I have read two really disturbing news articles this week which make me concerned that we may be too late to save ourselves from disaster.
Record levels of carbon in the atmosphere
National news stories have picked up that global concentrations of CO2 have reached a level in the atmosphere not seen for over three million years when sea levels were 20 metres higher than today. We are seeing CO2 in the atmosphere increasing 100 times faster than at the end of the last ice age due to population growth, intensive agriculture, deforestation and industrialisation. Forest regions are being cleared and degraded so fast, that they are now emitting more carbon than they absorb.
National governments are failing to live up to the promises of the 2015 Paris accord, meaning that the world is on course for temperature rises above the 20C target, and maybe above 30C. It seems they fail to see the real significance and allow themselves to be diverted by short term problems that will have little impact in 50 or 100 years.
The rise in CO2 levels is due to a combination of human activity and the El Niño effect which intensifies droughts meaning plants can’t absorb as much CO2 Although so these levels are a temporary blip, global warming will lead to an increase in frequency of El Niño, so the impact will be greater.
The news this year has been full of stories of severe weather – from the hurricanes and flooding, to droughts, wildfires, record snowfalls and storm surges. It seems no part of the globe has been immune to unusual and often devastating weather conditions.
Climate Change Refugees
This has led New Zealand to consider whether they should review the conditions for accepting refugees. Currently applications for refugee status state that the person has to be at risk from persecution by race, religion, nationality or by membership of a political or religious group under the 1951 Refugee Convention. So people applying for refugee status as a result of climate change are being refused, despite the fact that their homes are becoming uninhabitable due to rising sea levels, devastation from storms or drought leading to lack of drinking water and ability to grow food.
I admit to being a fan of the 2004 film ‘Day After Tomorrow’, a Hollywood blockbuster where the climatologists warning of impending disaster are ignored as the truth is too unpalatable, leading to hundreds of thousands of people dying worldwide in a snap ice age.
Whether it could happen or not, I don’t know, but the message is clear. We have to pay attention and change to mitigate our current damaging activity, and we have to make plans on what we will do if the worst does happen.
In the film, we see thousands of Americans descending on the Mexican border in search of safety. The same border that Trump is trying to close with a wall – what will happen if this scenario comes true and North America becomes uninhabitable? It’s not unheard of that fiction becomes fact.
End of life as we know it?
Alternatively, we could just carry on as we are, and understand that we will destroy life as we know it.
We won’t destroy life completely, but mankind and a good proportion of the creatures currently living on earth won’t be able to cope with the conditions. As with the Dinosaurs, we will just become one of the many creatures that have inhabited the planet but have been unable to cope with the changing climate.
As a species, we have shown ourselves to be incredibly adaptable, and to be able to change our environment to suit us. However, in the process, we have done a huge amount of damage and we risk extinction unless we face facts. We need to use all of our intelligence and adaptability to change to a new way of living that supports rather than depletes our environment and enables us to help others, both human and animal, survive into the future.
We don’t have to have a bleak outlook, but we do need to change our current behaviour immediately.