Monday, 16 March 2009

Final Warning

Over 2,500 scientists met at an emergency conference in Copenhagen last week to discuss the changing climate. In their statement, they warned of “devastating” consequences if global warming is allowed to progress at current rates, and called upon governments to "stand up to vested interests that increase emissions." Currently, governments are trying to address the concerns of businesses anxious to increase profits year on year at the same time as responding to the warning signs of serious climate change, and business interests seem to be taking precedence (e.g. the recent decision to expand Heathrow).

Delegates to the conference agreed that the EU target of limiting the rise in global mean temperature to 2 degrees C is now impossible: things have gone too far. They said that if governments take strong action now to reduce emissions, it may yet be possible to hold the temperature rise to 3 degrees C, but this is looking very unlikely. A rise in global mean temperature of at least 4 degrees C is now the most likely outcome, and we will probably see it by 2099 (some climate scientists believe it may happen as early as 2050, just 40 years from now). 4 degrees C doesn’t sound like much, but it will have catastrophic effects for most life on earth.

Climate change models predict the following results if temperatures rise by 4 degrees C:
• the Amazonian rain forest burns and dies, leaving behind an uninhabitable desert
• the Mediterranean region, along with most of the US and southern and central America as well as all of Africa, India and Australia become uninhabitable deserts
• refugees from these regions pour into more northerly areas, such as the UK, Canada and Alaska and parts of Russia, and also into those few areas which are far enough south to be inhabitable, e.g. New Zealand and possibly parts of western Antarctica
• Salination of the soil through rising sea levels leads to loss of cropland.
• the UK is battered by terrible storms, with parts of Scotland suffering cyclone strength winter storms
• the south of England faces winter flooding, eroding soils which are parched from the extreme summer heat waves.
• sea level rise threatens London

As the social consequences of this scenario unfold in severe food and water shortages leading to social unrest or perhaps even collapse, who will we have to blame? Ignorance will be no excuse; the evidence is clear. Our greed is robbing our descendants of a future. We must act individually to reduce our emissions and to consume less, and we must force our politicians to act now or we and our children will face the consequences.

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