1. Humans now face an unprecedented global emergency with a rapidly advancing climate catastrophe and mass extinctions - with our own extinction very probable. This is happening because our political and economic systems have mislead us into a worldwide and dangerous gamble with our planet's ecosystem, our climate and our future. Our economic activities since the start of the industrial revolution have been pumping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) into our atmosphere which are warming our planet uncontrollably. Not only is science showing humanity now has the biggest problem it has ever faced but the world's UN-organised method of dealing with climate change is clearly failing humanity (read more here). The USA has pulled out of the UN's 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and this has weakened the world's effort to slow down global warming and climate change. Our planet can survive this climate change but the countless species living on it cannot. More specifically, humans cannot survive the coming climate crisis in anything like our current numbers and human civilisation is now facing a self-made global catastrophe.
2. Only in the last 40 years has it been fully realised that the rise in the CO2 content of the
atmosphere has been causing the earth's atmosphere and oceans to heat up. Most of the warming has taken place in the last 30 or 40 years, and more warming has taken place in the last decade than in any before. Global warming is now out of our control and this is the biggest gamble humans have ever taken. Initially we took this risk in ignorance, but more recently we have continued taking this huge risk with growing knowledge of the dire consequences. Taken together, our Climate Emergency and our Environmental and Ecological Emergency are the biggest challenge ever to face humanity.
3. Today's rising global temperatures (in the atmosphere and in the oceans) are the result of our increasing industrial emissions from burning fossil fuel since the mid-1700s. That is when we began to increase the CO2 content of our global atmosphere, without understanding what the future consequences would be. And its getting worse : Since 1978 we have emitted more CO2 than in the total of the previous 236 years.
4. Here is NASA's 30-second animation (on YouTube), showing how global temperatures have dramatically increased since 1880 :
5. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has brought together the Climate Science to show that even if we stopped emitting all CO2 now (which we are not doing) it may then take many centuries or millennia, for global warming to cease, if it ever does. The World Meteorological Association has confirmed that 2018 was the hottest year since record-keeping began. The previous four years also broke the record, so each of the last five years has been the hottest since records began. Twenty of the hottest years on record have been in the last 22 years.
6. The global temperature has now risen about 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels and climate scientists are predicting that
our world will continue getting hotter for a long time to come. In late 2018 the IPCC reported we have only 12 years to make “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. This must be done if we are to stop emissions forcing the global temperature beyond 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level. The IPCC has adopted the 1.5°C as a target, beyond which we will be in bigger trouble. However, the world's actions to avoid global warming are so weak, virtually non-existent that climate scientists are saying that the global temperature may rise beyond the 1.5°C even before 2030. So, the next decade will probably seal our fate - either we immediately achive massive reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions, or we will miss our only chance to do so. By 2030 our chance will have gone.
7. In early 2019 the UN's Environmental Programme (UNEP) reported that even if we stopped all emissions overnight, Arctic temperatures are set to rise by 3-5°C by 2050 and 5-9°C by 2100 - and these are now 'locked-in' because of the greenhouse gas emissions we have already made.
This is certain to have devastating consequences for the region and for global sea level rise - what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. Ominously, there are many climate scientists forecasting even higher temperature rises than these. And still, governments and corporations are not changing course, the press and media are obsessed with their usual trivialities, as more of the global public come to understand the scale of the emergency we face.
8. According to the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), even if we DID stop all emissions immediately we would have to also quickly start removing vast quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, we do not have methods for doing that, nevermind doing it in credible timescales. For millions of years that ecological job was done naturally for planet earth by the many great areas of forest around the world and by the oceans. But most of these forests have been or are being destroyed - to make more money for people who are already incredibly rich. The oceans have been absorbing most of the warming and the ice at the poles is melting fast.
A SHORT VISIT TO FANTASYLAND...
