In its latest report, 57 scientists representing 25 countries submitted their findings on behalf of the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP). According to the authors, the Earth is on course to rise 3.2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, which is well above the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C in a multilateral consensus set by nations in the Paris Agreement.
To put that figure in context, scientists estimate that 70 to 90 percent of coral reefs will decline with a rise in temperature of 1.5 degrees C. At 2 degrees C, it is estimated that the loss of corals will be irreversible and many nations would experience extreme floods and droughts. A rise of 3.2 degrees C would be catastrophic, resulting in vast swaths of the planet becoming uninhabitable and pandemic crop failures resulting in mass starvation and subsequent forced migration.
The report continues to document the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) necessary to reach the commitments made in the Paris Agreement; however, the fact that GHG have risen 1.5 per cent annually since the agreement was signed rather than decreased as was necessary to meet the targets set now means that nations need to dramatically reduce their collective output. Let me suggest to that short of a cultural revolution, that won’t happen.
I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t act; if anything we should be completely rethinking our place in the world and drastically altering our behaviour. Unfortunately that goes entirely against human nature. Time and time again we have shown that we will not respond until our lives are directly and perilously endangered. Indeed, social conservatives are actively campaigning to undermine climatologists to ensure that their means of prosperity are not diminished. In an era where scientific knowledge and cultural wisdom has been supplanted by outspoken opinions, those whose motivations run contrary to science simply choose to selectively ignore the overwhelming evidence and seek support from “alternative facts”.
Many innovative solutions have been designed and implemented in an effort to reduct GHG emissions. While effective, economic strategies such as setting prices on carbon emissions alone are not enough to ensure we do not cross the 2 degree threshold. Technology can certainly play a role in reducing GHG as well but nor will it be our salvation. We have yet to address the root of the issue, which is our very nature and how we view the world.
We are biologically driven toward self-preservation with an imperative to accumulate wealth and possessions. Historically, our natural instincts enabled us to survive when access to food and supplies was limited. However, on a planet with nearly 8 billion people and with many industrialized populations having access to nearly limitless resources, our survival impulses are now propelling us rapidly towards our demise.
The alternative, therefore, must be to shift our global consciousness outwards to encompass not only our own lives but all life on Earth. Obviously that would require a conscious effort, but just as we have learned to overcome other primal instincts such as violent impulses in order to exist in a peaceful society so too must we evolve to act with consideration towards all life. Our survival on Earth is entirely dependant on the continuance of all life on this planet. We are part of a highly complex and interdependent biosphere that is on the verge of collapsing. If we are to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change as well as the many other anthropogenic environmental disasters, we must first recognize the value of all lifeforms and consider them with all of our actions and policies. Only then can we hope to seriously address the multitude of environmental calamities of our making.