Climate calamity is staring

We don’t have a choice but to combat climate change hard with all the resources at our command

By Author M Raj Reddy   |   Published: 12th Aug 2019   12:03 am Updated: 11th Aug 2019   10:07 pm

Severe global climate change could create a cascading effect in a world with already more than enough chaos. This may not be a problem for the earth itself, which has been around for 4.5 million years but it will severely affect the lives on the planet, which will slowly perish.

Most of us still don’t take the environment seriously. Our past and recent actions are evidence of that. Only last year, Kerala witnessed one of its worst floods in a century and things are again grim now. This year also saw floods in Orissa. Floods are now a regular feature in Assam, Bihar, and other States, and with every year, it only gets worse. We saw forest fires and superstorms too this year.

Though the warning signs are there for all of us to take preventive steps, we also know that our actions will ensure that carbon emissions won’t be curbed by 2020s. We the humans are responsible not just for our own destruction but also for all the other species on this planet.

Scary Scenario

Global greenhouse gas emissions are likely to peak in 2030 and would then start falling due to a drop in fossil fuel usage. But the damage would have been done by then. By 2050, globally 55% of the population would live in areas that have over 20 days of lethal heat in a year, beyond the human survivability threshold. People dying due to climate change will be the new normal.

North America will continue to suffer from devastating weather extremes, including wildfires, heatwaves, droughts and flooding, and it would be more frequent with much worse impact. Globally, around two billion people would be affected due to a shortage of drinking water. Up to one billion people could be displaced. Food production would fall by a fifth as droughts, heatwaves, flooding and storms kill crops.

Even a slight rise in the sea level could lead to some cities becoming inhabitable. Rising ocean levels will make some of the world’s most populous cities like Mumbai, Jakarta, Canton, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Lagos, Bangkok and Manila unliveable.

An Emergency

What more evidence do we need to declare an emergency and press the panic button?

We are used to war as metaphor: war on poverty, war on drugs, war on cancer, etc. Like poverty, drugs, cancer, climate change too is a real big threat. Carbon and methane are seizing physical territory, sowing havoc and panic, racking up casualties, and even destabilising governments. Global warming is another looming threat.

However, this enormous, existential problem can be fixed to a large extent if all of us just tweaked our consumption habits.

Who is Responsible?

It is surprising to note that of all the thousands of companies in the world, just 100 of them are responsible for 71% of the global emissions that have caused global warming since 1998, according to the Carbon Majors Database, published by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). Many of them are owned or controlled by governments.

The top 10 list, according to the CDP, is China Coal (14.3%), Saudi Aramco (4.5%), Gazprom (3.9%), National Iranian Oil Company (2.3%), ExxonMobil (2%), Coal India (1.9%), Petróleos Mexicans (1.9%), Russia Coal (1.9%), Royal Dutch Shell (1.7%) and China National Petroleum Corp (1.6%).

America went crazy when it was revealed that Volkswagen had sold diesel-powered cars that did not comply with applicable emissions standards in the US for a number of years. Massive fines were levied and people were put in prison. The emissions from diesel Volkswagens were bad but their effect on the environment was not even one-millionth as damaging as the impact of carbon dioxide or the fine particulates released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.
Should we also not be holding governments as well as private for-profit companies for their actions and forcing them to make amends?

Increasing Threat

With each passing week, another 22,000 square miles of Arctic ice disappears. Experts see little cause for hope. “In 30 years, the area has shrunk approximately by half,” said a scientist who examined the onslaught. There doesn’t seem anything that could stop this, he said.

In the Pacific this spring, there was a full-scale assault on the region’s coral reefs. In a matter of months, long stretches of formations like the Great Barrier Reef — dating back past the start of human civilisation and visible even from space — were reduced to white bone-yards.

In the past few months alone, firestorm forced total evacuation of a city of 90,000 in Canada, drought-hit southern Africans are literally eating their seed corn and floods threatened the priceless repository of art in the Louvre. In July, climate change sounded simultaneous alarms. Near the entrance to the Arctic ocean in northwest Russia, the temperature surged to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius).

Battle of Life

By themselves, these are just data. But taken together, so many indicators of an altered atmosphere and rising temperatures, blend into an unmistakable portrait of human-induced climate calamity.

For years, our leaders chose to ignore the warnings of scientists and environmentalists. We’re under attack from climate change — and our only hope is to mobilise like we did during World War II and work relentlessly to restore the ecosystem and declare the war on the climate change with a constitutional provision in every country.

This is the battle we must not lose. And if we lose, we will be as decimated and helpless as the losers in every conflict – except that this time, there will be no winners either.

(The author is Director, CDI, National Academy of Construction)