By Andrew Perks
This month I thought I would get out of my usual ammonia chat and look at an article I recently read in The Big Issue.
The headline of the article was “Final Warning on Climate Change” and shared the following info: “Take heed of the final warning unless you’re ready to burn.” Bit dramatic but it probably got your attention. First, former US vice-president Al Gore confronted the world with the inconvenient truth that the earth was warming at such a pace that a two-degrees-centigrade increase would bring about unprecedented climate change, leading to catastrophic disruptions in human existence, biodiversity, and sustainability. You know they started work on measuring this in the late 1950s — why has it taken us so long to try to get our act together? I say ‘try’ because we are still not getting it right.
Central to the graphic brilliance of Gore’s presentation was a controversial claim that, unlike previous waves of extreme warming and cooling, recent climate change is historically abnormal and can be ascribed in part to human factors such as industrialisation and in particular the impact of vast carbon emissions spewed out from developed and industrialising countries. Thus, recent global warming and climate change are anthropogenic in nature — they are manmade. Yet, while this anthropogenic feature is alarming, it contains within it a degree of hope. If global warming is brought about by human behaviour, then improving human behaviour holds the potential to reduce global warming and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Again it brings us to the stark realisation, exactly what are we leaving for our children’s children and how our generation will be judged in the future.
The second major wake-up call was heralded in 2007 (some 50 years later) by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) comprising many of the world’s leading climatologists. Rather than simply pointing out the alarming truth of climate change, the IPCC Fourth Report contained results aimed at helping policymakers to take concrete steps. That anthropogenic climate change was occurring could no longer be in doubt and the challenge now was to tackle, mediate, and adapt. This gave rise to a series of climate change summits (like the South African one held in Durban in 2011), culminating in the historical Paris Agreement on climate change, signed by 195 countries in 2015. Don’t you sometimes wonder where America would be if Al Gore had won the presidential race back then?
The third and arguably final warning has now been delivered. In 2015, the IPCC pulled together over 6 000 scientific reports from leading experts on climate change to craft the global picture. In October last year, they released their finding with a stark message: We have just 12 years (until 2030) to bring about the required emission changes to contain global warming to a manageable 1.5 degrees centigrade increase.
The major reason given for the 12-year window is the lead time required to build major infrastructural projects to mitigate the already inevitable impact of climate change. This is not enough, however. The changes would require deep and profound behavioural and economic turnarounds that are historically unprecedented. The aim is to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. For example, by 2050, in the absence of alternative technology, cars propelled by the internal combustion engine would be relics confined to museums.
The threat of climate change in South Africa is particularly acute. While post-industrial global warming has been measured at 0.8 degrees centigrade, southern Africa has warmed at twice this rate. By extension, if the IPCC is urging that global warming should be capped at 1.5 degrees centigrade by 2030, this would result in southern Africa warming by an alarming three degrees centigrade. In other words, we are geographically configured to warm at a factor of two times the global average.
We have been warned — three strikes and we are out …
This is really interesting stuff. Again, it brings us to the stark realisation, exactly what are we leaving for our children’s children and how our generation will be judged in the future.
About The Big Issue
The Big Issue is a monthly magazine that individuals purchase to sell at traffic lights and exists to offer homeless people, or individuals at risk of homelessness, the opportunity to earn a legitimate income, empowering and thereby helping them to reintegrate into mainstream society. It is the world’s most widely circulated street newspaper, the selling of which is hard work.