THROUGHOUT human history, religions have long predicted the end of the world. Global warming and the impacts of climate change also predict scenarios of a doomsday with catastrophic results on all life forms. Disease, hunger, strife, intense heat and ecological collapse are seen as contributing factors leading to an existential threat that may result in an apocalyptic end of Planet Earth.
With death and destruction staring humanity in the face, it becomes harder to fathom why, while living in the ‘age of climate change’, we are not doing enough to save the planet that sustains life. It is almost as if we have a death wish or seem destined to go through the cycle of destruction and rebirth until we learn how to live in harmony with nature.
There is enough knowledge and evidence available now to be fully cognisant of the connection between man and nature and the devastating impact of the modern human footprint on the environment. It is also equally clear that, when the damage inflicted reaches a tipping point, nature will annihilate the intruder and gives itself time to heal and restore its functions.
The irony is that it is not lack of knowledge and awareness that prevent governments from taking urgent steps to drastically reduce emissions with immediate effect, but the false sense of achieving development goals for improving life quality indicators. These goals will become irrelevant when hit by heat, drought, food shortages and water scarcity.
The goalpost has never been clearer or the threat more imminent.
The irony is further compounded by the fact that countries that are responsible for global warming are not doing enough and countries with low carbon footprints are now joining the race to accelerate their development agendas to meet the needs of a burgeoning population.
The special report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which urges countries to increase pledges to reduce carbon emissions by five-fold from the commitments made in the Nationally Determined Contributions, was only noted and not welcomed at the Conference of Parties at the 2018 Climate Change Conference in Poland. And despite much hype and publicity, the alarm over the extinction of one million species has not triggered any major change in policy to indicate that countries recognise the serious implications of species’ loss on life systems.
Based on existing scientific research and projections of a global temperature increase by three degrees Celsius by 2050, 55 per cent of the world’s population across 35pc of the land area will experience more than 20 days of intense lethal heat beyond the threshold of survivability. This will result in collapsed ecosystems and the displacement of one billion people, according to the Melbourne-based Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration.
The think tank also states that 75pc of the planet’s land surface has already been altered and that the world faces a distinct probability of complete destruction by 2050. That gives us only 31 years. An existential threat only three decades away is not such a long-term deterministic projection that its urgency should fail to register with mankind.
The intriguing question, then, is why — despite the dire warnings and catastrophic consequences — are world leaders refusing to declare a climate emergency and take action on a war footing to reduce our risk of extinction? The goalpost has never been clearer or the threat more imminent – and yet a business-as-usual scenario continues, even as our survival is basically running on life support at this point.
The evidence continues to mount — with dire statistics on fresh water pollutants, antimicrobial resistant infections, air quality hazards and losses to businesses — but the much-needed transformative change is not visible on the horizon. The pace of change is slow and the speed of global warming is gaining exponential momentum, threatening to wipe out humanity from the face of the earth.
So is it nature reclaiming its place, or an ordained event in the cycle of cosmic life? Or is it quite simply the folly of man and his pursuit of a development agenda that is short-lived in its success and doomed by its endless quest for more. The enemy is approaching fast and will show no mercy to rich or poor, young or old.
Allowing countries to reach peak emissions is not an option, nor is ‘business as usual’ an acceptable approach. The carbon concentration in the atmosphere is already 415 parts per million, and the level today is higher than it has been at any point in the past 800,000 years.
The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear for those who wish to hear and respond to the challenge. The time is now, the need is upon us, and the end of the world is getting closer. This is not alarmist but an urgent call for action to deal with an apocalyptic emergency. We have only two options, either we put climate action at the heart of every conversation — or we perish.
The writer is chief executive of Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.
Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2019