General · 26th July 2016
The science of climate change has now reached a level of sophistication that cannot be refuted, and the measurement of global temperature rise is now documented with stunning accuracy. The cause is known — our greenhouse gas emissions; the consequences are sobering— global ecological havoc; the solution is obvious — a shift to clean renewable energies.
A vivid reminder of the seriousness of our situation arrived on June 23, 2016, in an open letter by 20 prominent Australians. Directed to the attention of their government, the writers describe the Paris Agreement's objective of trying to hold the global temperature increase below 1.5°C, how this temperature briefly spiked to 1.6°C early in 2016, how corals are bleaching and dying, ice sheets are melting, “methane is leaking from thawing permafrost”, and Earth “is already too hot.” The letter calls for an immediate ban on all further fossil fuel development, and a speedy “transition to zero emissions.” It asks for the declaration of “a climate emergency.”
The letter doesn't exaggerate. The actual rate of warming has exceeded almost every worst case scenario in scientific predictions. NASA confirmed that February 2016 was 1.35°C above the global long-term average, 0.2°C above January 2016, the previous warmest month ever measured. A fascinating spiral graph illustrating temperature increases from 1850 to the present clearly shows a recent acceleration (Island Tides, June 6/16).
The inference to be drawn from this graph is that we may have reached the feared tipping point in which positive feedback is accelerating the warming beyond our control. Let's hope this is not so. Regardless, all the evidence suggests we are dangerously close to unleashing climate conditions which will be extremely disruptive to the way we live on our planet.
The rational impulse, of course, is to stay calm and transition away from fossil fuels. The problem with this approach may be that we have already exhausted our quota of delays. When we are on a one-way journey with no return ticket, each decision is final. The climate we are now making will last for millennia. Are we making the right decisions? Are we responding too slowly? Those 20 prominent Australians believe our climate problem has now escalated to the status of emergency.
Are they being irrational? They've just come through a Southern Hemisphere summer with its searing heat, droughts and fires. But Australia is not exceptional. Almost every country is experiencing anomalies of extreme weather: Britain, France, Russia, Venezuela, China, Brazil, India, Canada... . America has suffered successive weather traumas of increasing intensity and frequency — 10 climate disasters of more than $1 billion each in 2015 alone.
BC's premier, Christy Clark, now frequently mentions the serious threats of climate change. Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is trying to get provincial leaders to agree to a national strategy for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, continues to plead for aggressive climate action.
Given the recent rapid rise in global temperatures, the signatories of the Australian letter don't believe that our present efforts and investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are sufficient. If, indeed, our climate is “already too hot”, perhaps it's time for our politicians to consider what comes after “emergency”.