Uncharted territory. Those were the words used by one of the climate guys as the news spread last week that of course 2015 was the warmest year on record. Well we knew that was coming. In Montreal there was no snow in December for heaven’s sake. One day was so warm, guys were strolling around in their shorts and they were out walking their pocket-sized pooches like it was the first of May. One Chihuahua had his Burberry coat on—just in case the weather suddenly turned a bit nippy.
But there was more to come. We are getting used to every year being warmer than the last and all sorts of temperature records being broken. But the one announcement that should have you worried is the one that you probably didn’t register. Planet Earth is now officially 1°C warmer than it was a couple of centuries ago. It doesn’t sound like much. But remember the COP21 target is to keep surface temperatures to no more than 2°C warmer than this time in 1850. This is useful yardstick—easy to remember. So we are halfway there. And it’s only January 2016.
No question also that 2016 will break the temperature records all over again—since El Nino is still out there and apparently in no mood to quit quite yet.
The planet’s climate appears to be so contradictory. We don’t talk anymore about global warming because climate deniers seem to believe that higher temperatures were the only sign of a changing climate. So massive winter snow storms in the US, unprecedented flooding in the UK, and gynormous typhoons in Asia didn’t fit with the childlike belief that climate change just meant a few more hot days and why couldn’t we cope with that ?
Planet’s Earth’s response to increasing surface temperatures is all very predictable. More water evaporates from the warmer oceans into the atmosphere. Warmer ocean water is less dense, takes up more space, and so sea levels rise. Melting glaciers add more water to the mix. More water in the atmosphere means heavier and more intense rain ; in winter more snow ; and in the tropics bigger storms—driven by the temperature of the warmer oceans. Ecosystems—always in a natural state of dynamic equilibrium—adjust in response as species migrate towards the cooler poles where temperatures they remember can still be found. Weather patterns over all the continents adjust to the new normal. Drought becomes the norm in areas where short but ferocious storms may occasionally drench the same landscape. And that was just last year.
In fact, the new territory is not completely uncharted. Each year follows on uninterrupted from the last, and climate systems don’t work on a 12-month planning cycle. 2016 will by pretty much like 2015. Only warmer, stormier, wetter, drier, and for many poor people : deadlier. Sea levels will rise—just a little bit more. You probably won’t notice. The coral islands in the Pacific that lie just above sea level : Kiribati, the Solomon islands, Vanuatu, Nuie, the Maldives and many more small nameless atolls, will hope for the best and prepare for the worst. And isn’t that pretty much your government’s advice for coping with climate change in the 21st Century ?
So is it a hopeless task ? Trying to slow and reverse climate change ? No, it’s not hopeless. But frankly it doesn’t look good. The scientists are being super cautious. They will say that a catastrophic event is very likely but then caution that that means that they are only maybe 90 percent certain. I think that means that the chances are about 9 out of 10. For most people including me that’s quite enough. Time to cut and run.
This is the problem with the COP21 agreement hammered out in Paris. It’s all about what governments are supposed to do to save the planet. Governments ? Everywhere you look politicians are being paid off, coerced, manipulated and pressured by the fossil fuel companies to stay in line, keep quiet, and pretend that climate change isn’t proven. Uncertainty, not denial, is the objective. If you are not sure, you hesitate. You wait for more and better information. Above all you don’t take decisive steps to tackle a problem if you are not absolutely sure it’s necessary. Uncertainty is the new weapon of choice for the fossil fuel companies. And it’s hugely effective. No need to deny if you can sow doubt. After all, it seems so reasonable to say that you understand the concerns of poeple worried about climate change. But since we are not quite sure, not totally sure, not absolutely totally 100% sure—then isn’t it better to wait until we have all the facts ? That seems so sensible doesn’t it ? Trust me, it’s better to wait until we have all the facts.
But its not. The signs are everywhere all around us that things are getting worse and the people that say just wait a little longer are the ones that are earning a fortune by keeping things the way they are.
« He who pays the piper calls the tune ». That’s an observation from a couple of centuries back. How smart is that ? You see how little has changed ?