We all watch nature programmes from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope with the majority of us having little or no appreciation of what exactly we are looking at other than beautiful footage of nature that is now under threat from global warming.
Indeed most of us still have no appreciation of what global warming is doing to our planet.
We know that climate change is happening. We also know that it’s the result of increased carbon emissions from human activities like land degradation and the burning of fossil fuels. And we know that it’s urgent.
But that information hasn’t been enough to change our behaviours on a scale great enough to stop climate change. And a big part of the reason is our own evolution. The same behaviours that once helped us survive are, today, working against us.
It’s true that no other species has evolved to create such a large-scale problem – but no other species has evolved with such an extraordinary capacity to solve it, either.
We have evolved to pay attention to immediate threats. We overestimate threats that are less likely but easier to remember, like terrorism, and underestimate more complex threats, like climate change.
Cognitive biases that ensured our initial survival make it difficult to address complex, long-term challenges that now threaten our existence.
We have the perception that the present is more important than the future.
We tend to believe that someone else will deal with a crisis.
We are biased towards staying the course even in the face of negative outcomes.
However, in the next few years if we don’t come to appreciate that we are on the edge a sixth mass extinction which is already underway the carbon cycle will either be close to or well beyond the threshold for catastrophe.
It is something that hasn’t happened yet. But we need for all of us to become to be aware that planet Earth appears to be on course for exactly that.
If Co2 emissions are left unchecked the carbon cycle will move into a realm which is no longer controllable and will be totally unpredictable.
We are the last generation that can act against climate change. In fact, we are or will be the first generation that fully understands climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.
Without brave world leaders, we appear to be doing our best to destroy it as fast as we possibly can.
Just look at extinction rates which are very hard to measure but the background rate – the rate at which species would be lost in the absence of human impacts – is something like ten a year per million species.
Extinction is now happening at 1,000 times the normal speed.
So in around 300 years time, 75% of all mammal species will have disappeared from this planet.
In fact the combined weight of humans and the animals we’ve domesticated now outweighs all the wild back-boned creatures on the planet’s surface by a ratio of 95 to 5.
Paradoxically, just as we approach a tipping point for extinctions, we are beginning to understand how we could bring extinct animals back from the dead.
Instead, in our human world, we are unable to decide what type of ecosystems we would collectively like and set about creating and protecting them.
Rockstrom produced a list of nine human-driven changes to the Earth’s system: climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, alteration of nitrogen and phosphorus cycling, freshwater consumption, land use change, biodiversity loss, aerosol and chemical pollution. Each of these nine, if driven hard enough, could alter the planet to the point where it becomes a much less hospitable place on which to live.
Unfortunately, he left out one:
Technology which will lead to new forms of life and novel compounds the likes of which the earth system has not experienced and so impact of which is extremely challenging to assess.
What is certain is that our civilisation is in very important ways dependent on the Earth system remaining within or at least approximately or near zero emission within the next twelve year.
Band-aids will no longer suffice.
The Holocene has witnessed all of humanity’s recorded history and the rise and fall of all its civilizations. Humanity has greatly influenced the Holocene environment; while all organisms influence their environments to some degree, few have ever changed the globe as much, or as fast, as our species is doing.
Yet the Holocene has also seen the great development of human knowledge and technology, which can be used — and are being used — to understand the changes that we see, to predict their effects, and to stop or ameliorate the damage they may do to the Earth and to us.
We have become a planet-altering species.
If we are to avoid undermining the biophysical systems our species depends upon we must get the smartphones that pump consumerism to start pumping conservation.
If we think “consequences are far in the future THINK AGAIN.
With people like Donald Trump and his friend in Brazil who have a problem with the basic physics of climate change, it becomes really difficult to argue that the world waking up.
It is also naive to think that technology will save the day.
This is the moment when people start to realise that global warming is not a problem for future generations, but for us now.
The EU should by 2050 be among the first to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and lead the way worldwide. Reaching this objective requires deep societal and economic transformations within a generation touching every sector of the economy.
The EU’s 2050 carbon neutral plan is what’s needed at the global level to generate enough momentum, awareness and action, more importantly, it sets an example that can be matched and replicated by others.
We all must pile up public pressure to implement this plan faster, so politicians and all of us find it hard to avoid taking responsibility.
It is economically and technologically feasible to make more drastic emissions cuts that can keep warming at 1.5C.
As with all world problems, it boils down too who is going to pay.
We have been pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in ever-increasing quantities since the industrial revolution. Some countries in the developed world are, of course, responsible for the bulk of this. Since 1850 the US and the nations which are now the EU have been responsible for more than 50% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
So shouldn’t they pay to fix the problem?
The old industrialised world might respond that for much of the period since the 1850s nobody knew about man-made global warming. Does that mitigate its responsibility? And why should the current generation be punished for the crimes of its forebears? Is that really fair?
We have tried carbon trading which only fueled stock exchange profits.
Despite the flurry of world conferences and forums, resulting in unenforceable promises we still fail at finding a solution.
Slowly, but surely we become disconnected from a world that is pleading for our attention and continuing this mindset may not be where we should be heading as a species. We need to stop guzzling into our Earths resources and instead start looking at our earth for what it is, a majestic dot in the universe which has let us call it ‘home’.
Our problem is that we have created a world of Greed.
If you were unaware that you were harming someone, does that make you liable for punishment? Should debt be passed on to you when your parents die? Or, should the current generation be punished for the slavery crimes committed by their ancestors?
We might wonder whether our obligation to people yet unborn is less important than our obligation to those already alive.
WHAT IS NEEDED: Is a complete revolution in our attitude towards the environment as described recently by Pope Frances.
“We shouldn’t regard the environment as of merely instrumental value. We should consider it with awe and wonder. “If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder… our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on [our] immediate needs.”
Of course, the Pope is human and like all humans is not willing to put money where his vision is.
The utopia of the past is dying, and even if we were to find a way to continue our lavish lifestyle without harming the environment it will be too late to reverse the damage. If the world’s nations adhered to the Paris Climate Agreement, and temperatures only rose 2.5 per cent, then the global gross domestic product would fall 15 per cent.
If temperatures rose to 3 degrees Celsius, global GDP would fall 25 per cent.
If nothing is done, temperatures will rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. Global GDP would decline by more than 30 per cent from 2010 levels. That’s worse than the Great Depression, where global trade fell 25 per cent.
So the answer to tackling the problem is not just all of us, it is Making Greed for Greed sake pay.
( See previous Posts recreating A World Aid Commission.)
In the meantime, we are now sowing the seeds of havoc on the Earth before we go extinct.
The Earth’s climate has always changed. All species have danced with the climate eventually become extinct.
All human comments appreciated. All like clicks and abuse chucked in the bin.