9. The idea that humans can remove vast quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere in a credible timescale is a gross fantasy promoted by the fossil fuel industry and its supporters. This vague pretence is that by removing CO2 we might be able to slow down global warming, then gradually stabilise global temperatures and then start cooling the
atmosphere and oceans in the hope that they might eventually return to our recent and familiar, human-friendly temperatures. All of this would take an unknown number of centuries or millennia ! Little thought has been given to how the immense damage we have done to our global ecology and biodiversity might eventually be put right, so that it might someday become capable once again of sustaining human civilisation (we humans, of course, have needed all the other biodiversity around to evolve and sustain us). Chief Seattle warned us about how we were messing up these connections, as long ago as 1854 !
10. So, the fantasy pretence is that, while CO2 levels are somehow being returned (over centuries or millennia) to 'normal' - followed by all the centuries or millennia that it will take for planet to cool down (if it ever does) - some people might be able to survive these catastrophic global conditions which have never before been experienced by humans. While they are busy trying to 'survive' these people would have to keep themselves even more busy by inventing (with their limited resources, in their spare time) a means by which they can extract billions of tons of CO2 from the global atmosphere. Nobody else will be around to do this work ! So, at the moment that is apparently the fossil fuel industry's advocates best hope / plan - otherwise known as complete fantasy ! Our only real hope is to stop putting CO2 into the atmosphere now, without delay.
...NOW BACK TO REALITY
11. This is not the fault of the IPCC - at least they have been trying to raise the profile of the problem for the past three decades and ask for action, unlike most governments, international bodies and corporations
who have not reduced emissions. Over the past two decades the IPCC has said repeatedly that we should be taking urgent action to do this. But governments and corporations so far have resisted, denied any action is needed, and befuddled their publics. In the meantime global warming (it has barely started, there is still much more to come) has already triggered several negative 'feedback loops' in our climate to start operating. These are now well underway and out of our control. These are just some of them :
• the thawing of arctic permafrost is releasing more methane gas - an even worse greenhouse gas than CO2 - into the atmosphere causing more rapid global warming (see 'Methane Burps' below)
• the melting of hundreds of billions of tons per year of polar land ice as well as glaciers is leading to rising sea levels, with much more to come (see more on this below)
• the loss of land and sea ice around the poles means the earth is now reflecting less solar heat back into space and absorbing more of it, thereby accelerating global warming (more on this below).
12. So, the global consequences of our own decisions and fossil-fuel-dependent ways of life are now starting to
show up - in the form of dangerous and uncontrollable climate change. So far we are not doing too well in facing up to the scale or seriousness of this oncoming dangerous global emergency. Younger people alive today face a very uncertain future.
HISTORY HAS CHANGED...ITS NOW CRITICAL
13. Ice around the north and south poles has been laid down in layers over millions of years and, like the annular rings in a tree, each layer can be dated quite accurately to within a few years. Each layer of ice contains tiny air bubbles that were trapped in the ice when it was laid down.
14. During the last few decades scientists have been drilling and extracting ice cores, from gradually deeper levels, i.e. further back in time. They have been analysing the samples of ancient air in these ice cores to reveal the precise composition of chemical particles in the global atmosphere throughout the past 800,000 years.
15. This has given us for the first time an astonishingly complete and accurate record of our past atmosphere and climate. This is a new and incredibly important asset to humanity, particularly in the case of the Antarctic ice cores as that land mass is covered by the deepest and oldest ice sheet on the planet. The Antarctic ice is now telling us a transforming story about the history of our planet - enabling us to see our now critical condition. This is our 'Alarm Bell' or 'Canary in the Mine' and we must pay more attention to it.
16. This research has shown that the CO2 level in our atmosphere has fluctuated over the past 800,000 years, up to a maximum of about 300 parts per million (ppm). However, since about 1880 the CO2 level has risen steeply to its current level of over 412ppm, higher than it has been for over 3 million years (and is still rising steeply), as shown in this graph :
17. The last time the CO2 level was this high there were trees at the South Pole. In the past the global temperature has risen when CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased. Research has shown this to be very strongly correlated. So, over these 800,000 years when the global CO2 level has risen, global temperature has also risen. When the CO2 level has fallen then the temperature has also fallen.
