Not acting at our peril | Pakistan Today

Not acting at our peril

  • The climate crisis is worsening

Climate change is real and is visible to all. The scientific evidence is overwhelming, and denying that climate change is already upon us, especially as US President Donald Trump and his party does, flies in the face of the indisputably dire consequences that will be inflicted on all humanity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report is the final call— the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising global temperatures and its far-reaching implications.

The US is the second-largest polluter in the world, and more than any other country bears the responsibility to cut down on gas emissions. Moreover, the IPCC says that limiting global warming to below 1.5˚C (2.7˚F) will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” It will be very expensive, but the window of opportunity isn’t yet closed. We must act now to avert the catastrophic impact of climate crisis before it is too late.

There are today 1,500 oil and gas firms listed on stock exchanges worldwide– together worth over $4.5 trillion. With everything we are doing to transition to green sources energy, fossil fuels– primarily petroleum, natural gas, and coal– still provide 80 per cent of the energy consumed in the USA.

Noted climatologist Michael E Mann has observed that the science he and his colleagues do is “a threat to the world’s most powerful and wealthiest special interests.” This explains the self-serving denials of people like Trump, who choose to ignore that there is a looming disastrous climate crisis.

Being in control of the House, the Democrats must now make climate change a national emergency. They must insist on restoring environmental regulations by attaching them to future spending bills

Mann further argues that the fossil fuel industry uses its immense resources to discredit the science and scientists, running a disinformation campaign on a global scale to mislead the public and policymakers alike. He calls this “the most villainous act in the history of human civilisation, because it is about the short-term interests of a small number of plutocrats over the long-term welfare of this planet.”

California offers one glaring example of climate change. Presently, the average wildfire season is 78 days longer than in 1970. Climate change has led to hot and dry conditions that increase the activity of wildfires. The average burned area is now much larger– upto 600 per cent in some types of forest.

Temperatures, soil moisture, and the presence of trees and other forms of fuel are all factors that impact the risk of wildfires– and also factors with strong direct or indirect links to climate variability and climate change. Canada is currently spending $1 billion every year to fight fires, five times what it spent in the 1990s.

Tragically, climate refugees and internally displaced persons are another facet of this crisis. People are forced to leave their homes due to “sudden or gradual alterations in their natural environment”– these alterations may be due to sea-level rise, extreme weather events, or drought and water scarcity. The disappearance of Lake Chad in West Africa due to desertification has fostered armed conflict, which has driven more than four million people into camps.

In the USA itself, climate change has caused a large number of IDPs. Ninety per cent of the population of Paradise, CA (which was mostly destroyed in last fall’s Camp Fire) has not yet been able to return home. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, over 1.2 million people within the USA were displaced in 2018 alone due to natural disasters, many amplified by climate change.

One of the big problems is that climate refugees do not have any officially recognised definition or protection. The most vulnerable regions are sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America; with studies showing that by 2050, nearly 150 million people from these regions could be displaced due to climate change.

Sadly, under Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, the Amazon rainforest is being cut down at an alarming pace. Protections in place for the past two decades are no longer enforced and the deforestation rate has risen drastically. The clearing and burning of forests accounts for roughly 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity. Massive deforestation is systematically eliminating one of the best resources our planet has for absorbing carbon (trees themselves, which process carbon dioxide into oxygen), which means that what we are witnessing in the Amazon and elsewhere is a major blow against the efforts to reduce anthropogenic climate change.

Rainforests are home to the highest concentration of plants and animals found anywhere on Earth. Their rampant destruction is a human tragedy, as we are undoubtedly erasing species still unknown to science.

Along with the rainforests, coral reefs are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, which protect coastlines and provide habitat to countless marine organisms; and they are now dying at a horrifying rate. Twenty-seven per cent of monitored reefs have been lost, and over 30 per cent are at risk within the next few decades.

The reasons are clear enough. Coral mining, overfishing, blast fishing, pollution, warming oceans and ocean acidification are among the major contributing factors. Sylvia Earle, an American marine biologist and former chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, pointedly observes “Half the coral reefs are still in pretty good shape, a jewelled belt around the middle of the planet. There’s still time, but not a lot, to turn things around.”

The Financial Times says “the world is on track to overshoot the targets of the Paris climate agreement” and the temperature will rise by 3˚C by end-century, a level that would disrupt life around the planet. The EPA knows everything stated in this article and some, but Trump and his operatives in Congress refuse to face the climate crisis as it does not serve their twisted economic agenda. Indeed, environmental deregulation is criminal and no Republican, including the president, has the right to contaminate our air, water, and land only to make the rich richer.

Being in control of the House, the Democrats must now make climate change a national emergency. They must insist on restoring environmental regulations by attaching them to future spending bills. They must leave no stone unturned to ensure that no business can financially benefit anymore from deregulation, at the expense of the health and well-being of every American.

Moreover, every state of the union that has not joined the 24 states in the US Climate Alliance should do so immediately and enact similar rules and regulations to address climate change hazards, consistent with the Paris Agreement.

Dr Alon Ben-Meir

Dr Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Centre for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. [email protected]