Either scientists are not explaining findings on climate change clearly enough or the politicians aren’t listening - Andy Brown
The best scientific minds that we have tell us that if we don’t keep human induced global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels then we will reach a tipping point. After that, changes will happen which no one can put right.
The problems that are happening right now are serious enough. Locally we’ve seen fresh flooding misery in places like the lower Rother Valley. Internationally the chaos has been worse. In Mexico a category five hurricane recently wrecked 90 per cent of the buildings in the city of Acapulco where one million people live.
Sober minded objective scientists tell us that these are small scale early signs of what is coming but if we stick to the plan to hit net zero by 2050 then we might be able to live with the problems. Provided we spend a lot of money on flood defences and fire-fighting. And work hard on food security.
If we exceed their targets and go above 1.5 degrees of global warming they are telling us that they cannot reliably predict the consequences because we will have triggered changes that will be beyond anyone’s ability to control. One of those triggers is that large quantities of frozen methane will be released from Siberia massively increasing the problems.
This year the world has already gone over that 1.5 level in several months - 27 years early. Scientists across the world have been terrified by the data they’ve been monitoring on sea temperatures and ice volumes. Either they are not explaining the meaning of their recent findings clearly enough or the politicians aren’t listening.
There is a similar failure of language when it comes to the extinction of wildlife. Scientists have told us that Britain has already lost half of its pre-industrial biodiversity and the world 25 per cent. Extinguishing an entire species is a horrible thing to do.
The consequences of that are often explained in terms of the loss for humanity of the opportunity to study the special characteristics of the creature we’ve destroyed. That is an incredibly arrogant and narrow-minded way of looking at it. What we are doing is to remove a form of life from the planet forever.
No one can ever bring back the complex living structures that we are destroying every single day. We aren’t just destroying individuals. We are destroying species that have survived millions of years of evolutionary pressures. Once they have gone they have gone forever. On anyone’s definition of morality that must go down as a huge failure.
When we consider pollution, we are also often offered quite narrow and technical perspectives on what is happening. Our rivers are being over polluted with sewage. Our cities have poor air quality that impacts on life expectancy. Rubbish litters too many of our finest Yorkshire beauty spots.
All of those things can be changed and put right. What can never be altered is what we are doing with plastic pollution. The smallest particles of plastic have been found in the deepest of our oceans, on top of mountains, and inside the bodies of almost every creature on the planet including ourselves. There is no method of removing them and they won’t ever disappear. We will be leaving a permanent record of our presence on this planet in the geological records that will show up for billions of years.
As consumers we have become very aware of this problem and most people go to a lot of trouble to try and reduce the amount of plastics that we frivolously use and throw away. You won’t find too many cafes still offering you a plastic straw with your drink. Unfortunately, our efforts are incredibly small scale in relation to the problem. More plastic is being produced every year than ever before. Half of all the plastic that has ever been made was manufactured in the last 15 years.
There is a huge vested interest in producing some of the things that are causing the problems we most need to cure. It isn’t in the short term narrow commercial interests of any one plastics manufacturer to redesign products to avoid using the material. No oil company wants to see the sale of their products reduced.
In such circumstances we need governments to act for the benefit of us all. Free markets don’t solve every problem. When they produce outcomes that are helpful for a few but lead to seriously harmful consequences for the many then markets need sensible management, guidance and control. There is some very powerful propaganda encouraging us all to carry on producing and consuming in the same old ways in the hope that everything will turn out fine.
Well-funded lobbyists are very skilled at dripping self-interested propaganda into social media. It is time for the scientists to get a lot better at communicating the facts they have researched. Before it is too late to repair the damage.
Andy Brown is the Green Party councillor for Aire Valley in North Yorkshire.