18. To put this massive human failure fully into perspective : Even if all the measures specified in the 2015 UN Climate Agreement in Paris (remember - they are all voluntary) were actually achieved, the IPCC estimates that by the end of this century the global CO2 level will rise (from its current level of just over 400) to 675ppm. When climate scientists warn of the oncoming 'global emergency' or 'global catastrophe' this is what they are referring to. The UN is failing humanity by not adopting urgent massive actions to severely reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which are causing global warming and climate change - Read More Here.
19. The ice core research described above, along with other research in the last three decades, has also shown that ancient climate changes have often happened fast - much faster than we had realised. These ancient climate changes (mostly due to natural solar variations) have all been detected in the ice cores. They show that change often happens very abruptly - in only a few decades. So, we now know that big climate changes can be abrupt and that looks like what is happening to us at present. But this is the first such climate change that is due to human activities - its our fault !
20. The first time global society acknowledged that CO2 emissions were causing global warming was around the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Since then annual global emissions of CO2 have not been reduced but risen more than 60%. This means that we have placed 'in the pipeline' additional temperature rises for at least 40-80 years into the future. The IPCC is trying to persuade governments that they can act to restrict global warming to only 2°C but many climate scientists are already forecasting 4-5°C of global warming.
21. A report published in Autumn 2017 states that there is a 93% probability that there will be a 4°C global temperature rise by the end of the current century. That is within the lifetimes of many children alive today. Some are even forecasting up to 7-8°C temperature rises by the latter part of this century. Even if we only get half of that warming it will have catastrophic consequences for us (and all other forms of natural life) such as those described below. Each year, these forecasts by Climate Scientists have been getting more dire, as time has passed - while emissions have continued increasing, year by year.
22. Its worth repeating : the World Meteorological Association have confirmed that 2014-18 were the five hottest years since record-keeping began. This means that 20 of the hottest years on record have been in the last 22 years. Every one of the last 40 years have been hotter than the twentieth century average. Climate scientists predict that our world will continue getting hotter. Predictably, as the content of CO2 in our atmosphere continues to increase steeply, global warming is also increasing steeply.
23. The biggest, most visible and tangible evidence of today's global warming is the ongoing loss of sea ice from the north and south polar regions and the loss of ice from glaciers (on all continents). The ice in Glaciers is breaking up more quickly than ever before and is melting into rivers and the sea. So, global warming and sea level rise are already underway. Because of our past and current emissions much more warming is already in the pipeline and unstoppable, for at least several decades, and possibly many centuries, into the future.
THE CONSEQUENCES FOR US AND OUR PLANET :
LOSS OF ARCTIC ICE
24. The melting of the Arctic land and sea ice around the north pole is now well underway, removing the white 'mirror' effect that reflects solar heat back into space. So, our planet is now absorbing more solar heat and it is warming out of control. The loss of Arctic ice (both from land and sea) is one key 'tipping point' about which scientists have been warning. Within a few years we are likely to see the first summer in which the arctic sea ice melts completely - not good for humans, but even worse for Polar Bears.
25. We are already losing the land ice sheets, including the biggest in the northern hemisphere, on Greenland. This ice has been melting away into the oceans at the rate of 260 billion metric tonnes each year in recent years (source : NASA). Due to the CO2 we have already pumped into our atmosphere it appears certain that these Arctic land ice sheets will disappear into the rivers and sea, probably within the next few decades. This alone will result in a global sea level rise of around 7.4 metres (24.3 feet). This will flood : Many of the world's capital cities and biggest cities, thousands of towns, ports,
harbours, many nuclear power stations. Do you recall the nuclear reactor explosions at Fukushima in Japan when the Tsunami flooded them with sea water in 2011 ? That nuclear disaster is still ongoing in 2019 and it will still be ongoing a century from now.
