Climate change – doing nothing is no longer an option

Climate change can be a tough sell. It’s arguably the greatest challenge (or, to put to more bluntly, threat) facing this and future generations, yet it seems at times to be a near-insurmountable challenge in itself just to get people interested in it.

This is apparent in the priority accorded it by politicians of all hues around the world and is plainly visible even on a modest day-to-day scale. EIA’s social media posts relating to the catastrophic impacts of the ivory trade, the plight of captive tigers being intensively bred for their parts and products, or the rogue whaling of Japan, Iceland and others, regularly reach a potential readership of tens, even hundreds of thousands; our social media outreach on climate change not so much, by quite a margin.

Peacekeeping - MINUSTAH

Hurricane flooding in Haiti, UN photo by Logan Abassi

There’s been a lot of speculation as to the reasons for this: the climate change denial industry, funded and driven for the most part by those corporations and influential individuals with vested interests in the continuance of fossil fuels, sewing doubt wherever possible; the failure of concerned parties to sell the issue in a gripping manner; the failure of the media to tell the story in a way that engages and speaks to its various audiences; perhaps, even, that the scale of possible outcomes of climate change is so massive and terrifying that we just don’t want to get our heads around it.

But whether we willfully cover our eyes in the hope that, like a monster in the closet, it won’t be real if we don’t look at it, or whether we cling to the hope that the tiny proportion of climate contrarian scientists (around two percent or less) are right and the vast consensus of evidence is wrong, it doesn’t change anything.

Climate change isn’t in the post or just around the corner – it’s real, it’s happening right now and we need to deal with that.

Climate change as an issue is a force majeure that affects all others. Ultimately, there’s no hope for, say, wild tigers if we don’t preserve the forests in which they live. And there’s precious little hope for those same forests in the long run unless we take meaningful action to mitigate the effects of climate change which threaten to devastate them.

Flooding in Bangkok, Thailand (c) Félix Laframboise/iStock/Getty

Flooding in Bangkok, Thailand (c) Félix Laframboise/iStock

From warming oceans becoming less able to sustain life to freak weather events becoming the norm, its many impacts can already be observed and point towards a significant conclusion – this planet is not a series of independent ecosystems capable of absorbing and rebounding from endless anthropogenic indignities and exploitation, it’s all one thing. Every aspect of our collective environment undermined in turn destabilises others.

There’s no value in getting apocalyptic about it in an attempt to spur nations and peoples to take meaningful action; climate change isn’t likely to prove to be an extinction event for the human race. But it will probably be responsible for the extinction of many other species of fauna and flora, corroding many of the niche slots filled by evolution over millions of years and, in so doing, it will undoubtedly cause inconceivable upheaval and chaos in the human world. We’re already witnessing the first climate change refugees and the high costs (fiscal and human) of freak weather and we’re still not even at the broadly accepted maximum 2ºC global temperature rise beyond which global warming is expected to become a very serious threat indeed.

If we, as a species, fail to act we’re looking at a possible future of crop failures, mass human migration, starvation, deprivation and bloody conflict over tenable territory and ever-decreasing resources.

It’s by no means a hopeless situation and, sitting atop a mountain of evidence and knowledge, this generation is in a unique position to do something about it. Indeed, we have to act because the clock’s ticking and we don’t have the time left to pass the debt forward to the future just so we can continue our business as usual, doing ever greater damage to the environment in a mad scramble to get our hands on the remaining fossil fuel reserves, allowing widespread deforestation because we want luxury furniture or because we’re not prepared to accept a change in the consistency of our peanut butter. Either the buck stops here or the world as we know it is cashed-out..

coral reef from space_image courtesy of Nasa 2011

Coral reef from space (c) NASA

Next month’s Paris Conference of Parties to the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (#CoP21) is a genuine opportunity for world leaders to actually do something to put humanity’s affairs in order and properly accept the mantle of responsibility we’ve so often accorded ourselves as the Earth’s caretakers, do something of which we can be justifiably proud and for which future generations will thank us.

We can’t fix it overnight, we can’t reverse it and we can’t afford any more mistakes such as the 2009 Copenhagen UN Climate Conference debacle in which national self-interests crippled the chance of any meaningful outcomes.

But with effort and political will we can begin the check it, to give the planet the breathing space it needs to begin repairing the wanton damage our reckless self-appointed custodianship, avarice and lifestyles of convenience have inflicted over the years.

Doing nothing is no longer an option.