We can’t carry on like this if we want to save the planet

Greece wildfires climate crisis
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Fires are burning in Greece. The Pacific Northwest is still aflame, heavy rain has flooded North Korea, droughts are ravaging Californian towns.

Amidst all this, the IPCC has warned time is running out to salvage the planet.

In its landmark climate report published on 9 August, the UN climate body said immediate and large scale action to reduce emissions is the only way to prevent catastrophic temperature rises.

In order to take the level of action needed, major change is needed across the board, affecting both big corporations and our daily lives.

“Unprecedented” and “irreversible” impacts

The impacts of catastrophic climate change are unfolding right before us, all over the world. This summer alone has brought a barrage of extreme weather events from wildfires to deadly flooding.

The IPCC report names humans as the “unequivocal” drivers of climate change, estimating that CO2 concentrations were higher in 2019 than they have been at any time in the past two million years.

Similarly, surface temperatures have increased since 1970 at the fastest rate of any 50 years in the last 2000 years.

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As a result, sea ice levels are decreasing faster while sea levels rise faster. Heatwaves, droughts, heavy precipitation, and cyclones are all increasing.

In 2020 alone, more people were displaced by climate disasters than by conflicts, particularly in the poorest nations. The rise of extreme weather events will only increase this.

“A reality check”

The Paris Agreement seeks to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, a target that experts have warned several times we aren’t on track to meet.

Estimates in today’s report say that “immediate, rapid and large-scale” changes are needed to our greenhouse gas emissions, or warming may not even be limited to two degrees, let alone 1.5.

Working Group I of the IPCC estimates that strong action to reduce emissions would lead to an immediate increase in air quality, though temperature stabilisation may take 20-30 more years.

IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai said:

Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming.

Taking action

With the report’s warnings, climate activists are taking to the streets to demand a different future.

Extinction Rebellion have vowed to disrupt the City of London with two weeks of action to disrupt the political economy. Campaigners are demanding that the UK stop all fossil fuel investment immediately.

Clare Farrell, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, said:

We are in the midst of a collective act of global, social evil which is unprecedented in all of history. We spend more time measuring it than trying to stop it, this is in and of itself a crime. …

This government is a joke, telling us how to wash our dishes when they should be leading the world towards a mobilisation that saves humanity. The UK has a duty to set a good example and other countries will follow. People want to live, but we need leadership and it’s nowhere to be seen.

The UK financial sector funded 805m tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019 alone, nearly double the emissions for the whole of the UK in the same year.

Making changes

Zhai, who is also secretary general of the Chinese meteorological society, added:

Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions. Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate.

To do this, we need more ambitious targets.

The UK government announced in December that it would end ‘direct support‘ for the overseas fossil fuel sector. However, several campaigners argued that fine print exceptions still meant UK money would be spent on fossil fuels.

In March, the government approved oil drilling if companies were deemed ‘climate compatible‘.

Instead, activists are calling for a complete economic overhaul. A campaign for a Green New Deal asks for the movement of the UK’s economy away from carbon and the creation of jobs in clean industries.

Global campaigners say the transformation will require big companies being held to account for their polluting actions.

Big and small changes

A lot of the changes will be big and systematic – as is often pointed out, a small number of large companies are responsible for the majority of fossil fuel emissions.

But our daily lives will have to change too.

Small changes by households in how we use fossil fuels could still have a large impact on global emissions.

The consumption of energy by households across the world is significant, and researchers estimate a large number of households reducing their car usage, air travel and meat consumption will be key in reducing overall emissions. Governments across the world have the power to create policies and make investments that will enable people to make the needed cuts at home.

Although the conclusions of today’s report create a bleak future, the authors say there is still time. The government’s first step should be to plan at COP26 for how they can restructure the economy to cut emissions as well as encourage cuts at home.

Featured image via YouTube/Sky News

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  • Show Comments
    1. With the utmost respect, this is not about “saving the planet”. As Clare Farrell mentions, it’s about “sav[ing] humanity”. The planet will be fine, it’ll keep on spinning and making its way through space, with or without us. The shame is that if we do not make changes NOW, not only will we make the Earth unlivable for ourselves, we’ll take a myriad of other species down with us, though many more will continue to exist and will probably celebrate our hubris and their ascension in the distant future.

