There is a war raging on, one that we are all complicit in, albeit to varying degrees, and yet currently, very few governments are addressing it with the urgency required. If we were to title this war, maybe we could call it ‘Our War on the World’, and in this war, there are only losers.
In October, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (who are a body within the UN carrying out transparent scientific based assessments on climate change) reported that we have 12 years to take action to curb climate change. What this doesn’t mean is we spend the next 12 years thinking about how we are going to act in 2030. It means we must start taking climate action immediately to reduce our chances of increasing global temperatures above 2 Degrees Celsius compared to pre industrial levels (those recorded in the 1880’s).
Beyond 2 Degrees Celsius it is believed that we could reach a tipping point where inputs into the climatic system, such as greenhouse gas emissions could push these complex systems within our ecosystem out of their equilibrium, this disturbance could have surprise impacts that are non-linear, meaning our models cannot predict them and these changes could be irreversible.
Without considerable action there will be an increased risk of floods, droughts, extreme weather events, and other events affecting millions of people (more than would have otherwise been affected without the current effects of climate change); this is highlighted in the graphic below which shows the risks and impacts of these threats as temperature rises.
This is a trend we have already witnessed this year, across every populated continent around the world. In 2018, we saw California hit by the worst wildfires it has experienced in a century. Record high temperatures were witnessed across the globe, and in Europe, research suggested these temperatures were made twice as likely due to human activity. North America was hit by two particularly devastating hurricanes (Florence and Michael), which resulted in a combined cost of over $32 billion dollars. The Philippines was hit by two of the strongest storms seen in 2018, Typhoon Mangkhut killed over 7000 people. Kerala, India experienced its worst floods for a century killing 361 and affecting a population of over 5 million people. There were many more floods and droughts around the world, creating food shortages and forcing people from their homes, in Afghanistan the droughts affected over 1.4 million people.
It is happening NOW!
The front line is arbitrary in a global war where there is no tangible enemy. However, it does exist, and there are many people positioned and fighting on it.
There are those who are being affected by it. Such as the Native Americans fighting against the state or indigenous tribes in the Amazon rainforest battling deforestation companies. These people are being murdered, attacked and arrested defending their land against destructive practices and the exploitation of natural resources.
There are the “innocent casualties” of climatic events who have contributed nothing to the climate change crisis; which has been driven by the rich western and industrialised countries, but they are feeling the brunt of the impacts. They also tend to have fewer resources to help recover from these events. There are the countries such as the Maldives or Kiribati that are threatened with being submerged as a result of rising sea levels due to climate change causing the polar ice caps to melt. There are also all those affected by the increased intensity and frequency of climatic events, especially the poor, people of colour and communities subject to discrimination.
We have also seen incredible activists such as Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old girl from Sweden who has been striking against school and been the catalyst behind the climate youth strikes and Fridays for the future marches. We have also seen groups such as Extinction Rebellion bringing forward these issues into the public realm through non-violent, peaceful marches and acts of civil disobedience. They both want this issue to be viewed as a crisis, therefore creating an urgency that is required for us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. This is already having an effect with the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon declaring a climate emergency and that Scotland will live up to their responsibility to tackle it. This action was followed by Wales the very next day making the same declaration. The UK has now declared a climate emergency, however we will have to wait and see what the actions are that follow this.
We must acknowledge we are in a STATE OF CRISIS
Climate change is happening now, and it is happening as a result of our actions. There is no question of that with 97% of scientists agreeing that climate change is caused by humans. Despite this, action from governments and businesses is pitiful, in the UK we have seen the government overturn local councils to allow fracking despite protests, they have cut solar and electric vehicle subsidies, a new coal mine was approved in Cumbria and they are allowing a third run way to go ahead at Heathrow. Their actions show their lack of understanding and political will to truly address this issue with the urgency and in the manner it deserves, regarding the scenario we are facing.
Many of us have not felt the significant physical threat of climate change, therefore it does not appear on our radar. Without any obvious direct and physical threat; an enemy, we have failed to be galvanised into action. It is sad that without that immediate threat of an issue we are unable to act appropriately. It’s a bit like that deadline that you know is coming and if you worked at it each day it would be manageable, but instead we are leaving it to the last minute, however the stakes of this deadline aren’t a bad mark, it could be the human races’ existence on the planet.
Our governments have the information, the reports, the advisors and scientists, which are all pointing in one direction, that we must act urgently now! Yet they continually fail to take decisive action on this, or even be bold enough to communicate these threats to the general public. The lack of urgency associated with climate change can be seen in the continuation of conventional behaviours or ‘business as usual’ from governments, corporations and even individuals. The government fails to communicate the destruction that is being caused not only by massive corporations but at the consumer level too. For example, the UK government will promote healthy eating to combat obesity but do not promote conscious eating or any other lifestyle changes in order to combat the more serious issue of climate change.
We need governments prepared to take decisive action and we as citizens have to be prepared to make sacrifices. We can do it, because we have acted selflessly and decisively before. In times of crisis, we have seen action.
We Must ACT NOW
You look at any war time scenario, people group together against a common enemy, they take actions and make sacrifices that in normal circumstances they would not. No, Climate change is not the same type of crisis, however it is a “common enemy” and a crisis unlike any other we have faced, and it needs addressing regardless.
When looking back on the World War II, rations were widely implemented and adopted. In fact in the 1940’s the UK made wasting food an offence. In comparison we now live in a time of excess, for example globally 1/3 of all food is wasted. Maybe we need governments to implement resource rations or legislation or changes to support responsible resource use. How many single use items are bought ? How many things are just replaced? How many of us think of our actions and the consequences of the things we consume? We must return to a time when ingenuity and the art of “making do” were widely practiced. We must adopt practices and behave in an appropriate way to help tackle this crisis.
We have seen governments around the world respond rapidly to crisis in the past. In the 1970’s it was found that CFC’s (Chlorofluorocarbon) released into the atmosphere were accumulating in the stratosphere and breaking down the ozone layer. The ozone layer is important for protecting us and other organisms against harmful ultraviolet radiation which can increase the incidence of skin cancer in humans and genetic damage to organisms. The Montreal Protocol introduced in 1978 was an international agreement to phase out these CFC’s by banning the production of ozone depleting substances to protect the stratospheric ozone layer. This has been successful and in 2017 the ozone layer reached the smallest size it had been since 1998. The reason that it has taken this long for the reduction is due to the rate at which the depleting compounds decay.
We have witnessed this type of crisis response and adaptive behaviour towards a climate issue recently and on a fairly large scale in the form of Cape Town, South Africa. The water crisis in Cape Town left people facing the threat of ‘Day Zero’ where water would no longer run from their taps. This crisis didn’t discriminate in the way that it would affect everyone, therefore people came together, forms of government intervention were introduced, limits were set, there was ever the creation of a water police unit, and across the 3 years of drought Cape Town reduced its water consumption by 60%, due to this and significant rainfall experienced for 2 months this issue is no longer the same level of threat and ‘day zero’ has been pushed back, although it is still having to be managed.
I see climate change as the first issue that has the potential to draw us together as a species in order to overcome it. This is an ‘external’ threat that is, and will continue to affect us all. It is affecting you, your parents, your children, your family, your friends and, will affect future generations to come. Will you join together and stand up for the survival of ALL beings of the earth. The first thing we must acknowledge is that we are in a CRISIS. The longer we wait to address it, the more dire the consequences.
The climate clock continues to tick, we are a minute to midnight and without action, we as a species will be brought to what could be our demise.