Friday, 1 March 2019

Too hot to handle

Hasn’t the weather been utterly glorious this week? Well, no, actually, I think it’s been utterly terrifying.

Twenty degrees Celsius in February (that’s nearly seventy degrees Fahrenheit in old money) Is Not Normal. It’s unnatural, wrong, and a sign that this poor old planet of ours is in serious trouble.

If it were normal, I’d be thrilled. February has always been my least favourite month, when I’ve had more than enough of endless dark, grey days and a constant gnawing damp that chills my bones. The only thing to be said for a normal February is that it’s short, and it’s when the crocuses pop up in the park.

So we’ve had a record-breaking warm winter. Which followed a record-breaking hot summer. And if your memory can manage it, wind the clock back to February last year, when the Beast from the East had us moaning about the snow and ice, and the Arctic experienced its warmest winter on record.

I know weather is not the same as climate, but c’mon. These aren’t random, or freak, extremes. Climate change isn’t any longer something that we need to worry about because it could, maybe, cause problems for our grandchildren. It’s here. Now. It’s happening.

And in case you think I’m being stupidly parochial, they have also just had Frazzling Februaries in Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Sweden. Not to mention Australia, where record-breaking summer temperatures have climbed in some places to above fifty degrees Celsius (that's a hundred and twenty Fahrenheit).

Twenty of the hottest years on record have happened in the past twenty-two years. The five hottest? The last five. In the words of David Wallace-Wells, author of a new book apocalyptically titled The Uninhabitable Earth: ‘It is worse, much worse, than you think.’

So here’s the good news. We aren’t necessarily all going to be frazzled to death or inundated by coastal floods over the coming few decades. We know what we need to do,  and we have started doing it. All we need to do now is hurry the hell up.

According to new research published this week by a team at the University of East Anglia, an analysis of whether carbon gas reduction schemes in eighteen developed economies – representing nearly thirty per cent of global emissions – have had an impact, has revealed that the answer is Yes. It is measurable, and it is significant, but it is not enough.

In the countries studied, which included the US, UK, France and Germany, where emissions declined significantly between 2005 and 2015, ‘the fall in CO2 emissions was mainly due to renewable energy replacing fossil fuels and decreasing energy use.’

So, good, but not good enough. The UK’s sole Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, is certainly not impressed by this country’s record: ‘With this government’s huge subsidies for fossil fuels, relentless building of new roads and runways, slashing of support for clean energy and sordid love affair with the car industry, it’s incredible that overall emissions fell at all.’

In a piece I wrote last September, I quoted the UN secretary-general, António Guterres: ‘Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment. If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change.’

But here’s some more good news. Politicians, belatedly, are beginning to wake up. Even in the Trump-traumatised US, where the new kid on the block, the Democrat wunderkind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, has created waves with her proposal for what she calls a Green New Deal, which would aim over a 10-year period to generate all the country’s electricity from renewable or zero-emissions sources, upgrade every building to be more energy-efficient, and overhaul the transportation system by large-scale investment in electric vehicles and high-speed rail.

And, credit where credit is due, here, Jeremy Corbyn, in an under-reported speech last month, has promised to make averting a ‘climate catastrophe’ a central aim of government if Labour wins power at the next election. (Yes, I know, I know …)

In a climate change debate in the Commons on Thursday, graced at one point by a mere ten MPs on the government benches (I mean, really, the future of the planet? Of course they must have lots more important things to think about), the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, former editor of The Ecologist magazine, warned: ‘If you look at the trends, we are not heading for that apocalyptic two-degree rise [in average global temperatures], we are heading for something that looks more like three degrees, the consequences of which we cannot possibly estimate.’

To quote Caroline Lucas again: ‘We are living through climate breakdown – and instead of taking urgent action, ministers carry on as if nothing has changed.’

What can we do about it? We can walk more, use the car less, buy as much food as possible that isn’t wrapped in plastic, recycle like mad, and lobby our MPs. And, given the shambolic performance of both our main political parties over the past couple of years, I reckon it’s probably time to seriously consider voting Green.


Anonymous said...

"We can walk more, use the car less, buy as much food as possible that isn’t wrapped in plastic, recycle like mad, and lobby our MPs."

I don't honestly think that's going to change much, if anything. We also need to change our cars to electric ones, use public transport where possible, change our recycling methods to ones more efficient and find ways to re-use plastic wherever possible, change our heating systems to electric, encourage more use of solar energy in individual homes/office blocks/schools (including the sale of unused energy to the grid and better battery storage solutions), stop increasing road numbers and bring old railway lines back into use, stop enlarging airports, and stop going on cruise ships (which are not "the life" but the cause of enormous environmental damage wherever they go). And that's just a start.

We're going to do all that and more within 10 years? Across the world? The countries relying on sales of oil will just sit back and happily sink into being another Venezuela? Their lobbyists, who get paid fortunes for their contracts, will just find something else to do? Sorry, Robin. We've already had twenty years to change our ways and another ten won't see much change. Human greed and the well-established blinkers worn by so many will ensure that the can will continue to be kicked down the road as it always is.

Gregor McGregor said...

'More people require more resources, which means that as the population increases, the Earth's resources deplete more rapidly. The result of this depletion is deforestation and loss of biodiversity as humans strip the Earth of resources to accommodate rising population numbers.' - from You don't mention the population explosion, Robin. A Nobel prize winner recently called mankind the worst virus to affect the planet. It's a dreadful thought but perhaps something like Ghandi's sterilisation plan of the 70's will not be a choice - but a necessity! Gregor McGregor

Anonymous said...

Another excellent article, Robin

Gregor: correct, but it's so much more than that

The population growth is still 1.18% pa, and peak human population expected to peak at ~15 billion (optimistic ?). Each person is getting more access to infrastructure, transport, utilities, engineering, technology, etc. And each of those factors is getting more complex, requiring more & more power

These factors multiply up, which is why the Earth's CO2 content (up 45% from pre-industrial) is ACCELERATING

Nations have to stop building coal/gas power stations (hint to China), & close down all existing ones. They have to reduce cement production and/or use carbon-capture. They must provide financial incentives to halt population increase (good luck with that, India, Pakistan, Indonesia). They must conserve oil resources for non-fuel purposes, such as plastics, chemicals, medicines, bitumen

The strategies of the various right-wing nations increases multi-partisan attitudes worldwide, when a shared strategy is key to surviving Climate Change

Needs several changes of gear, really, or we're stuffed as a species, along with half the planet. They've been talking about it for years, and progress is nowhere near enough