Global warming too late to stop now
The reality is slowly dawning. Everything that made the timely warnings difficult to accept, now makes it impossible not to.
The awe personified in the prayer ‘my boat is so small and your sea is so wide’ made preposterous the notion that mere man could change the weather. But the sensation of the sky being vast was a dangerous misconception. The air beneath the all-important ozone layer, which is most of it, is merely as deep as the Mahurangi tideway is long.
And as surely as the Mahurangi is muddied, greenhouse gases are ‘muddying’ the atmosphere, making it more opaque to out-going heat—the ‘light’ that humans can’t see, infrared.
For two decades climate scientists have urged action and it may be another couple before there is a significant reduction in emissions, which are cumulative. By mid-century there will be another two or three billion people on the planet. These additional souls may not be consumers with the rapaciousness of New Zealanders, but they are likely to at least match contemporary Chinese and Indians.
On this current trajectory, human misery on an unprecedented scale will be inescapable and most, if not all, life forms will be on a path to extinction—Australian philosopher Clive Hamilton has already written a resonant requiem for the human species.
Some scientists studying anthropogenic global warming are somewhat more sanguine, calculating that the speed of the onset of global warming and its ultimate severity can be reduced, if there is an immediate and drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Regardless, the twin global imperatives must be:
- Reduce the rate of acceleration of global warming by radically reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- Reduce the inevitable suffering, particularly of poor and low-lying populations.
It matters little whether the motivation is selfish—for one’s children’s, children’s, children—or whether the motivation is altruistic—that all life forms matter for their own sake, and for the sake of humanity generally. The twin imperatives must be pursued urgently.
Meantime, governments of the world remain fatally focused on economic growth—iconically summarised by Queen Elizabeth II intoning from the throne on behalf of the new regime:
The first priority is to reduce the deficit and restore economic growth.
Continued conventional economic growth is incompatible with saving the planet. It was always incompatible with sharing the planet, whether under capitalism, communism or any other -ism.
What is required, is an international action plan.
What is not optional, Dr Hamilton compellingly argues, is democracy—in spite of it often being cited as the major impediment to civilisation abruptly changing course. Although it was close-run thing, Britain in 1940 demonstrated that it didn’t take a dictator to defeat a dictator. Winston Churchill was elected offering nothing but ‘blood, toil, tears, and sweat’ and led an all-party grand coalition, which provided a fighting chance for democracy to be preserved.
World War Two wasn’t won with market forces. It was won with a plan to mobilise the people and resources of a grand coalition of nations, for the common good.
Seven decades since, the threat is not to merely to democracy but to life itself. Economic growth has literally been the be-all and end-all of humanity. Economics must now be relegated to its rational role, as the tool of humanity rather than its ruthless dictator.
It is too late to stop anthropogenic global warming, but it is too soon to write the requiem for all species including Homo sapiens.
But having squandered so much time, 38 years since The Limits of Growth, it is too late to stop now short of well-planned all-out war, including evacuations of unprecedented proportions. The ism that is needed is realism, and world leaders with Churchillian charisma, eloquence and resolve:
We will never surrender.