Right now, as the world’s signatories to the Kyoto Protocol meet at COP17 climate summit in Durban to negotiate new emission reduction targets, you’d be forgiven for thinking that after so many years and 17 annual climate change summits, emissions were coming down. The facts:
In the latest report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) - the world’s premier energy consumption monitoring body - 2010 marked the greatest increase in global warming gas emissions ever recorded. In total, over 30 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels - 564 million more tons than in 2009 - a record 6% annual increase - higher than any worst case scenario projected just half a decade ago.
Weren’t we supposed to be decreasing green house gas emissions? Yes - by building new fossil fuelled power stations, gas-guzzling factories, dirty oil extraction plants like the tar sands and un-eco sensitive buildings - with many more planned for construction around the world. South Africa has two coal powered stations on the cards. That’s how we’re reducing emissions - With fossil fuel, self delusion and wishful thinking. And whatever is built now that emits carbon, will do so for years … decades. It’s the "lock-in" effect - humanity locked into fossil fuel-burning energy for the foreseeable future - with the carbon we emit having a hundred year lifespan. That’s how long it stays up there - A century of helping us bake and just five years to go till irreversible climate change. Tick tock.
Climate scientists all agree that the world has to stay below two degrees Celsius of warming to prevent irreversible climate change. Two degrees is the limit of safety. After that we’re in uncharted territory. To stay below that point, emissions must be kept at no higher than 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We’re already on 390 parts per million; and with fossil-fuelled infrastructure still being built, this figure keeps rising. We’ll break the 450 parts per million barrier in 2017. Then we’re in climate change wilderness. The last time this much carbon was in the Earth’s atmosphere was 65 million years ago! This is serious! Two degrees already wipes out most of our coral reefs and glaciers. And the political and economic will to do anything about it, other than talk, seems to be non-existent. Too much money is involved. China, the world’s premier polluter together with the USA, has decades of coal reserves and is building coal-powered power stations at a frenetic pace. In the USA, the sustained PR and lobbyist war on climate discourse by mining and oil has decreased the percentage of Americans concerned about climate change from 71% to about 45% in less than half a decade. The big polluters like the USA, China, Japan and Europe - two thirds of all global emissions between them - don’t care. And the media really doesn’t seem to either. The IEA’s report of last year’s record-breaking emission increases should have made every front page on the globe - been the 8 o’clock lead story on all TV stations. It was buried.
Rhodes’ School of Journalism and Media Studies Deputy Head, Prof. Wasserman recently spoke about the media's response to Climate Change - in which he addressed the frequency, prominence and tone of climate change coverage. Like the fact that the amount of coverage by the media is not commensurate with the scale of the issue; that it normally appears as a special feature or part of natural disaster stories, rather than being integral to daily reporting; that it vacillates between apocalyptic sensationalism and the opposite notion that climate change is a distant problem; and that it ultimately lacks a critical humanisation of climate change - not really dealing with how climate change is already affecting, and likely to affect, the lives of people. People like us.
You see, what we all should know is that climate change is an all-permeating, all-encompassing issue with potentially catastrophic effects on everything we take for granted. And it’s inextricably entwined with the every aspect of human-driven planetary degradation. Be it climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, the fact that 80% of the planet’s fresh water is no longer drinkable, every kind of pollution you can imagine, or soil erosion to the point of desertification, the entire catastrophe is interlinked. It’s us. And we have to stop it. Or it will destroy everything beautiful in and around us.
Point to Ponder: Within our complex body coding we still have the exact same 200 genes as the original single-cell organisms from which life on Earth evolved.
We are not just in this world. We are of it! And maybe when we remember that, precious profit will take a back seat to the precious life we’ve been part of for 6 billion years and counting.
Add a Comment