The People’s March for Climate Justice and Jobs will be part of a campaign to raise awareness before the United Nations Climate Change Conference convenes in Paris on Monday.
It’s probably too much to expect the Paris conference to pull humanity back from the brink. The previous gatherings in Kyoto, Copenhagen, Doha and the rest notably failed to do it. Getting the nations of the world all to agree on anything would make cat-herding look simple. This will be the 22nd attempt.
It has been said, though – quite loudly by some – that this is the world’s last chance to stave off man-made global warming. Optimists speak of “decisive action to prevent irreversible climate change”.
A probably better informed view is that it’s already well past that, and the urgent task now is to prepare for drastic changes we can no longer stop. While at the same time seeking to minimise those changes as much as may remain possible.
Unfortunately, the world’s political and economic systems seem woefully incapable of any such action.
Britain may be relatively small fry in the world of CO2 emissions – ninth in a world ranking of nations (14th if rated per head of population). But we still like to think of our country as a world leader, and there is nothing more important to give good leadership to the world on right now.
Sadly, we have a government that has just cut support for renewable energy while giving tax breaks to oil and gas producers – and changing planning laws to suit them. Which is leadership in precisely the wrong direction.
A conservative scientific estimate suggests that current levels of global emissions will lead to a two-degree Celsius warming of the planet in the next 30 years. Lack of drastic action – a business-as-usual approach – could put us on track for four to six degrees of warming by the century’s end.
Which means what, in real terms? James Hansen, professor of atmospheric physics at America’s Columbia University, puts it like this: “Four degrees of warming would be enough to melt all the ice. You would have a different planet.”
Our children and their children may have to live on a planet with a lot more sea, a lot less land and very different weather conditions than we have grown up with.
The consequences will be profound. In ways that may not be immediately obvious, we are already seeing them. And I don’t just mean the increasing frequency of what used to be thought of as “freak” weather.
Human life depends on the things that can be grown or raised on a thin layer of topsoil. Lose or radically alter the soil and there’s no more living there. Floods or drought can be equally disastrous – and climate change means both are certain.
Already the Sahara desert is spreading, forcing the people at its fringes to move from what were their grassland homes. And when people are forced to move…
Between 2006 and 2010, a devastating drought turned nearly 60 per cent of Syria to desert. Crops failed, livestock died. Millions of farmers were reduced to poverty and forced to move into the cities. Overcrowding, poor conditions and food shortages sparked the local conflicts that flared into civil war.
You can blame President Bashar al-Assad for the foolish, callous and ultimately catastrophic way he mishandled the crisis. But the root cause of the Syrian war was drought. Caused by climate change.
All round the Sahara’s southern fringes – from Mali in the west to Sudan in the east – there are similar stories to be told. On its northern edge are the troublespots of Libya and Egypt.
Yes, there is politics involved in all the trouble in all these places. And yes, in all of them there are degrees of European, American and Saudi guilt to be considered. Especially Saudi, you might argue.
But underlying the politics is poverty, desperation and people on the move, driven by the effects of drought.
The international catastrophe known as ISIS may have been created by American and British foreign policy and Saudi money. But it is also an artefact of climate change.
The migrant crisis and its attendant ills currently obsessing Europe stem from all this. And this is only the first wave.
Just wait and see what happens when the world’s major coastal cities (and most of the world’s major cities are coastal) start to be submerged by all that melting ice.