EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey
During August, while most West Coast brains were being gently addled by the sun, beatified by BC bud or transfixed by the Olympics, a heavy-duty development pushed its way into the minds of those of us still working away on the small matter of global warming.
Professor Bob Watson, the UK government’s top climate scientist and former head of the IPCC, said that we should take active steps to prepare for dangerous climate change of perhaps +4ºC because we don’t know, in detail, how to limit the damage to a rise of 2ºC and we should therefore be prepared to adapt to +4ºC.
What does +4ºC mean? Here’s Mark Lynas, the British author who wroteSix Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, which spells out the full, grim prospects for each degree of temperature rise, courtesy our use of fossil fuels:
“By the time global temperatures reach four degrees, much of humanity will be short of water for drinking and irrigation; glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas, which feed river systems on which tens of millions depend, will have melted and their rivers will be seasonally running dry. Whole weather systems like the Asian monsoon (which supports 2 billion people) may alter irrevocably. Deserts will have spread into Mediterranean Europe, across most of southern Africa and the western half of the United States. Higher northern latitudes will be plagued with regular flooding. Heat waves of unimaginable ferocity will sear continental landscapes; the UK would face the kind of summer temperatures found in northern Morocco today. The planet would be in the throes of a mass extinction of natural life approaching in magnitude that at the end of the Cretaceous period, 65m years ago, when more than half of global biodiversity was wiped out.” (The Guardian, August 7)
Four degrees would also trigger the death of the Amazon rainforest, the melting of the Arctic permafrost and, according to Lynas, “…Greenland melting so rapidly that sea level rise by the end of the century will be measured in metres, not centimetres.”
I hardly need to tell you – this is not a place we want to be.
Also in August, and very much to the point, a powerful coalition of 25 British NGOs launched the new website www.onehundredmonths.org, wherein they say, “We have 100 months to save the planet. When the clock stops ticking, we could be beyond the climate’s ‘tipping point,’ the point of no return.” By the time you read this, the clock will say 99 months.
And back in May, a major, international coalition of 62 NGOs launched the new website www.350.org, where they posted the following: “350 is the red line for human beings, the most important number on the planet. The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the Earth.” The website is up in 10 languages and has been gathering worldwide attention.
To put this in context, the current level of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere is 385 parts per million, and until recently, there had been a general consensus that 450 was the level we had to do our darndest to avoid to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising by more than 2ºC. While 350 parts per million of CO2 is lower than today’s level, with every litre of gas, tonne of coal and gigajoule of gas it burns and every hamburger it eats, the world is adding, not subtracting, to the burden of CO2.
What are you feeling now? Let me guess:
• You want to bury your head in a pillow and weep for the sheer hopelessness of it all.
• You are even angrier at the oil, coal and auto industries and the politicians who simper around them.
• There’s no such problem, and even if there was, nuclear power or clean coal could solve it.
• If only more people would share your determination, we could change the way we live, roll out the solutions, cool the planet and create the future we dream of.
If everyone reacted with the final response, we wouldn’t have a problem. We’d have the same gutsy determination that the British, Canadians and Americans had during World War II when there was no bloody way our parents and grandparents were going to allow Hitler and the Japanese to march all over us.
I have two strategies that I believe will inspire people to act on our planetary emergency. The first is designed to mobilize very pragmatic fear. It is to require, by government decree, that every town, city and region must study the impacts of not taking action on climate change and the looming “peak oil” crisis over the next 100 years, to cost them out and to publicize the results.
What will it cost to deal with temperatures rising by up to five degrees, heat waves, crop failures, no more winter snow, Lyme disease, West Nile virus and hurricane-strength storms in winter? How about the need to build a three-meter-high sea wall around Richmond, Delta, Ladner, Vancouver’s waterfront (including the new conference centre, which sits on the sea) and the Fraser River all the way to Chilliwack? The cost would be in the multi-billions of dollars, quickly dispelling any idea that we can’t afford to tackle climate change now because it might hurt the economy.
The second is designed around hope; it is for all of us climate activists, having put the negative news firmly in people’s minds, to get off the doom and gloom bandwagon and paint a picture of a green, sustainable future that is so enticing and so heart-yearningly rich in music, art, community, fulfillment and green technology that people will want to celebrate it immediately. To use the World War II analogy again, with apologies for those to whom it is ancient history, we need the green, future equivalent of Dame Vera Lynn singing: “There’ll be blue birds over/The white cliffs of Dover/Tomorrow, just you wait and see.” (Hear it atwww.tinyurl.com/6kz3vo)
I know that a green, sustainable future is within our reach. I know that we can travel, heat our buildings, farm our land and generate electricity without fossil fuels and live in a totally civilized manner, with more community, more democracy, more local greenery, and without poverty or homelessness. I know that this and so much more is possible, not just in my head, where I’ve got all the analysis and numbers to prove it (except the stats for flying), but also in my heart, because I believe so deeply in our human possibility.
The emphatic message is “Don’t give up.” Don’t hang with the cynics, the angry-hearted, the whiners, the blamers, the negative minded. Hang with those who believe in love, hope and beauty and then work with them to make this a reality. This is our planet. This is our time. This is our call to action.
Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, editor of EcoNews and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and other titles. He lives in Victoria. www.earthfuture.com