How bad must it get before the politicians and corporates act in a way commensurate to the scale and urgency of the environmental emergency?
Imprisoned by an economic ideology that demands insatiable consumption and short-term profit; moral weakness in the face of populist pressures from the far right and a staggering degree of self-denial, greed and personal ambition, these cowards in office remain impotent, year on year, despite the warning, despite the impact.
2023 was the hottest year on record with the average ground temperature passing 1.5°C for the first time; hot air brought low air humidity, crops failed, forests burnt rivers dried, bio-diversity and water supplies were threatened.
The longest lasting cyclone ever recorded battered South-East Africa killing 200 people in Malawi and Mozambique; Antarctic sea ice cover crashed; storm Daniel swept across the Mediterranean killing 11,300 people in Libya; floods hit Honk Kong, Brazil, Turkey, Bulgaria, Spain and various US states including Florida. And on and on it goes, and still the politicians and big business continue with short-term policies of destruction.
Climate fuelled disasters were the single biggest cause of internal displacement over the last decade, driving around 32 million people from their homes in 2022. Mostly from countries in Sub-saharan Africa (20 million were displaced by drought), South-east Asia (25% of the total were the result of flooding in Pakistan) – and the Middle East. Not, it should be loudly noted, western developed nations, where climate change and the Ideology of Geed and Consumerism, which is driving the catastrophe, originated and is still worshipped.
Written by a team of international climate scientists, ‘The 2023 state of the climate report: Entering uncharted territory’ concluded that life on planet Earth is under siege….Earth’s vital signs”they state, “are worse than at any time in human history.” We are now, the authors state, in an uncharted territory.
Scary stuff that, if we were living in a sane world, would fire coordinated radical action, but no. Still the men and women in grey suits look the other way, prioritise war and ‘the economy’ over saving the planet. Recognising not it seems, that without a viable planet there will be no economy.
According to Former Nasa scientist James Hansen, 2023 will be remembered as the moment when failures became apparent: “when our children and grandchildren look back at the history of human-made climate change, this year and next will be seen as the turning point at which the futility of governments in dealing with climate change was finally exposed.”
In 2015 at the COP meeting in Paris an unprecedented, legally binding agreement was signed by all nations to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C ”, by 2100. A much trumpeted noble statement; a common-sense aspiration, which has been met with apathy and indifference, duplicity and evasions.
As a result, 1.5°C appears now to be impossible to reach; many researchers believe, “there’s now a 66% chance we will pass the 1.5C global warming threshold between now and 2027.” Hansen says, “We are now in the process of moving into the 1.5C world.” The impact of which would, or will, be devastating, causing extreme and irreversible effects, particularly in countries in the global south, who shoulder little or no responsible for climate change.
Who is responsible
As everyone must know by now, climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, principally Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Methane (CH4), clogging Earths lower atmosphere.
Energy use, including all forms of transportation, business and residential electricity/gas supply, results in 70% of global GHG emissions. Next is animal agriculture, this produces 19% of GHG’s; Industry spews out 5% and 3.5% comes from waste, which is a colossal amount.
In order to reduce GHG’s emissions burning fossil fuels must stop; this much is crystal clear. But despite the fact that this has been common knowledge for decades, discussions around fossil fuels were excluded from COP meetings for 26 years – until COP26 in Glasgow. This is shocking, but is indicative of the weakness of ‘the Parties’ and the power of the fossil fuel machine.
It was not until COP28 (last year) in Dubai that a commitment of sorts was made to “transition away from fossil fuels” – ambiguous terms like ‘transition’, ‘phase out’ or ‘phase down’, which barely have any meaning at all, are favoured by cowardly politicians, and act to feed delay and facilitate evasion.
If governments were serious about Saving Our Planet they would make ‘the environment’ their top priority, and every policy they introduced would firstly consider the impact it had on the planet, on the natural world, on the air, the seas and the soil.
As the accounts of extreme weather events show, climate change impacts everyone everywhere, but it doesn’t effect everyone to the same degree and not all of mankind are equally responsible, far from it.
‘Big Oil’ (the world’s largest oil and gas companies), rich industrialized countries, and carbon billionaires are the principle culprits, together with the richest members of the richest nations – men and women who own influential stakes in the worlds largest corporations. Research by Oxfam found that, “these billionaire investors were responsible for more carbon emissions than 5 billion people – the equivalent of 66 percent of humanity—in 2019.”
The major historical emitters are the 19/20 Century industrialised nations – Europe/UK, Japan, USA. Analysis by the New York Times found that, “23 rich industrialized countries are responsible for 50 percent of all historical emissions and more than 150 countries are responsible for the rest.”
With the move by western nations to outsource production to South-East Asia, in order to reduce labour costs and maximise profits, China and India have become large scale emitters. In so doing, western nations have to a large degree exported there GHG emissions.
However, despite drastically cutting its manufacturing base the US is still the world biggest per capita emitter of GHG’s, and by some margin. The global average per capita rate is 6.5 tC02e, in the USA its a staggering 17.6. Given the high level of consumption, travel and diets centred around animal produce it should be no surprise that the US is the worlds biggest per capita polluter.
China, which is routinely criticised by western leaders over its emissions, and does indeed produce the highest total, has a per capita rate of 8.6, less than half the US. India, which has the largest population on the world now, with a mere 3.5 is the lowest of the top ten emitting countries.
Sub-Saharan Africa produces only 2.17 tCO2e, or 4% of the global total. The poorest people, living in the poorest nations of the world are not responsible for climate change at all, but they are the most severely effected. Economic exploitation, cultural colonisation and now climate injustice, perpetrated by industrialised western nations on the global south. It is shameful.
Rich countries must pay for the loss and damage being experienced by communities in developing nations, and as Oxfam rightly state, “carbon billionaires must shift their investments to funds with stronger environmental and social standards”; in fact they should be forced to do this by governments.
To have any impact on climate change and the wider environmental catastrophe collective unified, committed action is needed. Everyone has a part to play, but no amount of recycling by individuals, ethical shopping, conscientious travel, responsible eating (reducing animal produce), will save our planet, we are way past that. Unless policy makers take the issue seriously and respond, She, the Earth, will continue to burn, until one day, one day soon, the damage will be irreversible – if its not already.