Use your head – for we have only one planet. I have written about climate change on my Norwegian blog (the link is a translation of the Norwegian text. I cannot guarantee that google translate did a superb job. But the point is: I have always been interested in the climate, already as a 12-year old I made flyers to “save the nature”. When I found an interesting article in “the guardian” I just had to share it with you.
No more denial. Time to act on climate change
Our leaders must set the climate change gainsayers to one side and confront imminent catastrophe
- The Observer, Saturday 28 September 2013 19.30 BST
In his recent book Ten Billion, Stephen Emmott posed an intriguing question: what would happen if humanity discovered tomorrow that there was an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, one that would bring calamity on a precise date several decades in the future? An event like that could result in the eradication of a large chunk of life on Earth and would surely galvanise the planet, argued Emmott. Every scientist, engineer, university and business leader would be enlisted to find ways to deflect the errant asteroid and help our species survive. We might even succeed.
The idea is intriguing because humanity now finds itself facing just such a global catastrophe – except there is no specific date for our meeting with destiny and there is no asteroid. Nor is there any sign that we appear to be interested in trying to save ourselves or rescue our planet. The problem is that we face a threat that is manmade and insidious but which is every bit as dangerous as an asteroid impact – and that is global warming.
Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its fifth assessment report on the physical science of global warming and made it clear that the continued burning of fossil fuels to run our cars, factories and electricity plants is now virtually certain to induce serious alterations to our climate. These changes will not arrive with an astronomical bang, of course, but will appear with stealth. Nevertheless, the IPCC’s report makes it clear that rising sea levels, acidifying oceans, shrinking icecaps and thawing Arctic tundra are now likely to occur with virtual certainty by the end of the present century.
Thus humanity is conducting the greatest and most important scientific experiment ever carried out – on itself. And it is doing so by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an accelerating rate. Since the Industrial Revolution began, we have burned half a trillion tonnes of carbon from coal, oil and gas, states the IPCC. Now we are set to burn another half trillion in a few decades.
Surface temperatures have already risen by 0.89C in the past 200 years and could rise by a further 3C or more by the end of the century. Populations on coasts, in Bangladesh, for example, face the prospect of devastating flooding, while those who live at the edge of spreading deserts could suffer famine and increased disease.
Such scenarios are the worst possible outcomes of our continued burning of coal, oil and gas, of course. Further temperature rises may be limited to lower figures and that would certainly lessen future damage. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure what future temperature rises will be or how severely our climate will change, despite scientists’ best efforts. Meteorology is a complex business.
Under such circumstances, it might seem prudent to act today to reduce carbon emissions, thus avoiding the potential threats that lie ahead. Yet climate talks remain deadlocked, nations continue to burn fossil fuels while those who deny our climate change is changing have quadrupled in numbers in the UK since 2005.
The critical question is straightforward: why are we so reluctant to act? Why has the world turned its back on a disaster that has the potential to wreck life on Earth for centuries? Answers have a lot to do with the unpalatable nature of the message that climate scientists bring us. A quiet turning away is common.
However, there is another pernicious reason for our failure to act: the bitter, often vitriolic campaigns of climate change deniers – men and women (but mostly men) who simply refuse to accept that humanity is changing weather systems. They have played a major part in halting progress that could lead to global deals to reduce carbon emissions. The most vociferous of these operate in the US where rightwing thinktanks, often backed by oil and energy corporations, have funded lobbyists who, by questioning every statement made by government scientists, have helped to paralyse the nation’s political ability to tackle climate change. (Craig Rosebraugh’s documentary, released here last week, reveals his considered view of these individuals in his film’s title, Greedy Lying Bastards.)
By contrast, the activities of UK deniers look less extreme, though they have still been dangerously effective, constantly sowing seeds of doubt in comment articles and news stories peppered with falsehoods and cherry-picked data. Similarly, news and current affairs programmes have all too often “balanced” the voices of scientists with the views of cranky deniers, despite the expertise of the former and the ignorance of the latter. Last week’s coverage of the IPCC report provided many examples.
In some cases, commentators said global temperature rises have paused recently. In fact, they have continued to increase, albeit at a reduced rate. Others have maintained that Arctic sea ice levels have bounced back from their recent calamitous drop. This, again, is untrue. They reached their sixth lowest extent this year. And then there is the claim by others that Arctic sea ice loss has been balanced by Antarctic sea ice gain. Once more, this is a travesty of the truth, though at least one national newspaper promoted it yesterday in its IPCC coverage. The Arctic has lost about 3m sq km of ice in the past 30 years while the Antarctic has gained 0.3m, the latter figure probably being no more than a reflection of year-to-year variability.
The spread of climate change denial now, sadly, touches government. David Cameron, who once expressed a wish to lead a coalition that would be the “greenest government ever”, has found himself surrounded by Tory colleagues who simply cannot accept that climate change is happening. Two have recently been elevated to important posts. Peter Lilley is now a member of Cameron’s strategy group but is an avowed sceptic who voted against the UK Climate Change Act 2008, while Owen Paterson, another sceptic, has been made environment secretary with responsibility for making the UK resilient to climate change impacts. These are not encouraging developments. Key decisions about shale gas, electricity generation and flood protection will have to be made in the UK in the next year. It is now doubtful we have the right men to do the job.
What Britain urgently needs is an unambiguous statement from our government that it recognises very serious changes are now affecting our planet; that we have the will to tackle a growing global catastrophe; and that we are prepared to address difficult, unpopular truths. To date, we have heard nothing.
- No more denial. Time to act on climate change | Observer editorial (theguardian.com)
- Michael E. Mann: The IPCC, Climate Change and Bad Faith Attacks on Science (huffingtonpost.com)
- Why climate change deniers believe global warming isn’t a problem, and why they’re wrong (globalnews.ca)
- Michael Mann: Climate-Change Deniers Must Stop Distorting the Evidence (Op-Ed) (livescience.com)