Making the news these past few days is the both gloomy and frightening announcement by the International Energy Agency.
Last year saw a record volume of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere, almost guaranteeing that global temperatures will pass “safe limits”:
Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.
The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially “dangerous climate change” – is likely to be just “a nice Utopia”, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions.
Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.
“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol told the Guardian. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”
When normally cautious bureaucrats utter words such as “bleak”, then we don’t need to read between the lines.
Translated into the vernacular, Mr Fatih Birol is basically saying we’re f*cked.
This should be sobering news to anyone, but perhaps more so to those active in environmental politics. The key message is this:
- We lost the fight.
- We’ve been out fought, out thought and defeated by the carbon lobby and vested interests.
Is my assessment wrong?
The twenty year war that began in the summer of 1989
Since 1989, when NASA’s James Hensen stood before an US Congressional committee and announced a discernible human influence on the atmosphere had been detected we’ve fought for binding international treaties, prices on carbon and an engaged and motivated public.
On all three counts nothing has been achieved of lasting importance:
- GHGs are pouring into the atmosphere at record rate
- The Copenhagen (COP15) talks all but failed
- In Australia at least, the public is hostile to a carbon tax.
The old paradigm of raising public consciousness, lobbying government and protesting out the front of oil company HQs and power stations has proven to be ineffective.
We’ve had twenty years to tame the vested interests that have distorted the debate in order to protect their own self interests.
We’ve had twenty years to recognise the urgency of the problem, and vote in governments prepared to act. And what has been achieved?
A child born in 1989 is now in their early twenties.
We’ve had an entire generation to prevent this unfolding tragedy.
And we still lost.
Next time you’re walking down the streets of your suburb or city, look at those “kids”. Marvel at their confidence and assurance. The way they chatter into their phones, text their lovers and friends and think only of the next few years.
It was our role to act as stewards for their future, to give them a world in which they could flourish, fall in and out of love, marry, divorce, have children, fail, triumph and make a difference.
Now ask yourself when you’ll have to apologise to those “kids”:
One day, without doubt, they will ask why we didn’t “do something” when we had the choice.
And remember this.
One day, they are going to be very, very angry.
Copenhagen: our civilisations wake
Some where between 40,000 and 100,000 people attended COP15, agitating the world’s governments to “do something”. I applaud those who went there, and were prepared to stand up for their beliefs. But all the hand wringing, books, protests, newspaper articles and blogs calling for immediate action have come to naught.
Am I wrong?
Someone tell me I’m wrong.
Someone point to one concrete measure currently in place that will slow the rise in temperatures and sea levels.
Some wind farms? A few have been built amongst great controversy.
Some nations have set ambitious targets to reduce GHS emissions. But is that enough?
It’s remarkable given that most serious politicians, business and military leaders accept the science. A clear majority of the public accepts the science.
And still, nothing of substance has been achieved.
The seas are dying.
The ice is melting.
The temperature is going up.
We’re emitting more GHGs each year.
COP15 was “our” wake, a great big, ineffectual, noisy, messy Irish style wake. In the end COP15 was a fitting epitaph for our carbon-drunk civilisation…a party, some speeches and not much of lasting substance. A few sore heads and some regrets.
So I ask, what’s next? The same tired old slogans, protests and marches are a waste of time.
We need a new plan.
We need to start thinking about what we can do, and perhaps abandon the notion the world’s government’s will collectively come to their senses.
History has always proved such utopian fantasies wrong. When we go down, we go down snarling and ripping at each others throats.
Just look at the quality of “political” debate in both Australia and US. We’re becoming increasingly polarised.
The question is what can we do - now - with the limited resources and time that we have to prepare for a hotter, wetter and less genteel age.