      1. Agree completely.
        The current “Green New Deal”s around the world, better described as the Derrick Jensen’s Bright Green Lies, are merely an attempt to save capitalism for the rich, and nothing to do with saving the planet.

        Humans really need to get over themselves, and start realising very quickly that we are a part of nature, not over and above it.
        All this talk of Code Red for the planet, focussing merely on carbon emissions, is missing the point entirely. Climate chaos is not the problem, it is merely the symptom of the PREDICAMENT we are in. And that is we are in overshoot, having exceeded the ecological limits of the planet. Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation is about the nearest we have to a policy we might look at as a species.
        Some of the measures we should be looking at as a nation are (CANARY PLEASE TAKE NOTE):
        1) Abandonment of GDP and outlawing neo-liberal economics
        2) Banning advertisments other than in your own shop window or own website page. Rampant consumerism must end.
        3) Energy rationing
        4) More localised food growing, especially in urban areas
        5) Ending all developments that involve concrete, oil, tarmac. So that wouuld be an end to house building targets, shut down HS2, Hinckley Point C, end to road building, etc. There are 300,000 empty houses in the UK, more than enough to meeting existing requirements.
        6) For the rest, shops that are redundant can be remade into housing. Banks that go bust can be repurposed as community tool and furniture banks.
        7) Refocus resources we have left to maintaining the existing infrastructure
        8) Immediate introduction of UBI of £1000 a month, reset income tax and NI levels to £12K for everyone
        9) Altering VAT to reduce consumption – eg VAT 0% on redeveloping/repurposing existing buildings, 200% on new builds and none-locally sourced new products, 0% on repairing items, and so on.
        10) Repeal of all the Enclosures Acts going back to 1600s – returning the land to the Commons will break the powerful landing own lobby
        11) Paying young people that haven’t had children yet a £50,000 tax free lump sum to be voluntarily sterilised – given the short term thinking of most humans, take up will be 90%.
        12) Reinforcement of unpaid corporation tax backdated by 12 years, the current legal time frame for HMRC. This should net £312 billion. Any corporation refusing to pay or attempting to use litigation to obsufcate will be nationalised, at gunpoint if necessary. With this in mind, 3 battalions of army engineers to be retrained in corporate takeover.
        13) End sanctions against Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venuezuala, China. Europe needs to be talking nicely to Russia, as they have the spare land to home the 100,000,000 African climate refuguees that are coming our way. China and Iran will suffer so much from climate change that they don’t really need our extra input. Cuba has a lot to teach us about urban farming and recycling, something they had to learn to do at the end of the Cold War.
        14) Long term consider the phasing out of economy altogether. Humans have been on the planet for 300,000 years or so, we’ve only needed money in the last 600 years or so, and it has only been around perhaps as long as agriculture.
        15) Localise governance, decision making and fund allocation to county and town levels – this will happen anyway as systems collapse due to overshoot, but if we set them up first, we get ahead of the game
        15a) explore what would happen if say each county kept it’s PAYE, VAT and business rate receipts, rather than them going to central government.
        16) Phase out flying of jet planes except for emergency medical supplies. Nature will phase it out anyway, at some point it will be too dangerous to fly – already US airlines have a third more injuries to aircraft staff due to increased turbulence – that will only increase. And wildfires, sea-level rise, storms etc will make many airports untenable for some of the time.
        17) realise the fact that the capital of England will be moved to Birmingham at some point – all the other possibly contenders will be constantly flooded or underwater, possibly as early as 2050 but more likely for the next generation.
        18) Farming will adjust from monoculture crop to localised polyculture silvopasture with far fewer animals than we have now. With an unstable climate in the Anthropocene, large scale monoculture agriculture will simply be impossible, as it was before the Holocene.

      1. Because it was done with inequality in mind. It was a deliberate attempt to break the unions, not to reduce carbon emissions. Worse still, no alternative employment was offered, the coal mining regions were just left to suffer extreme poverty, and still languish there in many cases.
        And anyway, our carbon emissions still went up.

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