Sunday, 10 March 2019

Why Are We So Unconcerned about Climate Change and Global Warming?

Four horses of the Apocalypse pn195
UPDATE. Here's the link to the NZ Listener article.
Why are we so unconcerned about climate warming? 

 Is it because we really believe it is not happening, that it's part of a natural cycle? After all, there have been warm and ice ages before? The dinosaurs died but humans lived. Or because we think scientists don't really know what's happening and are exaggerating its effects? Or because

 it's happening so slowly, it won't affect us or others in our life time? Or because we are not prepared to make the sacrifices needed to slow or stop it? Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Or is it because we cannot comprehend a catastrophe so horrendus, think nothing can be done about it and, ostrich-like bury our concerns in our ordinary lives? Doing our bit by donating money to save the kiwi, micro-chipping cats, and picking up plastic bags along the foreshore. None of which may be here in the not too far distant future.

Whatever our reasons, we need to be absolutely clear on three things. 

First, global warming and rising sea levels are happening much faster than we think. 
Secondly, they will affect everyone, not just those living on coasts.
 Thirdly, the effects will be far more severe than most of us can imagine. 

 Think Armageddon, "the end of the world", and the four horses of the Apocalypse: War, Hunger, Disease and Death. I exaggerate? No. This is what could happen if we sit back and do not, with millions of others, take our destiny in our hands.

So how did we behave last week? 

 NZ students announced that they will take part in a school "Strike 4 Climate" march next Friday March 15th. Green Party co-leader James Shaw says, they will "take to the streets to protest decades of complacency and inaction on climate change." Right!

Adult reaction was mixed. Some, like Shaw, applauded; others spoke of the school time missed (forget about the world they will inherit), Judith Collins said, "It's not going to help the world one bit") and Simon Bridges said, "A couple of chants as they march along and maybe McDonald's afterwards." Such contempt for young people who are concerned about the world they will inhabit.

Other news last week. Huawei and our 5G network. CGT, a 4% parliamentary threshold, measles epidemic,  loss of jobs when oil ceases in New Plymouth, ongoing need for plastics, NZ trash France in opening Sevens match, Cricket called off with rain, road deaths, drownings, man shot dead, cheap flights to ten destinations, the Kiwi Jihadi, a racist comment by ACT, livestock concerns raised in Nelson forest fires, housing prices, and Labour's announcements on polytechnics, healthy home guarantee, mental health, upgraded school facilities, ticket scalpers, Ruth Dyson's retirement, Jacinda Ardern's Women's Day speech. Nothing on income inequality, Maori Pasifika crime rates, regional development -- or, with the underlined implied exceptions, nothing directly on climate change.

The one noteworthy exception, on which much of this posting is based, is Joanne Black's "Code Red" article in the NZ Listener (March 9-15).The article is an interview with the deputy editor of the New York magazine, David Wallace-Wells about his recently published "The Uninhabitable Earth: a Story of the Future" (Allen Lane, $35)

Here are some facts from the article on what has happened already:
  • More than half the carbon released into the atmosphere in the course of human history have been emitted in the past three decades.
  • 60% more coal is being burnt now than in 2000.
  • Saudi Arabia uses 75 billion barrels of oil a day for air-conditioning. Air-conditioners and fans account for 10% of global energy consumption.
  • China pours more concrete every three years than the USA in the 20th century. Concrete is second only to energy as a carbon-intensive industry.
  • Since 1980, Earth has experienced a 50-fold increase in dangerous or extreme heat waves.
  • Two-thirds of America's electricity and food are wasted.
  • Since 2016, as much as half of Australia's Great Barrier Reef has died.
Here are some expectations:
  • The UN estimates there will be 50 million climate refugees by 2030 and between 200 million and a billion by 2050.
  • Jakarta could be under water by 2050.
  • Increased Chinese milk consumption will increase greenhouse-gas emissions from dairy by 35%.
  • At 6°C warming, New York heat stress will exceed Bahrain's and induce hyperthermia even in sleeping humans.
And for New Zealand:
  • Greenhouse-gas emissions increased by 20% between 1990 and 2016.The main causes were dairying and road transport.
  • We contribute only 0.17% of global emissions, but this is the fifth highest per person among 35 OECD countries.
  • Our warmest year on record was 2016, closely followed by 1997 and 2018.
  • New Plymouth set our record with 356 hours of sunshine in 2015.
  • November 2017 saw record sea surface temperatures in the Tasman Sea.
  • Prepare for the climate refugees from Australia.
  • Our sea-level rise could well be between 20-40 cm by 2060.
This does not seem much but it will be catastrophic, and that's in the next 40 years. Most of you will still be alive, thanked by your children and grandchildren for their inheritance.

