According to a recent report by the guardian newspaper, last year has been measured by the international energy agency as the highest carbon year on record. More carbon was emitted last year than in any other year, and the increase from last year to this was also the highest increase on record. This came as an unpleasant surprise to some experts in the field, but I have to say that I was not at all shocked. After all, has anything actually been done to try and reduce carbon emissions? As far as I can tell the only thing people have done is to tax emissions. Evidently this approach hasn’t worked all too well… I guess in the absence of an alternative reduced carbon way to get fuel people just kept doing the same things and paid the taxes.
The official line from the International Energy Agency is that restraining global warming to 2OC is now nothing but a pipe dream. 4OC of warming seems realistic, on current trends. And that’s pretty bad news – most people agree that this would lead to huge disruptions in lifestyle and food supply for billions of people, and to ‘conflict.’ (Read: war.)
This is usually the part of the article where I start to say something conciliatory or to give another point of view, and I have to admit that this time it was a bit of a struggle – at the outset it looks pretty comprehensively negative. What I came up with in the end is this: It seems certain that human society will change dramatically in the next ten or twenty years. Either we change our energy use patterns a lot, until eventually a sustainable point is reached, or we could do nothing and simply wait for the catastrophic crop failures, sea levels rising and subsequent war. In both cases, at the end of the day we have to change the way we live.
And here’s the thing – the new society could be better. It could potentially be the case that after the dust settles, we live in a more peaceful and plentiful world than before. There are a lot of myths about climate change. It won’t destroy the Earth… our planet is a lot more resilient than that. It won’t kill all the humans either, or all the animals, although it will in all likelihood cause the extinction of a huge number of species. It won’t even necessarily result in a more meagre existence for those humans that survive. What it will do to humans is be hugely disruptive – which is a pretty gentle way of saying famine, pestilence and warfare.
I suppose, given that scenario, the best we might hope for is that the change in our society and in our climate comes gradually rather than suddenly. It’s not unthinkable that this might come about… human society (or at least Western society) has been pretty successful in reinventing itself on roughly a thirty year time frame for the last century or so, so who knows? Maybe this change might not be such a challenge as we thought it would be.
So what does it mean for you? I don’t recommend any more that you think about measures to stop climate change – I don’t think that it can be done. Think instead about measures to slow climate change, as slowing the changes in our environment is still a valuable task. There needs to be a realisation that we will have to adapt to a new environment, even as we implement measures to slow its coming. There need to be plans to live in the new hotter world, because it seems like that is the only option left. So ask your local MP or your local scientist – what is New Zealand’s plan for living in a post climate-change world? (Hint – NZ doesn’t have one yet.)
Bit of a downer of a column I guess, but one can’t ignore the evidence, and it’s better to plan for unpleasant parts of the future than to live in denial of them.