© Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash
The latest IPCC report confirmed once again that we are about to approach the point of no return in the climate crisis. The political silence that followed its release is a reminder of our cowardice in the fight for the planet's survival.
There are some things that are so apocalyptic that our minds have trouble processing them properly. I experienced this when I first read Samoa Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa's anguished plea to the world to save the people of the Pacific from climate devastation.
While we in the West are watching billionaires ball their eyes out because some have the audacity to ask them to maybe ditch their fleet of private jets, other parts of the world are quite literally already fighting for their sheer survival.
In her appeal to the global community, Mata'afa said that "there are already examples in the Pacific of communities, whole communities, that have relocated to different countries. They're really having to address issues of sovereignty through loss of land."
Issues of sovereignty through loss of land. I don't know about you, but I can't just move on from statements like this. I don't think many of us fully realise this part of the climate crisis: It's not "just" devastation of large parts of the global ecosystem and mass extinction of countless animal species, but entire countries are at risk of being wiped off the face of the Earth.
Deafening silence and absurd policy u-turns
Mata'afa made her statements on the eve of the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released on Monday 20 March. This particular report was highly anticipated because by the time the next one is released in the 2030s, we may have already exceeded the 1.5°C limit.
As expected, the report was indeed a "final warning" from the scientific community, with the IPCC urging that only immediate and drastic action can prevent irreversible damage to the Earth.
-> Iris Dudek: This Earth Day, let's honour the planet with our actions
Now, you'd think that a warning like this would elicit a true emergency response (let's ignore the fact that this should have been our reaction from the very first signs of global warming). But aside from those who have been sounding the alarm for years, the collective silence that followed the release of this report has been utterly bleak.
Some of you may ask, "well, Tom, what did you expect to happen?" Gee, I don't know, but *something* would have been nice. Properly declaring a climate emergency, committing to a degrowth economy, ending our reliance on fossil fuels, perhaps by finally eliminating subsidies for them once and for all… There's so much to choose from. Instead, Germany managed to water down one of the few tangible decision the EU could agree on by forcing an entirely useless synthetic fuel exception through. And to add insult to injury, there are politicians who have the gall to try and sell this to us as a cause for celebration.
Detailing exactly how preposterous this amendment is would be beyond the scope of this piece. But suffice it to say that the idea that cars running on e-fuels will play *any* role after 2035 is completely detached from the reality we live in.
A recent analysis published by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research shows that the small quantities of e-fuels produced worldwide by 2035 will be needed primarily for other modes of transport, such as ships and aircraft, which cannot be easily electrified due to their size and the distances they travel. In fact, Luxembourg's Minister for Mobility François Bausch declared in an interview with RTL Radio last July that "not a drop of e-fuels will be left for cars after 2035."
The only thing this political charade might accomplish is trick people into believing that the combustion engine has any future whatsoever and keep us trapped in this car-centred hellscape of a mobility concept that we've been forcing on ourselves for decades.
'But think about the children!'
Let me show you a graph that I can't get out of my head ever since I first saw it:
At the time of writing this op-ed, I'm 26 years old. This chart is based on the mean emissions scenario of the 2021 report of the IPCC and predicts a high chance for me to experience a temperature increase of more than 2°C.
If I want to get a glimpse of the joyful future that awaits my generation, I can look at a briefing entitled "Comparing climate impacts at 1.5°C, 2°C, 3°C and 4°C" put together by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which is based on IPCC scenarios. Here are some highlights from the 2°C scenario:
- So-called "3-sigma heat events," i.e., heat extremes that deviate strongly from what is normal in a given region, will be experienced in a fifth of summer months in Western Europe
- Winter rainfall in central and northern Europe could increase by as much as 20%, while summer rainfall is likely to decrease by 20% in central and southern Europe
- Virtually all of the world's tropical coral reefs would likely disappear
- Arctic sea ice is likely to melt completely
We can debate about the methods used by climate activists, and some of them are certainly more effective than others, but if a certain form of protest has "put you off" fighting climate change, may I recommend, as gently as I can, that you seriously consider taking some time off to get some perspective.
We need to care about climate change. And please, don't take this as me wagging my finger at you for occasionally not recycling properly. Last year, I wrote an op-ed outlining why we need to understand the climate crisis as a social crisis instead of individualising the issue.
-> Tom Weber: The profits for the few or the planet for the many: Why do we still struggle to choose?
In the same vein, don't let yourself be gaslit into believing that overpopulation is the "real" problem. In fact, a recent report commissioned by the Club of Rome and produced by the Earth4All collective projects that the world population is likely to decline rapidly after the middle of the century. But perhaps even more importantly, the authors of the report stress that "the primary issue is not overpopulation in comparison with available resources, but rather the current (too) high consumption levels among the world's richest quarter. Or, put even more concisely: humanity's main problem is distribution rather than population."
It's not too late yet
I said it in my last op-ed and I'll say it again: Climate change is not some great mystery of the universe. We know why it is happening and we know what has to be done: substantial, far-reaching, and systemic changes to the way our economy operates.
While doing research for this piece, I came across a Guardian article about a curious trend on the Marshall Islands: More and more parents are naming their children after landmarks, such as coral reefs or atolls.
There are a few reasons for this, one being the wish to remind their children of their birthplace, as an increasing number of Marshallese leave the islands in search of better economic prospects elsewhere.
However, another is related to climate change. Speaking to the Guardian, the Marshall Island's famous poet Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner explained that her decision to name her daughter Peinam, after a parcel of land belonging to her mother's family, represents the choice of the Marshallese people "to be rooted to this reef forever," and to preserve its legacy – even if the land itself sinks.
Time is running out very fast. But, crucially, there is still time. Let's not waste a single second of it.
Other related opinions:
- Iris Dudek: It's time to stop complaining about high gas prices
- Maura Lehmann: The elitism behind ‘green living’
- Tom Weber: The way we talk about weather is outdated