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Is the World Coming to an End?
The IPCC climate report, war in Europe and cost of living crisis - what's going on?
The last few weeks we have been slammed by a triple whammy of disastrous climate news, a war in Europe and inflation figures that are starting to look like an England cricket score. OK, bad example. But, what happens if inflation keeps heading north? What happens if the IPCC is right and the planet is going to collapse? What if Putin goes nuclear?
Is the world ending?
The last few years we’ve been stuffed to the gills with crises: lockdown loonies, pandemic stress and a desperate desire for indoor dining - even a McDonald’s menu would do. Climate scientists remind us (most recently in the run up to the Glasgow COP26 conference/Save the Planet! seminar) that we are royally stuffed because we are doing NOTHING to make a meaningful difference. Emissions keep going up and holding global warming to 1.5 degrees is about as likely as Chelsea winning the FA’s best owner of the year award.
Even at current levels, human activity is heating the climate, causing dangerous and widespread disruption, threatening devastation to swathes of the natural world and rendering many areas unliveable, according to the landmark IPCC report. And that was before Putin’s players got on the scene.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a co-chair of working group 2 of the IPCC. “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”
A threat to human wellbeing seems almost unimaginable given the assault on our already fragile wellbeing from Covid, the cost of living crisis and my ability to shove more ‘c’s into this sentence.
Droughts, floods, heatwaves and hell-in-a-hand-basket
In what certain scientists termed “the bleakest warning yet”, the mortally depressing report from the global authority on climate science kindly reminded us that droughts, floods, heatwaves and other extreme weather are accelerating and wreaking increasing damage. Ya think!?
Apparently allowing global temperatures to increase by more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, as looks likely on current trends in greenhouse gas emissions, would result in some “irreversible” impacts. Irreversible being climate talk for ‘start saving up for that Virgin Galactic flight to the Moon if you can’t get on Elon’s rocket to Mars because things aren’t looking so pretty down here any more’. The IPCC does though promise us that Virgin is not, as yet, a corporate sponsor.
The “irreversible” impacts include melting ice caps and glaciers, and a cascading effect whereby wildfires, dying trees, drying peat lands and thawing permafrost all release evermore carbon emissions and amplify the warming to new heights. Welcome to a month in Australia’s Badlands.
Hello to the real new normal - ‘human suffering’
António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said: “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. The IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” Don’t look to Antonio for subtle innuendos.
John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate which is American for the man with the most painful job on the planet, reminded us that “The question at this point is not whether we can altogether avoid the crisis – it is whether we can avoid the worst consequences.” We may as well go and join Ukraine’s militia! Feels like we’d stand more chance surviving Putin’s firestorm than dodging wildfires anywhere else.
To make us more depressed the report drills deeper into our weakened beings by stating that:
Everywhere is affected!!
About half the global population – are “highly vulnerable” to climate change - i.e. ‘stuffed’. And that was before the Ukraine war.
Millions of people face food and water shortages at current levels of heating. Copy Ukraine comment above.
Mass die-offs of species, from trees to corals to Putin adversaries, are already under way. Which means we have to plant even more trees. Kind of like whack-a-mole with sapling.
1.5C above pre-industrial levels constitutes a “critical level” beyond which we’re all doomed. But, scientists keep reminding us that we don’t stand a cats chance in hell of staying below 1.5 degrees - hence the Virgin Galactic thing.
Coastal areas around the globe, and small, low-lying islands, face inundation at temperature rises of more than 1.5C. Making the Maldives increasingly less attractive for Oligarch’s trying to hide their yachts.
Key ecosystems are losing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, turning them from carbon sinks to carbon sources. Check Jair Bolsonaro.
Some countries have agreed to conserve 30% of the Earth’s land, but conserving half may be necessary to restore the ability of natural ecosystems to cope with the damage wreaked on them. Proving that politicians can’t do maths and Letts Safari will become the new Meta.
But, before we get too excited about rewilding, MIT’s Technology Review recently explained that experts tell us that planting a gazillion trees isn’t necessarily the answer either as that might mean we produce less food and starve to death. It could, though, prove an effective way to deal with the over population problem.
George Monbiot, the poster boy for all things eco and no things Johnson, thinks that the answer to the food problem is to keep rewilding but to focus it on low grade land like Northern England (??) or McDonald’s car parks. He also seems to think that if we all become vegetarians the climate problem might just go away. Proving he doesn’t get out of London very much.
And before we go banging new trees anywhere we can, it seems that planting them in natural open grasslands can reduce water flow in streams and increase the intensity of fires. It can even contribute to global warming, because grasses reflect away more heat than forests do. Similarly, draining peatlands for the purpose of planting trees can release vast amounts of greenhouse gas from these rich natural carbon sinks.
So, I guess that leaves us with planting them in existing forests which slightly begs the question - WHY?? Maybe what they really mean is we should plant them in backyards, rooftops, industrial sites and on any number of superyachts scrambling across the open seas trying to stop it from happening. Or is it sanctions? I forget.
But, to sum up the IPCC bomb of a study, if we don’t halve global emissions by 2030 we’re totally stuffed. Given emissions keep going up, this is about as likely as Putin firing off his entire nuclear arsenal in a day. Oh, wait.
And, the IPCC report came out before the war in Ukraine, for which, apparently the counter offensive is to pump more oil, gas and coal, while spending more on arms to enable the arms manufacturers to get rich and out manoeuvre Shell with their emission beating strategies, bringing inflation to the point where it has us taking out a new mortgage just to fill up the car.
And, when we’ve done the above, apparently it will all be for nothing because the next climate driven, fossil fuel financed war will hit us. Apparently Middle Eastern leaders aren’t taking Joe Biden’s calls any more which intelligence experts say is a classic first-strike tell.
Mind you, nothing could be more depressing than the immortal climate words of Dave Reay, the director of Edinburgh Climate Change Institute at the University of Edinburgh, “Like taking a wrecking ball to a set of global dominoes, climate change in the 21st century threatens to destroy the foundations of food and water security, smash onwards through the fragile structures of human and ecosystem health, and ultimately shake the very pillars of human civilisation.”
Which leaves us with just one strategy to deal with the shit-storm heading our way. Like every good Ostrich we can stuff our heads underground for a few years and pop back out when the earth has either scorched itself to death or we discover that we haven’t gone to hell/Putin in a hand basket and that in fact, the scientists got it wrong and war in Ukraine inspired everyone to rewild their gardens and bang in more wind turbines than trees, to the point where emissions headed back down to earth, returning things to normal so we could happily get back to watching David Attenborough tickling the underbelly of a Tasmanian Devil.
And worse than sticking our heads underground would be turning on the news, reading another IPCC report or going to the gas station.
Mind you, there could be another alternative. We could try to actually solve the climate crisis rather than constantly reminding ourselves how we’re failing/doomed/migrating-to-Mars. Surely we could try and find a solution to the war in Ukraine and we could, God forbid, figure out how to build back better (not worse) post Covid without driving inflation off a proverbial climate cliff. But then, what would we grumble about - other than the state of England’s cricket?
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