Crisis Or Catastrophe: Nothing Changes

Nobody, well nobody in their ‘right mind’ can anymore deny, ignore or escape the burning fact that the natural world is being battered and vandalized by humanity; not all of humanity, just a certain subset. Air, water and soil polluted, forests levelled, ecosystems disrupted, animals species killed off, climate patterns altered.

And yet, and yet, nothing, or very little, certainly nowhere near enough, is being done to mitigate the effects and address the underlying causes of the crisis – a word we hear used a great deal these days. And when does a crisis become a catastrophe – how bad does it have to get before everything changes to meet the challenge? The house, our house is literally on fire, and we are standing around sprinkling cups of water on the flames, whilst complaining about the heat.

So, what can be said, written or done to engender substantive change, to shake up complacent corporate-orientated governments, profit obsessed businesses and weary anxious individuals?

As the concerned, the indifferent and the angry pack bags and head to Egypt for COP27, a new United Nations (UN) report, the most recent of many, finds, unsurprisingly, given the level of indifference, that: “There is no credible pathway to 1.5°C (of global warming) in place today.” It’s a stark statement, which, like previous warnings by climate scientists, environmental groups and school children will no doubt be completely ignored.

The 1.5°C figure, is the level of post-industrial warming that, according to climate scientists, is the limit of what is acceptable – i.e., yes, it will be life changing, but manageable, and would not, may not, result in coastal cities and low lying islands being reduced to water parks, millions of people being displaced, and a wholesale increase in the extinction of species. It is the target agreed at COP21, held in Paris in 2015; legally binding promises were made, jubilation expressed, optimism engendered. But as yet, seven years on, the positive words and back patting are yet to be translated into substantive action, or in some cases, any action at all.

As result of this collective failure, another UN report, aptly named The Heat is On finds that current “national climate pledges combined with other mitigation measures put the world on track for a global temperature rise of [not 1.5°C, but a sizzling] 2.7°C by the end of the century”. The text goes on to relate that, shockingly, “the world’s planned fossil fuel production by the year 2030 will be more than twice the amount that would be consistent with keeping to the 1.5°C target.”

One would imagine that, governments and corporate bosses reading such findings, and let’s hope they do actually read them, would be shocked, and take drastic action, but not a bit of it. Apathy and complacency rule within the corridors of power, where short-term gains determine government policy and drive business decisions.

Another depressing fact

In order to reduce global warming, we need, how many times must it be said, to stop pouring poisonous greenhouse gases (GHG), carbon (CO2) and methane (CH4) and nitrous dioxide (N20), into the atmosphere while simultaneously set about capturing the stuff that’s already there. As Greta Thunberg puts it, “For us to have even a small chance of avoiding setting off irreversible chain reactions far beyond human control, we need drastic, immediate, far-reaching emission cuts at the source.”

Sounds simple, and few would disagree, but as the UN projections of global temperature rises indicate, far from reducing, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are in fact, yes, another depressing fact, rising, year on year, month on month, week on week. Because the causes are not being addressed.

All three dominant GHGs hit record levels in 2021, with global CO2 emissions “from energy combustion and industrial processes [reaching] their highest ever annual level,” according to the International Energy Association (IAE). And despite the essential need to consign fossil fuel use, exploration and funding to the murky past, countries including the US, UK and some EU member states are increasing fossil fuel production. Justified under the dubious reason that, due to gas supplies being threatened as a result of the Ukraine/Russia war, which was caused in large measure (we can argue of the actual percentage) by the US, and perpetuated by them and the UK, nations need to become energy independent.

Indeed, but energy needs must be met by renewable sources, and not from yet more fossil fuel use. But fossil fuel companies do not want to give up even a smidgen of their mammoth profits; they have huge political influence, governments are weak and wedded to an economic model obsessed with perpetual growth. The Ideology of Money, Greed and Selfishness is the common doctrine of choice; Market Fundamentalism is a perverted form of capitalism in which everything is seen as a commodity, including the natural world – rain forests, oceans, rivers, the soil – to be bought, sold, raped, utilized, profited from and discarded. And as long as this system persists it is hard, if not impossible to imagine how the urgently required steps, and changes in behaviour, will be taken to save the environment and prevent global temperatures soaring to 3°C or 4°C.

Climate change and the broader environmental emergency is the result of human activity; of destructive self-centered behavior, not of all of humanity, but of the relatively small percentage of some within wealthy nations; it is the consequence of a particular way of life; a mode of living rooted in consumption. The largely unnecessary and irresponsible devouring of stuff, and of diets based predominantly around animal food produce, the majority of which is derived from industrial agriculture; and it is this way of life that needs to change.

It is not possible to save our planet and continue living this way; a way incidentally that, in addition to fueling climate change and the extinction of species, destroying ecosystems and poisoning the air, water and soil, has also created societies full of sick people, mentally and physically.

The basic premise that growth should be continuous is anathema to environmental salvation and social well-being. De-growth, sustainability and simplicity of living need to become the aims; development re-imagined and democracy, so-called, expanded, or rather resuscitated. Common-sense suggestions, which probably many would agree with, but, with few exceptions, the current crop of political ‘leaders’ don’t appear to possess this much under-rated quality. Neither do they have a great deal of integrity; duplicity, yes, but honoring their word, being consistent, responsible and showing compassion, well, very little. They sign agreements, make pledges to cut emissions (National Determined Contributions NDCs) and invest in renewables, then fail to enact policies to meet such laudable, but largely empty promises.

Radical change is needed, change in attitudes and behaviour. But who is up for that? It is the lifestyles of millions within developed countries that is responsible for the mess the whole world is in. But, as has been said many times, and ignored just as often, it’s the poorest nations that are being most heavily battered by the consequences. They need support from the wealthy to adapt to extreme weather and help with the devastating impacts of climate change. But, in a powerful signal of indifference, governments of rich nations, don’t even honor commitments to fund mitigation programs; schemes that are only needed because of the collective way of life their socio-economic model encourages and in fact demands.

These governments, and CEOs, shareholders of big business cannot be trusted; they care not for the poor in their own countries, let alone in Sub-Saharan Africa, or it seems for their own grandchildren; they are driven by one thing, and one thing only, profit and power – so two things actually, which are tied at the hip.

So, as delegates prepare for COP27 and fossil fuel companies report record profits, the environmental emergency couldn’t be more pressing; the need for action by governments, corporations and populations more urgent, and the stench of complacency more pungent.

Graham Peebles is a British freelance writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and India.  E:  W: