There has been an energetic exchange of comments about climate change on the blog over the last couple of weeks. It has sprawled across a number of posts, some relevant, some not. So here’s a post specifically for discussing climate change.
I’m adding this post precisely because this is not a climate change blog. It’s a blog about justice, about good ideas, creating a better future, ending poverty, reforming politics, re-inventing economics, managing resources. It’s about how we live well in the face of the series of crises that will define the 21st century – just one of which is climate change.
To me, climate change is part of the reality we face.
- The earth has warmed by over 0.5 degrees in the last century. With the exception of 1998, all of the top ten warmest years on record have occurred in the last decade. You can argue about why, but there’s no question that the climate is changing.
- The science behind the greenhouse effect is very basic and well established. The ‘greenhouse’ term itself was coined in 1827, demonstrating the heat-trapping effects of CO2 in a lab is 9th grade physical science. CO2 levels are 38% higher than the pre-industrial age.
- Applying those principles at the planetary scale is the unfinished work of climatologists, glaciologists, meteorologists, geologists, and plenty more besides. Despite the protestations to the contrary, the world’s scientific community is in broad but not unanimous agreement that there is a correlation between warming and CO2 emissions from human activity. Statements to that effect come from the UN, the EU, every G8 country, and the National Academies of China, India, and dozens of others, including Sudan, Madagascar and Zimbabwe.
- Despite this general agreement, the science isn’t certain. Almost all responsible scientists acknowledge this, saying that carbon emissions are “likely” to be the leading factor in a changing climate. Since planetary processes play out over centuries, “likely” may be the best we ever get.
- If the anthropomorphic climate change hypothesis is correct, the consequences would be severe. It could destroy the economy, wreck agriculture across the southern hemisphere, put some of the world’s biggest cities at risk of flooding, and leave future generations with a destabilised and unpredictable world.
- Therefore, waiting for settled and conclusive science is not a luxury we have. As the writers of Climate Safety put it: “While we need a more sophisticated understanding of many earth processes, and while our computer models need more computing power and require further refinement, it would be the height of folly to wait until we had resolved these shortcomings before taking steps towards reducing the risks to which the situation is exposing us.”
- This unfortunately forces us into the uncomfortable position of having to move fast without all the facts, something none of us want to do. It means we need to be bold but not reckless, we need humility, a spirit of cooperation, and an awareness of a common good not only across geography but across time too. There are significant risks to the kinds of actions being proposed to mitigate against climate change, but the risk of not acting is much more severe.
- It goes without saying that the solutions themselves do not set us up for equal misery – this isn’t about ‘saving the planet‘ at the expense of humanity, but making the environment safe for everything that relies on it. It is also vital that our climate solutions work to fix rather than exacerbate the inequalities of the world. Climate change is a moral issue and a matter of justice, where the consequences fall hardest on those least responsible. Our responsibility is to re-create our way of life in such a way that we will not regret our actions, even if anthropomorphic climate change turns out to be a false.
- That presents us with opportunities for new and dynamic projects, and there is no one solution. We must both mitigate and adapt, and this needs to be done at every level: individual actions, community resilience, free market mechanisms, national strategies, and international agreement. This responsibility falls to this generation, the way that previous generations have faced down the dehumanising ideologies of fascism and then communism. Like those problems, addressing climate change will require us to transcend old political divisions and put aside competing national interests. It may also require personal sacrifice, although thankfully nobody needs to lay down their lives this time around.
- Ultimately, the goal is a sustainable future for us all. As this blog aims to communicate, our way of life is unsustainable from a social and an economic point of view as well as environmentally. Acting conclusively to protect the climate can and should be done in the context of resource depletion, overconsumption, pollution, biodiversity loss, poverty and inequality.
That’s the paradigm I’m writing from. I’ve numbered my points so you can respond to them specifically if you wish. If your query lies outside my argument (with the details of climate science for example), there are other sites better equipped to hold that debate.