This year marks the 30th anniversary of the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Thirty years is a long time; a human generation in fact. In that time, the world’s population has increased 40%, from 5 billion to 7 billion.
I was recently talking to a guy who believes that the man-made climate change is not happening. Climate has always changed, he said. Climate change as a result of human actions is a fact; many thousands of studies by many thousands of scientists confirm this.
Let’s look at some of the consequences…
The melting of icecaps and glaciers adds water to the oceans which results in rising sea levels. If all the Antarctic and Greenland and mountain glacier ice were to melt, sea levels would rise by about 70 metres, or 230 feet. Sea levels are rising, how much they will ultimately rise will most likely depend on how much more carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere.
Another effect of shrinking ice cover is that more solar radiation is absorbed by the planet rather than reflected back out to space. The warming of the oceans also means that thermal expansion of the oceans adds to the rise in levels. If sea level rise was to be no more than 6 metres or 20 feet, many of the world’s major cities would be lost along with huge areas of productive farmlands. Locally, the whole of Holderness would vanish, as would the Vale of York and the Humberhead levels.
The term ‘food security’ would be a joke. The increasingly chaotic weather events and climatic extremes will lead to the alteration of ecosystems and the disruption of food and water supplies. This is in addition to the already mentioned loss of land. Water shortages will be a major factor negatively affecting crop yields in addition to shortages for industrial and domestic purposes.
We are already experiencing the earth’s sixth major extinction event, but unlike in the distant past, there is not a geologic cause, but a human one. By destroying habitats, killing wildlife for food or other purposes, poisoning with agricultural chemicals, we are in the middle of a biodiversity crisis brought about by the sheer weight of human numbers. Climate change will ensure there is no going back, no mitigation which can possibly succeed.
It goes without saying that the most marginalised people will suffer first and most intensely.
Why, when we know both the causes and the consequences of climate change, are we doing so little? As stated in the most recent report of the IPCC, ‘For countries at all levels of development, these impacts are consistent with a significant lack of preparedness for current climate variability.’ In other words, far from preparing to limit future impacts by drastically reducing carbon emissions, governments are not even planning for events happening now. With regard to a very local issue, Hornsea’s Leisure Centre development, a senior coastal engineer with East Riding of Yorkshire Council voiced serious concerns about the risk of flooding relating to the development. “With a one metre rise in sea levels expected to occur over the life of the project, this will undoubtedly become a serious issue for the development site.” His advice was ignored.
“Science is not going to save biodiversity; a shift in human behaviour is the only thing that is going to save it. I think there needs to be more effort, first and foremost, in getting the human population under control globally, and for people to start contemplating not being such mass consumers.” (Dr Sarah Bexell, a leading conservation scientist)
Left to themselves, politicians will always think and act short term.
“Unfortunately history gives no discounts. If the future of humanity is decided in your absence, because you are too busy feeding and clothing your kids – you and they will not be exempt from the consequences.” (Yural Noah Harari, author of the bestselling ‘Sapiens’ and ‘Homo Deus’ which assess the state of humanity.)
*The Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change came into being because the weight of evidence pointing to anthropogenic climate change made it necessary to properly accumulate and assess the evidence and try to predict the likely impacts. This led to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which had the aim of producing a strategy to avert the worst impacts by reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases. This was the Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated in 1997 and came into force in 2005. The Paris Agreement, negotiated by the parties to the UNFCCC in December 2015 (the United States later dropped out) has the central aim to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change with a range of targets. Whether or not politicians will actually do anything useful is another matter entirely.