How’s the weather down your way? Drought? The odd flood? Plague of locusts? Fancy another pint?
Back in the day when we were all believers, we could blame a higher authority for our daily cock-ups. It’s an act of God, our forefathers would say, then they’d huddle together, thank their deity for his mercy, and humbly suggest he might like to send his locusts to hassle Russia, or China, or . . . anyone else, really.
Key thing was, it wasn’t your responsibility. You could leave that to Himself up there to sort out.
There are still a few people who think like that. Tony Abbott springs to mind; no doubt you could add a few to the list.
Most of the rest blame that vast and indeterminate blight called climate change. In a godless age, it gives us something to direct our frustrations at, even if most of us don’t even begin to understand what the hell it is. Well, allow me to shed some light on the matter.
First up, you have to realise that climate change IS a thing. It is real, it happens all the time (give or take a few millennia) and – usually – there’s sod-all anyone can do about it. (If you doubt me, ask a Tyrannosaurus Rex.)
The debate, such as it is, between deniers and believers, is about Man-Made Climate Change.
If you reduce the debate to its bare elements it comes down to this: the deniers reckon God/nature/fate decides when and how climate change occurs, so there is nothing humankind can do to stop or change it.
The believers reckon Homo sapiens – that’s you, me, Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un and Uncle Tom’s cobblers an’ all – has played a role is forcing the unnatural change in climate they call Global Warming.
They say it’s an accelerating change that can be blamed for recent erratic weather patterns around the world that is causing unprecedented melting of polar ice and will, unless slowed down or arrested, make you’re your grandchildren’s lives a living hell that no amount of Prozac will fix.
The believers just happen to have a vast majority of the world’s scientists on their side. In fact, more than 97 per cent of climate scientists worldwide agree that humankind is responsible for an unprecedented warming of the Earth over the past 100 years. Natural climate change simply doesn’t happen that fast, it takes tens of thousands of years.
If you doubt the facts, bear with me for a minute while I tell you a story.
My Gran was born in London when Jack the Ripper was doing his thing. She regaled us, as kids, with exciting tales of disembowelment, screams cutting through the fog, and mutilated genitalia amid pools of blood. (And yes, we grew to be pretty fucked up adults.) Another of her favourite tales was about “pea-souper fogs” so dense that little children would get lost as they tried to find their way home, easy prey for . . . you get the picture. (And thanks, Nan, for creating the neurotic wreck I am today.)
It’s those pea-soupers I want to focus on. As a great conurbation, London had been afflicted with foul air (and streets etc) for centuries, but the industrial revolution made low-grade coal easily and cheaply available, exacerbated the problem. From the early 1800s the problem grew worse, until descriptions of the fog reached this highpoint: “a greasy, heavy brown swirl still drifting past us [condensed] in oily drops on the windowpane”. Anyone for a game of pneumonia?
In 1879, one year before Gran was born, the fog grew so bad it lingered for four months. (It occurs to me the poor old cow must have been conceived during that very fog – no wonder she was a miseryguts.) But the powers that be did sod-all to end the blight until 1952, when a pall of smog descended on London, closing the Underground, theatres, crippling commerce and claiming 12,000 lives. Britain’s Parliament, forced to act, passed the Clean Air Act of 1956, banning domestic use of bad coal. Within a few years, air quality improved greatly and “pea-soupers” were history.
There’ve been multiple small-scale events through history, from the Late Antique Little Ice Age to the little Ice Age of the 17th to 18th centuries that froze the River Thames 26 times. Those have been attributed, with some degree of certainty, to multiple volcanic eruptions that reduced the amount of solar heat penetrating the atmosphere.
The interesting thing to note is the variation in temperatures over periods of several hundred years. The average fell by a full 1 per cent in 400 years, taking another 200 to return to the mean of 0 degrees Centigrade. (Yes, it is scientifically calculated, but those guys are pretty damned good at what they do, using multiple natural scales and measures, from tree growth to ice-core measurement.)
Then check the speed with which temperatures have risen in the past 80 or 90 years. That, as they say in the mean streets, is scary shit.
There’ve been no huge eruptions, the Earth hasn’t tilted on its axis, there’s been no “warming of the core” or any other BS reason. There can be only one reason: us.
It’s obvious that 200 years of industrialisation, the levelling of forests around the world and the burning of coal in burgeoning industrial nations like China and India with their population of billions upon billions of people is having a huge effect on temperatures, and it’s also clear that reversing that trend will take a monumental and very swift action.
The Goddard Institute for Space Studies reported this month that the past five years have been the hottest since formal and dependable records were first kept 140 years ago. AS the New York Times noted, reporting these findings, it gets worse: 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2001.
The changes have been so clear, and devastating, that many scientists have declared Earth has entered a new geological age they’ve named the Anthropocene – the first in which atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes have changed significantly through human agency alone. That is based on overwhelming global evidence.
So on the one hand we have thousands of the world’s sharpest minds warning that the trend will continue until humankind reverses its devastation of the planet and its atmosphere. And the warnings are dire. If temperatures rise by 1.50C, we will struggle to feed populations, coastal cities will be flooded and many millions will die. The effect on wildlife will be more severe. Whereas man can adapt his surroundings and devise ways to stay warm, wildlife cannot – and we’ve already destroyed vast swathes of its habitat. Without the chance to migrate freely and adapt over decades and centuries, across tracts of savannah, jungle or temperate plains and forests, countless species, already compromised by us, will be doomed.
On the other hand we have Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton and the rest of the bumbling dinosaurs of politics, the coal industry, the oil industry, etc.
I, definitely, and you, probably, will be dead before the shit really hits the fan and nations quite possibly go to war over dwindling food supplies and mass floods of refugees on an unimaginable scale. (Think of the 150 million people of Bangladesh, 80 per cent of which is a floodplain likely to be inundated if the polar caps continue to melt at the present rate. Those floodplains also feed them.)
The consequences won’t end there. Agriculture around the world will be transformed, possibly devastated. The oceans, already plundered, will likely be fished out. Our kids, and their kids, are the poor buggers who will confront that poisoned legacy.
I’m not prepared to waste time quibbling about the degree to which change will come, or the speed with which it will descend on humanity. I do recognise that it might ease somewhat if all nations drastically cut – and better, eliminate – atmospheric emissions. It is bloody obvious that doing nothing won’t help a damn.
In short, I accept the warnings that a storm is approaching and that we need to act NOW if we love our children and hope that their children will come through it. Every 500-year flood in Queensland, every record bout of beach erosion and every record temperature in Sydney tells us that.
How does this affect my vote, and your vote? Well, I will not support any candidate, from any party, who does not state clearly and publicly that they acknowledge mankind is screwing the climate, and that this country needs to campaign vigorously for global repair. It’s a huge issue, and if they don’t see it, tell them and demand that they take responsibility.
If you want to see how your local Federal member has voted on climate-related (and any other) laws, visit https://theyvoteforyou.org.au. (It shows me that the Labor candidate I thought had my interests at heart voted against increasing funding for renewable energy. Houston, I have a problem!)
And apart from that, start taking recycling seriously, cut wastage of electricity, think about getting solar panels, buy a hybrid vehicle if you can afford to do so.
Just Do Something.
It’s now too late to whinge. We need to get off our butts and fix this world