Global Warming


On June 18, Pope Francis set out on an extraordinary run of Tweets. “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” he began.

It was the beginning of a theme that would include the comments:

“Each community has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations” and “Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market.”

The Pope’s intervention (fleshed out in the 184-page encyclical to Christian leaders) was a welcome attack on an often distorted “dominion mandate” antithetical to the protection of nature and one of just a series of powerful comments on the environment and climate change this summer by spiritual as well as scientific leaders.

But never mind the Pope (how many divisions has he anyway?), last month’s warning by a former NASA climatologist hit home even harder.

He suggested that if emissions aren’t cut:

We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.

This week’s piece in Rolling Stone on James Hansen’s report follows Esquire’s “Ballad of the Sad Climatologists” last month (“I’m still amazed how few climatologists have taken an advocacy message to the streets, demonstrating for some policy action”) in driving the point home. We need to start paying more attention.

The world is gearing up for a “make or break” climate conference in Paris this December in which the hundreds of nation states party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will attempt to formulate a legally binding replacement to the Kyoto Protocol.

Reading the draft negotiating text released by the UNFCCC, I have little hope that even if an agreement is reached that it will have the impact needed. Change is going to have to start at home. And it is vital that we start convincing our political class that there is reward, not just risk in being first to move radically to a low carbon economy.

As the scientists put it:

Responding to the challenge will require deploying the full breadth of human talent and invention. Creative policy interventions and novel technological solutions need to be fostered and applied. This will require a sustained commitment to research, development, entrepreneurship, education, public engagement, training and skills.

While the threats posed by climate change are far-reaching, the ways in which we tackle them can be a source of great opportunity. There exists vast potential for innovation, for example in low-carbon technologies. Capturing this potential quickly and effectively will drive economic progress. There are also significant additional benefits available from climate mitigation and adaptation actions, including food, energy and water security, air quality, health improvements, and safeguarding the services that ecosystems provide.

Actions need to be taken now, by governments, individuals, businesses, local communities and public institutions, if we are to tackle this global challenge, deliver the required cuts in emissions, and take maximum advantage of the available opportunities and additional benefits.


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