26. The sea level rise will also flood : Thousands of island populations, many of the world's prime food-growing regions, many of the world's biggest industrial farms. It will force homelessness on billions of people, create hundreds of millions of 'climate refugees' (including in 'developed' countries), massive global food shortages, and migrations of refugees on a scale never before seen in human history. These are only a few examples which will contribute to widespread governmental and system breakdowns. These big problems will cascade down to a multitude of consequences that will overwhelm human civilisation in its current form. Many climate scientists consider these problems could get well underway in the next 20-30 years, more quickly in many low-lying parts of the world which will go under the sea earlier.
FAILURES OF GLOBAL GOVERNANCE - AND MORE TO COME !
27. No governments or international authorities have yet told us what they plan to do soon to restrict this warming. They have not yet even agreed on a plan that can actually halt the emissions that are causing the problem. The UN 'Climate Summit' in Paris in December 2015 failed humanity badly. For one thing, it aims to restrict global temperature rise to 2°C but each passing year reveals new research showing that is not achievable. It showed that the big nations who emit most of the world's CO2 and other greenhouse gases are not even going to start reducing their emissions
with any urgency. The biggest economy in the world (the USA) has pulled out of the Paris agreement and the second biggest economy (China) is not even planning to start stabilising its emissions until 2025-2030. Many other countries are already not delivering on their promises. Some nations such as the USA, Britain and others are also racing ahead with gas 'Fracking', another way of increasing CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions on a massive scale. Instead of this, we really should now be leaving all fossil fuels in the ground and switching - rapidly - to renewable energy sources and energy conservation, on a global scale.
28. Also, no governments or international authorities have told us what the actual consequences of the six metre sea level rise would be or how they plan to address the approaching chaos and costs. Are they 'asleep on the job' or in denial ? Or are they actually trying to delude us into thinking they have it all under control and we need not worry ? The truth is they are doing all three of these things. Scientists have for many years been predicting there will also be increases in the frequency, extent and severity of extreme weather events and this is already happening around the world. Although these will grow to catastrophic proportions - the truth is they will not be our biggest problems.
LOSS OF ANTARCTIC ICE
29. Moving our focus to the Antarctic land ice (around the south pole), this has been melting away into the sea at the rate of 164 billion metric tonnes each year in recent years (source : NASA). The loss of all the Antarctic land ice, if it takes place, would happen over a very long period - or at least that is the current thinking. If it all melted then this would lead to a sea level rise of around 60 metres (200 feet). However, even if this only partly disappeared (say 10%, for example), it would add to problems which are much larger than any yet faced during the history of humanity. Many people are wrongly assuming that even a partial loss of this ice could only happen over thousands of years and that humans will have plenty of time to adapt. However, that is not true because geological and environmental research has clearly shown that some big changes in the past have happened more quickly - in decades, rather than millennia.
30. Because both the atmosphere and the oceans are now warming, some Antarctic ice is already disappearing more quickly. Among scientists currently studying the Antarctic there is a big concern about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This ice sheet is on the land and coastline of the long peninsular that sticks out north from Antarctica, towards Tierra del Fuego at the southern end of South America. One part of this concern has been with the Larsen Ice Shelf which has been breaking up, floating off and melting into the ocean. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has reported that
"the collapse of ice shelves and land-ice reduction near coastal West Antarctica has been driven by warm ocean currents under the ice shelves." It also states that : "...temperatures in this region have risen around 3.2°C during the past 60 years (about 10 times the global average) a rise only matched in Alaska and Siberia...It is now accepted that the waters of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current are warming more rapidly than the global ocean as a whole."
31. The Director of the BAS has stated that if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is lost then it would lead to a sea level rise of about 4-7 metres. Note : The combined loss of the Arctic ice and this West Antarctic ice sheet would lead to a sea level rise of 10 to 13 metres (30 to 40 feet). The consequences for humans would be catastrophic. This could happen within the lifetimes of people alive today. The 205 UN Paris Climate Summit Agreement and the shocking inaction since then shows that our political and economic 'leaders' display no urgency about cutting global CO2 emissions and taking avoiding action.
