Guest Post by Harold Forbes, member of the Planet Purbeck Campaigns Team, Wareham area Men's shed and the author of "How to be a Humankind Superhero: A Manifesto for Individuals to Reclaim a Safe Climate".
Human action (mostly burning fossil fuels) has already caused an increase in global average temperatures of 10C over the pre-industrial level and we are noticing the effects of it more and more. The Australian wildfires at the start of 2021 were the most destructive ever: an area twice the size of Tasmania was affected, fully one-twelfth of the area of the continent that is not desert. The ‘heat dome’ that developed over north America during the summer brought unprecedented temperatures to northern latitudes and followed a similar heatwave over northern Europe that had seen Arctic Scandinavia experiencing periods as warm as southern Spain. Last year, Canadian fruit farmers saw their crops being ‘cooked’ on the branches and the wheat harvest is down by nearly half. Land-based glaciers continued to melt, raising sea levels and bringing coastal erosion: already 200 million people are affected by higher coastal flood levels. Tree dieback, marine heatwaves killing fish and sea life, increasingly intense weather events like droughts and floods have all been mainstream news items over the past few years. It is increasingly obvious that something is seriously wrong with our climate.
Given the importance of our environment to supporting human (and all other) life, you might have thought that the intelligent life-form that humans claim to be might have done something about it. In fact, our reaction has been to burn as many fossil fuels in the past 30 years as we had from the start of the industrial revolution to the start of the 1990’s. This will continue to warm our climate.
Every partial degree rise in the global average temperature has an increased impact on the damaging effects of climate change, increasing damage to human infrastructure and making food production more difficult. Once the increase reaches +1.5 0C, (which, on current trends could be by mid this century) the damage becomes very severe. Coral reefs, one of natures greatest beauties and nurseries to around a quarter of sea creatures, will essentially die out by this level; there are serious worries about the impact on krill, the main feedstuff for the Southern Ocean creatures and for mangrove swamps, the other main breeding ground. Effectively, the oceans face being emptied of wild fish. Limiting global temperature rises to 1.50C is currently the aspirational goal of global governments.
By +20C, the Arctic ice will melt completely in the summer months, something that has never happened in human history. The permafrost starts to irretrievably melt impacting the infrastructure of northern cities where 4m people live and releasing billions more tons CO2, making future heating quicker & inevitable. Antarctic & Greenland ice melts will raise seal level by 5m, impacting 1bn people and inundating major cities like Shanghai, Jakarta and Miami. Food production will become more difficult through major shifts in weather patterns. More species of wildlife will become extinct as shifting weather patterns deny them their food sources. Limiting global temperature increases to +20C over the course of this century remains the core of the Paris Agreement although the proposed cuts in emissions is not sufficient to achieve that and instead, we are presently heading for a plus 3 0C rise.
A rise of this magnitude would not necessarily be fatal for the survival of humanity but it would cause major disruptions to how it lives. Areas of the world would become uninhabitable due to heat stress and drought. The Amazon rainforest would likely fail and become a savannah, releasing yet more billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. It would almost certainly seem like the beginning of the apocalypse.
How do you think human societies will respond to these changes over the next couple of decades? Will we carry on pursuing economic growth at all costs because only by being ‘wealthy’ enough will we be able to but our way out of trouble? Or, will we realise that our economy as currently structured is rewarding a small proportion of people in order to destroy the future? There are alternative ways to organise our and power our activities. Will we find the political will to pursue them before it is too late?