A Clear Warning from Science

The inability of humans to agree on just about anything is starkly highlighted by the degeneration of the discussion relating to the climate emergency into a politically charged football. It’s not helped by the fact that currently there is a resident in the American White House who, in his ‘great and unmatched wisdom’, has produced the cleanest air and purest water but is also in the process of removing his country, the largest polluter in terms of CO2 emissions of any country on the globe and at any time in recent geological history, from the only painstakingly negotiated international agreement that is designed to address the problems of anthropomorphic climate change for the benefit of the whole planet.

In Britain, where identity disputes have been taken to a whole new level by time and money-wasting discussions about which remote corner of the global community the current occupants of the country would like to be assigned, the political classes generally agree that some sort of phenomenon, that seems to be resulting in measurable changes to global temperatures, is occurring. But solutions and scenarios of future climate evolution have been reduced to political finger-pointing. One parliamentary candidate for the forthcoming British general election has reduced the cautions proclaimed by science to a ‘socialist trojan horse.’ Others opine that climate science is a conspiracy theory that has been constructed by left-wing agitators and is designed to thwart an economic model that proclaims that induced economic anarchy, including the uncontrolled development of dwindling fossil fuel reserves, ultimately promotes a market-run economy with minimal government interference and happy, smiling benevolent billionaires deciding who can participate in the current and continuing economic upturn.

There can now be no doubt, even to deniers (except for the odd American president of such unmatched wisdom and stable genius as to be exempt), that something is going on. Extreme weather events and measurements of them are being conducted on a continuous basis around the world by many thousands of scientists working independently. There is now broad consensus that this careful quantification shows, without any shadow of doubt, that the temperature of our one and only planet is rising to such an extent that, unless drastic action is taken, we are in danger of triggering an unstoppable chain of climatic events that has the potential of returning human society to a time before history permitted itself to be selectively recorded.

Perhaps though, the fact that scientists and those hear them are clammering vociferously to report this is part of the problem. Whilst it is generally accepted that climate change is a real phenomenon, the denier argument goes that science can only point towards a number of possible scenarios and not to what will actually happen. Science, it is observed by these latter-day oracles, is underwritten by the process of observing a given set of phenomena and then constructing a theory based on what is currently happening (observing trends) and bolstering the argument with observations of what has historically happened. From this, a theory is developed which, at best, can only hypothesise about what will happen in the future. The theory is tested and refined as more information is observed and included in the model.

The argument of today’s enlightened denier is that, whilst climate change is an observed phenomenon, the hypotheses of what will actually happen are little more than applied fiction and that the reality could be less Armageddon and more a walk in the park on a jolly sunny day; nothing to concern ourselves about here. In fact, the hot air that the doom-mongers of climate change release to the atmosphere is probably more damaging in the long run as all it does is conjure up wholly unnecessary trepidation about the ‘Wrath of God’.

The reality, it would seem, has all the indications of being less reassuringly sanguine. In November of 2019, an article was published in the scientific journal BioScience declaring unequivocally that planet Earth is facing an unprecedented climate emergency. The article is supported by more than 11,000 scientists and is a clear statement of the ‘obligation’ of the scientists to warn of a clear impending disaster (bold type is the author’s) if things don’t change. They specifically state, “An immense increase of scale in endeavours to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis” and point to a series of extremely simple graphs, that even someone of ‘great-and-unmatched-wisdom’ might, on a clear day and using a strong reading light, understand. Then again, this would apply only if he permitted himself sufficient time away from hearing others tell him about his immensely ‘stable genius.’

The graphs highlight in lucid, unadorned clarity an unequivocally anthropomorphic effect on critical climate and planetary indicators since 1980, and a selection is reproduced below.

As is more than evident, extreme weather events have been increasing.Arctic ice is being lost at a rate that has not previously been recordedDespite the publicity, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still rapidly increasing.  
eat production and consumption are increasing, a feature that requires ever-increasing grazing land and results in the release of thousands of tonnes of methane.Despite heroic efforts on the part of many volunteers, tree cover in many parts of the world, especially the Amazon basin, is being rapidly lost.The human population is still increasing although, with increased prosperity and eduction, levels in many parts of the world are stabilising.    
All graphics from BioScience[i]

All of this paints a sombre picture of the trend in many parameters that affect the global climate. In particular, the relationship between carbon accumulation in the atmosphere and extreme weather events is a clear factor linked also to a significant increase in annual economic losses and a concomitant rise in insurance costs for vulnerable infrastructure and communities across the globe.

Of course, it is true that strictly speaking, the evidence outlined in the paper cited above confirms the climate theories presented to date but does not and cannot predict what could happen in the future if massive carbon release continues in a business-as-usual fashion. However, what cannot be disputed is that we are living under conditions of atmospheric carbon accumulation that have not been seen in many thousands of years, and exhaustive study has clearly revealed what happened then.

While politicians continue to discuss the merits and value of the science to definitively state what will happen if we continue along the road to selective financial nirvana, others are acting. The young, who will be especially affected by the acts of the older generations, are taking matters into their own hands and their efforts must be encouraged and applauded. But it is not enough, and initiatives like the Paris climate accord are essential for ensuring a common concerted effort to make the political changes required to ensure a viable future for the generations yet to come.

The indicators and evidence presented by the scientific community are damning and a clear indictment of humankind’s cavalier approach towards a unique and immeasurably valuable resource with whose long-term management humanity’s representatives have been charged. But there are some signs that things are beginning to change. One of the most encouraging is that investors, very conscious of changing trends and consumer preference have, by September of 2019, divested more than $11 trillion in assets from fossil fuels[ii]. Another is that investment in alternative forms of energy production over the last decade has quadrupled to over $2.5 trillion[iii] and continues to increase rapidly.

Whether those who deny that the current climate emergency we are living is an immediate risk to all of us or not, the fact that there are many ‘green’ and commercially attractive solutions that mankind can pursue to ensure a planet fit for purpose, means that the momentum for a radical change to the current economic model is inexorably increasing.

[i] https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/biz088/5610806

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil_fuel_divestment

[iii] https://olc.worldbank.org/content/global-trends-renewable-energy-investment-2019


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