WARMING OF THE PERMAFROST REGIONS - AND THE 'METHANE BURP'
32. Another consequence of climate change is the warming of permafrost regions (in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, northern Europe and Russia). As the permafrost thaws it is releasing CO2 and methane gas in enormous quantities. Methane gas is another greenhouse gas and it has a very damaging effect on our climate - 20-30 times greater than CO2. Some of this methane gas is in Siberian permafrost and some below the russian arctic ocean, off the north-east of Russia and close to Alaska. (This region was mentioned in paragraph 30 above as already warming 10 times faster than the global average !) In recent years, hundreds of toxic plumes of methane gas, many a kilometre wide, have for the first time been observed bubbling up from the ocean. Also, hundreds of large craters have been created by underground explosions of methane gas in Siberian permafrost regions. So, vast quantities of Methane gas have begun to be released into our atmosphere. This is accelerating global warming.
33. As these regions thaw there could be a relatively quick release of Gigatons of methane gas (one Gigaton = 1,000 million tons). A sudden release like this is known as a 'Methane Burp'. In a Methane Burp, a massive release could take place over a period
of a minute, hour or day, rather than years - and these are impossible to predict. This is another critical 'tipping point' that scientists have been warning us about. Because methane has a far bigger warming effect than CO2, a big Methane Burp will greatly accelerate the speed of global warming. That will also speed up the onset of extreme weather and the rate of sea level rises.
34. Even without Methane Burps, it is worth repeating what was stated above : Since the end of 2016 the World Meteorological Association have confirmed that 2016 and 2017 were the hottest years on record. So, 20 of the hottest years on record have been in the last 22 years. Climate scientists are predicting that global temperature will continue increasing. As global warming is speeding up more ice and permafrost is melting, more methane is being released to accelerate global warming. We are already in the early stages of runaway global warming - and we humans are not yet tackling this as the global emergency that it actually is.
FAILURES OF INTERNATIONAL GOVERNANCE & OUR INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS - LED BY CORPORATIONS
35. So, we know that we have a global climate crisis building up. It is developing into the biggest problem humans have ever faced. Yet most of the international political and economic institutions that should be tackling this potentially dire situation have proven that they will not make the big changes that the world community and economy badly needs to make. Both the capitalist and the communist approaches to economics are seriously defective. Both are massively materialist and both are contributing to global warming and climate change.
36. The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is leading the world's scientific understanding of these rapidly approaching problems but it faces hostility from governments and corporations. So, global climate policy has been gridlocked since the early 1990s. Since then annual emissions have risen over 60%. As a consequence, plenty of climate experts (frustrated by this lack of action) are describing the IPCC conclusions as too weak. The failure of the UN Climate Summit in Paris has confirmed their worst fears. They now fear that serious climate change may overwhelm economies, political systems and humanity more quickly because preventive action is not being taken.
37. One of the main reasons why governments and international bodies are failing to take action is that corporate influence is stopping them. The big corporates are acting in what they (short-sightedly) perceive to be their own self-interest - with psychopathic greed on a monumental scale. This is one aspect of the fundamentalist neoliberal economic belief system that now dominates our world. It is as dangerous as any other fundamentalism. In recent decades even communist China has joined in the capitalist-materialist 'free market' bonanza, by building free market thinking into its (now) hybrid economy !
38. For many years fossil-fuel corporations have been spending $billions
on their permanent and massive global campaign to discredit or ignore both the IPCC and the thousands of Scientific bodies around the world whose research has provided us with the uncomfortable and alarming truth about climate change. These corporations have been spending $billions on : PR, lobbying, suppression of their own scientific findings decades ago, suppression of news stories, funding false 'science', funding climate change deniers, funding big-business-friendly political parties and governments, and funding anything else they can think of to prevent action that could stop global warming. These corporations had a larger impact on the failure of the 2015 UN Climate Summit in Paris than any other group because they had more impact on (and inside) the big governments than all the smaller nations combined. Some of these corporations also own large chunks of the press and media and they have been using these over decades to promote climate change denial. These are just a few examples of corporations at their worst - unfortunately, there are many other examples.
