I am writing this article as many of my friends prepare to travel to London to join the Extinction Rebellion protest which aims to disrupt Westminster, forcing the Government to bring the Climate and Ecological Emergency to the top of its agenda. Many are prepared to face arrest for their non violent direct action, inspired by such great campaigners as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parkes.
But why are they prepared to go to such lengths?
Over the last 30 years I have been campaigning on these issues. I have written petitions, been on marches, taken part in boycotts and stood in elections to try to do something about it, but all these methods have failed. Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise and now we have got the stage where it really is an emergency.
The 2018 State of the Climate report says that the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the 2015-2018 making up the top four. The warming is more extreme at the poles. In July and August last year there were numerous record high temperatures north of the Arctic Circle. Helsinki saw 25 consecutive days with temperatures above 25C.
The UN told us that we have until 2030 to halve our carbon emissions or the planet will heat beyond 1.5 degrees C. By that time my 4-year-old granddaughter will still not be able to vote, but the future of the planet may have been determined as uninhabitable.
As the world gets hotter feedback loops kick in, which are predicted to lead to ever increasing temperatures, the “hothouse earth” scenario.
Massive forest fires have been spreading not just in the Amazon but in Tasmania, California and Central Africa. Drought has increased, making fires more likely. The burning forests release a massive store of carbon into the atmosphere, further adding to the greenhouse effect, leading to further warming. The destroyed forest no longer acts as a carbon sink, so even more CO2 escapes to the atmosphere. As this process continues it is likely that whole forests will collapse and become savannah or even desert.
In the arctic the ice reflects the sun’s rays. But warming has been melting the ice revealing the dark water. This absorbs the energy from the sunlight, warming the water and speeding ice melt.
Around the arctic the permafrost is melting releasing large amounts of methane, which is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. Phil Camill described this as “unplugging the refrigerator in the far north. Everything that is preserved there is going to start to rot”. As more methane is released, the climate becomes even more unstable.
These feedback loops mean that climate change will not increase gradually, but exponentially. Once it really gets going there will be no stopping it.
But this is not just a climate emergency. It is also an ecological emergency.
Michael Gove has warned that the UK is 30 to 40 years away from “the fundamental eradication of soil fertility”. Many countries have already reached that point. This is worsened by climate change caused droughts causing people to migrate.
Between 2006-11, 60% of Syria had its worst long-term drought and crop failures since civilisation in this region began millennia ago. This put 2-3m people into poverty and amplified the political factors that led to war in Syria.
As natural habitat decreases and the use of pesticides increases, we see a massive reduction in biodiversity
In the last 25 years, three quarters of all flying insects have disappeared in Germany. These insects are essential for most food chains and for the sustainability of vegetation. Bees are vital for pollination and without them we would starve.
This list could continue, I haven’t mentioned pollution, ocean acidification, plastics in our food and so many other extremely disturbing events.
The climate is interlinked with our ecosystems. Even if we reduced our carbon emissions to zero by tomorrow, we’d still have a massive problem.
We can expect food shortages, starvation, far more extreme weather, wars over resources and massive movements of migrants around the world fleeing uninhabitable countries.
This is an emergency. We need rapid action to reduce our emissions. This won’t come from individual changes in lifestyle, though these are important. We need systemic changes from Government, including local Government, to help us all do the right thing for the planet. That is why my friends are going to London, risking their liberty, in order to make the Government start to listen.
In future articles I will be looking in more detail at what is happening to our planet, and what we should be doing about it.