An interesting idea, outlined by Hamilton Nolan. They postulate climate change issues derive from capitalism, the aggressive economic system dominating the Western world. Obsessed with ravaging natural resources and plundering the available labour point to the verge of exploited exhaustion, it’s certainly a violent and self-destruction process.
The system of capitalism filters an exclusive few to the highest echelons of society, bestowing upon them extraordinary levels of wealth. An overwhelming greed also festers, alongside a persistent determination for more; more products, more land, more money.
Keen history students will note the similarities between this suggest and arguments swirling around the build-up to last century’s Great War. WWI, for the confused. I’m sure we all remember the arms race, alliance system, and assassination of Franz Ferdinand in blurry recollections of school. One further, underlying cause was the capitalist dominance of foreign markets and the monopolisation of Empire-building by European powers. In short, they conquered and colonised the African and Asian continents. As they continued to expand, this generated rampant competition that ultimately outstripped the available space for future expansion, inevitably culminating in irreparable tensions.
As a minor sidenote, if this area of history does interest you, all of contemporaries Norman Angell, Hobson, and Lenin present worthwhile theories (no, I’m not a Leninist Communist. It’s an interesting work to objectively decipher, regardless of how much you personally agree with).
Surely it gets better?
Well, well, well. On this note, a 1972 MIT study predicted rapid economic growth would result in societal collapse in the mid-21st Century. Apparently, we’re right on schedule.
It’s based on the theory of limits to growth, anticipating full collapse by around 2040. For decades, conflicting theories have alternately hypothesised either this, that we will eventually eliminate all potential for future growth and face a crash, or that technological advancements and other adaptations will conjure more efficient processes, or otherwise divert the relative drought in resources.
The problem? Gaya Herrington has recently conducted similar research building on the 1972 study, and discovered that, even when paired with unprecedented technological development and adoption, limits to growth still inevitably lead to declines in industrial capital, agricultural output, and welfare levels.
Herrington concludes that the next decade represents humanity’s best chance to transition against the challenges we face. They did, however, suggest the precedence of the pandemic and the ability for a concerted response could be capitalised upon. There’s every chance they were wrong, too. Science can be imprecise. Obviously, I’m neither challenging them nor insulting their methodology, but merely speculating on the possibility their findings were inaccurate.
Regardless, the primary point is to reiterate the dangerous situation we now find ourselves in.
What needs to change to alter climate change?
We have to fundamental shift our attitudes. The COVID-19 pandemic proved how muddled our governance was, and how short the public attention span is. I think it’s relatively uncontroversial to say most people have lost interest at this stage, even as the virus continues to ravage swathes of the population. I doubt we have the stamina to enact lasting changes against climate change.
There needs to be a concerted push towards first acknowledgement, step one in any addict overcoming negligence, followed by trying to do better, guided by clear instructions and example.
In a more practical sense, the change has to come from the worst offenders: immense corporations pumping out pollution as a second business. We as consumers have to pressure them to be better. We have to force politicians to actually care. We need, as a collective, to hold the most responsible accountable. After the G20’s recent impotence, let’s please see some progress in the upcoming Cop26 Summit.
Hopefully, that might manifest in moves towards renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuels and implementing carbon pricing. Reforestation might help. There’s certainly no harm in asking the billionaires to invest in Earth’s future, rather than jetting off into space (or trying to).
As it stands, we’re trapped in a well, watching the water rise but transfixing upon building a concrete chair, rather than a ladder.
In the days since posting this article, I have witnessed a massive uptick in the volume of other content relating to climate change. That surely can’t be a coincidence; this site drives global trends.
Obviously not, but one particularly interesting update comes from the UN’s latest IPCC report, describing a ‘code red for humanity’. A lot of additional pressure has been placed on the upcoming Cop26 meeting of global leaders, almost such that it might be humanity’s last hope in the struggle against climate change. I really wish that were an embellishment.
“If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”UN Secretary General António Guterres.
On a foundation of unequivocal evidence humanity is responsible for rising global temperatures, the IPCC document outlines a number of changes, some theorised as irreversible. The greatest battle is against the infamous 1.5˚ temperature increase on 1850-1900 levels. Thought to be almost guaranteed by current estimates before 2040, the more precise date of 2036 has been speculated.
As such, we can anticipate drastic changes, from a higher frequency of droughts and wildfires in some regions, to increased downpours resulting in flooding elsewhere. The Arctic will grow practically ice-free in certain periods of the year, immensely increasing global sea levels and inflicting mass extinction.
It’s probably time to work on this. Eighty-eight days and counting until Cop26. Let’s hope.
Thanks for reading! Climate change does seem relatively dire, but do let me know if you have any unique thoughts. Otherwise, feel free to explore my other posts, short stories, or travel blogs! Feature image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
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