39. Globally destructive corporatism will probably, for the forseeable future, continue to severely constrain the UN and the IPCC in their efforts to get governments to take credible steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. As yet, there are no signs that the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice (or any other international bodies) are going to bring in laws or prosecute any people, governments or corporations who are causing this global catastrophe. That is what is really needed now, but we are very far from this kind of legal action. That is another indicator of how the global governance system is entirely complicit in this growing catastrophe. It is failing us all and the future of humanity and the natural world. All of this has given rise to the protest slogan : 'SYSTEM CHANGE NOT CLIMATE CHANGE', seen at protests around the world by citizens demanding change.
...AND WHAT WILL FUTURE GENERATIONS SAY ABOUT US ?
40. To bring this massive problem into focus :
• Just ten countries in the world account for about 70% of the world's annual CO2 emissions.
• Two countries - the U.S.A. and China - are currently responsible for 45% of the world's annual CO2 emissions.
• Two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions were produced by just 90 corporations - Chevron, Exxon and the BP corporation being the biggest polluters.
41. So, this is where big changes need to start - and soon. The political systems and economies of the U.S.A., the U.K. and some other countries are soaked in neoliberal capitalist values and assumptions. So, all their main political parties have been extreme in giving business and corporations 'freedoms' (to plunder anything they want) - regardless of the cost to the rest of us and
42. The top of the U.N. structure has for at least four decades been supportive of the neoliberal capitalist agenda. But many other specific agencies of the UN ARE trying to deliver practical programmes to solve problems arising from this world (dis)order. They have been achieving many useful things, often in atrocious circumstances. They deserve great credit for their expertise, bravery and hard work. However, there is clearly no way that the current world political and economic system will be able to cope with the catastrophic results arising from global warming, or from our Environmental and Ecological Emergency. Governments, corporations and international institutions have done (and are still doing) so much to make the problems worse.
43. A British Government Report in 2006 said that climate change could cost between 5% and 20% of the annual global GDP. It also estimated that spending of just 1% of global GDP was needed to lessen the most damaging effects of climate change. These 2006 estimates now look like gross underestimates, as each year of inaction has passed and the global situation has worsened. The UN's 2015 Climate Summit in Paris failed us because its outcome was too weak but the failure of the UN and the international community to take action since then has been even more worrying. There has been no immediate 'step change' to drastically and urgently reduce CO2 and other emissions (emissions are still rising year by year).
44. We are the first generations in human history to know that a new set of warmer climatic conditions are taking shape and to know that our activities are causing this. We are the last generations who can take action to stop global warming but we are not doing so. Our descendants (there may be many fewer than we currently think) will curse our generations for causing the problem and for failing to act when we knew what should be done.
45. Ultimately, of course, our planet is indifferent to us, it can survive without humans. However, we cannot survive without it and the narrow set of climatic conditions in which we have evolved. Those conditions are now disappearing - and we have only ourselves to blame.
FOOTNOTE : WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE CONDEMNED BEFORE YOU ARE EVEN BORN ?
In October 2013 Christiana Figueres the Head of a UN body responsible for delivering a global treaty on Climate Change broke down in tears when talking in London about the impact of global warming on
future generations. She told the BBC that failures to get a global agreement are "condemning future generations before they are even born."
Speaking alongside a Climate Conference in London she said "I'm committed to climate change because of future generations, it is not about us, right ? We are out of here," she said. "I just feel that it is so completely unfair and immoral what we are doing to future generations, we are condemning them before they are even born." "We have a choice about it, that's the point, we have a choice. If it were inevitable then so be it, but we have a choice to change the future we are going to give our children."
Christiana Figueres' words point to possibly the key moral question of our age : Are we destroying the future we are giving to our children and to their children ? The honest answer is surely YES.
Christiana Figueres words resonate closely with the words of Chief Seattle's Letter (from 1854) about the 'white man' who was then destroying indigenous cultures and people across North American : "He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care...His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert." Although Chief Seattle could not have known of today's global warming and climate change, his words and hers share a moral concern that has now become perhaps the key moral question of the human era.
Costa Rica-born Christiana Figueres was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010-16.