Climate Review: Things Are Heating Up
Vincent Plant discusses Greta Thunberg’s UN speech and takes a look at the current state of our climate.
When Greta Thunberg addressed the UN Climate Summit, it was with a fiery tone: she accused the UN of having only “empty words”, avoiding the problem for “more than 30 years”. She didn’t want to believe that they understood how serious it was, because in her eyes their inability to act would then make them “evil”. Greta was as similarly intense in her speech to the UK Houses of Parliament when she said she did not believe our generation “had a future anymore”.
Although it is difficult to acknowledge, Greta’s scorching language is perhaps what we need to hear. The UN has warned us that we have until 2030 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, yet MPs from the British government warned in September 2019 that even the government’s 2050 zero-carbon target is “ambitious”. It seems like we are going to sail past the deadline.
To be clear, the problem with climate change is not the temperature itself; at the beginning of the Eocene 56 to 48 million years ago, temperatures were several degrees higher than today. The problem is the speed at which warming is occurring. In the Eocene, life took several million years to get back to this high temperature after a period of cooling – we have managed to increase the temperature by a whole degree in only 136 years. This is a rate tens of thousands of times faster than nature can achieve. We are subjecting the biosphere to pressures like she has rarely seen before.
“The UN has warned us that we have until 2030 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, yet MPs from the British government warned in September 2019 that even the government’s 2050 zero-carbon target is ‘ambitious’.”
It’s pressures like these that cause extinctions. In Earth’s history, there have been five mass extinctions. Humans are now creating a sixth. Species would be able to adapt to the warming climate if it was happening more slowly; for context, it takes about one million years for lasting evolutionary change in a population, compared to the mere centuries we have allowed. We are not giving natural selection enough breathing space.
We shouldn’t allow this. Remember, the Earth is the only speck of life in a vast, cold and dead Universe. Our fragile little island rock is the one place where molecules can organise, think, breathe and love. Life is an extraordinarily beautiful and valuable gift to our world. It needs our protection from the damage we have wrought. So, for everyone’s sake, do something today that will benefit our fragile home as we’re the only ones who can. Sign the petition for zero carbon emissions by 2025. Turn the lights off when you leave the room. Eat a bit less meat to reduce your carbon footprint. Even small things can make a difference.
Society is like the ocean: individual drops of water may not have that big an impact, but when united they can level continents, move mountains and change the world. Let’s change it together.