This week the latest round of climate negotiations, the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) is meeting in Warsaw Poland, to grapple with the stalled Climate Change Convention. At the opening of the conference Dr Alicia Illinga, a Filipina delegate highlighted how her country had already been hit by 22 typhoons this year. The devastating Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful typhoon to have ever made landfall, hit the Philippines on the eve of the conference, causing thousands of fatalities and affecting up to 10 million people. Climate change is implicated in these events, despite ill-informed denials. Natural weather disaster costs are at record levels. So why are we so slow to take action on climate change?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a collection of over 750 of the world’s brightest and best climatologists, oceanographers, chemists, physicists, mathematicians and other specialists have recently released their latest report after a rigorous international review process. This, the Fifth Assessment Report, conservative as it may be, provides some exceptionally sobering reading. These experts insist that previous assessments actually understated the extent of the problem and that the debate about human impact on our climate is essentially over.
As a consequence we face possibly the greatest crisis in our history, one we are responsible for creating and which we are capable of at least partially curing. This is the crisis of anthropogenic (human caused) climate change. Although we have been aware of it for more than 40 years we have achieved almost nothing to mitigate it. This is because we, and our leaders, have been intentionally misled by a barrage of disinformation from those who stand to lose the most from regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.
This disinformation is served up by a professional army of merchants of doubt, industry shills and ideologues who proclaim this extensive body of science to be unfounded. They even state that climate change does not exist. They abuse the legal concept of “audi alteram partem”, hearing the other side. They insist that the media gives equal consideration to both judge and murderer, in a crime where guilt has already been proven.
These contrarians are fantastically well resourced. Their profits are dependent on business as usual, burning oil, gas and coal. Their ecocidal, sociopathic opinions and half-truths – for they are certainly not facts – have disastrous implications for future generations of humans, along with our planetary health, if they are not exposed for what they are. Even basic research readily exposes their lies.
The IPCC shows that greenhouse gasses have increased 40% over pre-industrial levels, to the highest levels for 800 000 years, by burning fossil fuels. The sea level has already risen over seven inches (190mm) in the past century and this rise is accelerating in tandem with unequivocal global shrinkage of ice and snow cover.
The contrarian perspective that global warming has halted, or is absent, fails to differentiate between weather and climate, the former short, the latter long term. The latest IPCC report clearly shows how each of the past three decades have been warmer than the previous; the 12 hottest years since accurate records have been recorded occurred within the last 15 years.
Instead of looking at the big picture, contrarians cherry pick isolated data, such as an apparent slowing of terrestrial temperature increases since the late 1990’s. This ignores the fact that the oceans have absorbed most of the extra heat, particularly into their upper levels. 90% of planetary warming has been absorbed by our oceans, 60% of this into the upper 700 meters, the balance into deeper water.
Looked at the other way, only 10% of the impact of warming is apparent on land and in the atmosphere. Instead of being placated we should become more alarmed than ever at the extent to which global warming has been masked. Fact is, the overall level of oceanic warming is unprecedented in the past 10 000 years.
A further extremely worrying impact of increased atmospheric CO2 levels is how they have rapidly fossil fuel. Our seas act as a sink, absorbing half of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Thus increased atmospheric CO2 levels increase oceanic acidity.
This increased acidity has particularly serious implications for some of the most important creatures on earth, the microscopic plankton. Their calcium based skeletons cannot form, or are dissolved by acidity, killing them. Plankton is the foundation of the oceanic food chain. They are also responsible for around 20% of global oxygen production.
This is not a distant, imaginary problem. Oyster spat, microscopic young oysters have already fallen victim. Oyster farms are now growing spat in artificial ponds because of this problem. We don’t yet understand the full implications of increased oceanic acidification but they appear dire.
Climate change has profound consequences for all life on earth, not only humans. Life may continue even if people and other large species become extinct; after all life on earth has survived previous massive extinctions. The real tragedy is that we, as a sentient species, are capable of preventing a series of potentially catastrophic events which will render further debate pointless, except to decide whether the earth is to warm 2 or 7 degrees by 2100. The former may be partially manageable; the latter will be utterly catastrophic.
While the impending climate crisis is temporarily attenuated by the massive natural sink of our oceans, this cannot last. Tipping points have been reached. We must ponder whether we can continue to permit to have global policies that dictate our collective survival strategies, set by selfish vested interests like the fossil fuel lobby which holds our political system to ransom. Unprecedented wealth has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of an extremely limited number of individuals, exacerbating inequality. The rich profit from the destruction of our natural support system while the poor will continue to carry the greatest burden.
One solution is to draft international laws defining and criminalising culpability for climate change. Those responsible for profiting from exacerbating climate change, or preventing solutions being implemented, must be held fiscally and individually responsible. Thus coal and oil company executives, along with their lobbyists and shareholders, must have their assets stripped so we can begin to deal with their mess.
If we do actually live in the responsible democratic system that we are told is better than all the rest, then we need to regain control from those who would destroy us all to satisfy their short term greed. If this requires a revolution, then it would be a revolution for the better. Enough time has been wasted attempting to reason with those who will not listen. Let the revolution begin.
**This article was amended on 15 November 2013 following the release of revised figures from Filipino authorities for fatalities caused by typhoon Haiyan. It originally stated that 10,000 people were killed. New figures suggest that the number of fatalities are lower.