With an increase in global temperature of 5°, many of the world's major cities will be under water, and tropical diseases will reach the Poles. At the Equator it will be unsafe to walk outside. Fires and hurricanes will continue to ravish forests and coasts.

And it gets worse. Shrinking polar ice caps will reduce the amount of "whiteness" that reflects the sun's rays back into the sky. The melting ice will create "dark" oceans that absorb the heat. As a result, they will contain less oxygen, and phytoplankton, which keeps the oceans clean, will die.

On land, permafrost that at present covers vast areas of Canada and Russian Siberia (25% of land in the Northern hemisphere) will melt, releasing over 1.8 trillion tonnes of carbon, more than twice what is at present suspended in the Earth's atmosphere. Some of this is likely to evaporate as methane which is 34 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide.

The hotter Earth will result in forest dieback — the decline and retreat of jungle basins, and a stripping back of the Earth's natural ability to absorb carbon and turn it into oxygen. Which will mean still hotter temperatures, more dieback and more forest fires. And so on, in a never-ending sequence of connectedness.

So what can be done? 

Individually and collectively in New Zealand, probably not very much. Recycling,composting, using LED bulbs, and less electricity and petrol will help, especially if practised world-wide, but what is most needed is political activity to put our government —and in turn the UN and other governments— under so much pressure that they have to take action.

There has been some action.

In 1992 six greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulphur hexafluoride) were recognized by 192 countries which signed the UN-sponsored Kyoto Protocol. Climate warming was accepted as a scientific fact, and the Protocol, which came into effect in 2005, had binding and non-binding obligations to reduce these gases. 

The Protocol was ratified in the Doha Amendment in 2012 by some of these countries (most of Europe, Central and South America, parts of Africa, India, China and SE Asia, Australia, NZ, Pacific Islands) but not, significantly, by the USA, Canada, Russia, the Middle East, Japan and Korea, major gas producers.

In 2016 there was the UN-sponsored Paris Accord signed by 55 counties which aimed to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2%. 

But 20 years after the Kyoto Protocol, the countries that signed have produced more carbon emissions than they did before. China, with the world's largest carbon footprint, grew its carbon emissions by 3% in the first half of last year, and globally coal-fired power has nearly doubled since 2000.

The Protocol and Accord have failed.

Why is this so? 

In NZ and the richer countries because we refuse to make changes in our affluent lifestyles. 

In NZ we cannot even agree on the need for taxes and other government spending if it affects our pockets, and our political parties' best effort is to snipe at each other, when what we need is for them to be united on climate change. In America they have Donald Trump.

In countries like China they are struggling to lift millions of people out of poverty by increasing industrial production, much of it polluting. Its leaders are torn between satisfying the needs of their people and trying to reduce emissions.

Wallace-Wells argues that the kinds of change needed can only be produced by changing national policies. 

We need a massive investment in green energy (such as solar, tree-planting), new methods of agriculture, new treaties that factor in carbon emissions, more attention to crime, ill health and mental problems that will worsen with warmer weather, and the means to cope with the wars that will increase over resource use.

I found the article depressing, and the book could be worse.

I'm now more fully aware of how bad things are and quite likely will be, but I would have liked more on what can be done for if people think little can de done, they won't do anything at all.

My suggestions are to:
  • Do what we can about our household carbon footprint.
  • Use opportunities to alert neighbours, family members and friends.
  • Write to the mainstream and social media.
  • Write or talk to our MPs and the political party we usually vote for, and ask about their commitment to action, and their willingness to work for a united parliament on climate change — such as we'd have in war time.
What do you think?

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