The events that nature is expected to unleash at + 2 degrees start to become a catalogue of disaster. Rising sea levels causing flooding in some of the most densely populated areas in the world, food harvests coming to an end in agricultural regions where the soil is no longer fertile, wildfires destroying entire regions previously inhabited by thriving communities, inland flooding resulting from a hitherto unknown intensity of rainfall.
There is good reason for alarm. The readings taken in the most recent monitors suggest that the last three years, since Paris in 2016, have seen an exponential increase in the rate of global warming. These are a consequence of the so-called feedback loops deepening their effect. These cause an increase in the rate of warming. However long it takes for a square metre of Arctic to melt today, it will take less time for it to melt tomorrow, and less still the day after.
The accelerating rate is caused by the increase in warming effects consequent on the loss of the square metre of ice. Thus temperatures not only rise because the cold ice has turned into warmer water (also raising the sea level) in direct proportion to the quantity of melted ice, but the increase in the warmth of the water means the next square metre melts more quickly. This acceleration is further exacerbated by the removal of the ice itself. The square metre of ice had reflected the sun’s rays, dissipating the warming effect of the sun. Once the first square metre has gone, the sun’s rays now have an added square metre of sea to absorb their warmth, thus further accelerating the warming effect on the adjacent square metre of ice. This is one of many feedback loops, which are also occurring in areas of deforestation, acidification of the ocean, desertification in fertile areas and more.
Our problems are multiplying much more quickly than we expected. In the official reports from the IPCC and before that going back to the original Kyoto Protocol, successive models repeatedly revealed the previous model to have been incorrectly optimistic. Forecasts have continually revised the time frame down. 2 degrees was originally set as the red line, which was never expected to be breached. The rate of warming was considered to be taking place over centuries, and to be manageable. Each summit lowered the forecast timespan of the warming effect; each summit brought disaster closer, but never an inevitability. Until now.
This shock has caused the appearance of the Extinction Rebellion and the Schools Strike for Climate movement (inspired by Greta Thunberg) with a recognition at political levels that we are now in crisis.
But does this actually represent reality? Are we living in the shadow of Armageddon? Is the Apocalypse now, or is this another in the long history of our taste for anticipating catastrophe only to find we need not have worried after all? Apocalyptic predictions have not been unusual in our recent history. The Cold War brought with it such threat of Nuclear wipe out, that nuclear attack bomb drills became part of the school curriculum in the US in the 50’s and 60’s. (In the event of Nuclear attack, children were instructed to climb under their desks.) The UK built Nuclear shelters in Scotland for its Government with the capability for maintaining control of a population that was expected to be more or less wiped out. This threat receded and eventually vanished altogether with Glasnost in 1990, only to be succeeded by the Millennium scare. Most of us have forgotten now, but a little thing called the Millennium bug was going to bring the entire global socio-economic infrastructure to a grinding halt, with catastrophic results. Midnight on 31st December 1999 came and went with no discernible change.
So where does this leave us, with Climate Change, Global Warming, dystopian art like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy? Are we all doomed, or do we just like frightening ourselves?
The answer to this question, and how we deal with it, is probably the most important issue of the day, the week, the month, the year, the decade, the century. If we get the answer wrong, Climate Change could affect all our lives much, much more disastrously than has ever been expected. If we get the answer right, the likelihood is still that it will affect our lives more than it already does, but that we can survive.
The answer seems to be conclusive. We are not frightening ourselves. We really are facing the most serious threat to human life on Earth that we can conceive. It is already here. The wildfires in California, the floods in the US Midwest, the erosion of fertile land in North Africa, drought in Cape Town, all are indications of something that is happening and is getting steadily worse. The occurrence of once-in-a-lifetime events all over the globe is becoming regular. In other words, what we thought were once-in-a-lifetime events are now happening once a year; or, in the case of Californian wildfires, as often as once a month.
But what happens next is still unknown. Although we can be fairly certain of what nature will do as temperatures rise still further, we cannot be sure what humanity will do in response. And that is the one true variable. The impact of our actions is the one complete unknown, because we have no clear or united strategy for dealing with it.
What should we do? We can act collectively in one particular area. Investment in innovation. It is clear that innovation is a key to unlocking some of the most effective weapons with which we can limit climate change and more importantly, adapt ourselves to its effects. Innovation can provide the new technologies and processes by which we can harness energy effectively to maintain constant living temperatures, to ensure the capability to move goods and services to points of need, to provide a continuous supply of fresh water in all areas, and the same for food. But those innovations need investment and management.
Green Angel Syndicate is leading the way with investment in grass roots innovations of the kind that we need so badly. It is providing an example of what we all need to group together to do. Innovate, invest, implement.
We hope all of you will join us in this effort.