Is global warming actually a crisis that threatens humanity’s future? It’s accepted by all but the most sceptical critics, the planet is warming and at a rate greater than previously understood. However, there is a powerful body of groups and individuals who reject the warnings and they are increasing efforts to present a different picture. There is a problem in that a majority of ordinary people are confused as to which view the evidence supports. Can this be settled?
There are those who question the motivation of scientific research into global warming, holding that, in their efforts to secure funding for their research, some depart from fundamental scientific principles. One such claim was made recently on the education blog site Local Schools Network. In responding to a posting about Greta Thunberg, written by Roger Titcombe, one commentator had this to say;
“The world is warming but the climate scammers spent years saying it was cooling until they needed a new story. Typical of the ‘say anything to get the money’ (- and mostly they are refused research grants unless they say they believe the new religion) types. Until it’s inconvenient. Then say something else. This wondrous new ‘science’ – never knowingly correct about anything. Except on how much money it can make by making new ‘predictions’. And all those lovely plane trips to exotic locations to tell other people to not to fly.”
To understand how polarised the debate is, a further remark by this same commentator reveals the extent to which language is used to manipulate rather than inform.
“It’s as if the far Left are frightened of informed discussion of the science by physicists i.e. real ones, not climate change ‘scientists’. “
The damage to informed debate on any subject is vastly increased when individuals indulge in this sort of rhetoric, designed probably to provoke a reaction rather than advance a substantive argument in clarification of a position. This identifies the potential damage that social network platforms and other sources of ‘opinion’ can do to understanding issues and resolving conflict when unsubstantiated views are presented in place of evidence.
As an indication of the size of the problem confronting our young people seeking to have leaders accept a global crisis is looming. The BBC reported recently how widespread concerns among young people is.
At present, it seems this is mainly driven by girls and young women. According to the latest report by the BBC’s correspondent, Joshua Nevett, there is good reason for this.
Further, “According to a 2015 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), women are more vulnerable than men to the impact of extreme climate events for a variety of reasons, including biological and social factors.” Their report explains why this is the case.
In the BBC article, as Nevett reminds us, “On 15 March, an estimated 1.6 million students from 125 countries walked out of school to demand climate change action.”
We have a choice. Either we can react negatively, as some do, by reminding us that young girls may be prone to responding emotionally to the developing situation because of their biology, or we can wake up to the fact that global climatic disasters are occurring at a rate we have not seen before in human history.
The power of those who reject the idea of a global crisis must not be underestimated. Vested interest by the fossil fuel industries is promoted and protected by many politicians in countries across the globe. In the US for example, “Republican lawmakers, some of whom do not believe in man-made climate change, have branded the NGD (New Green Deal) a “socialist manifesto”.” so Nevett informs us.
Looking back, at the time of the crisis about the depletion of the ozone layer, similar vested interest initially sought to limit global action to address the issue. Evidence was beginning to emerge identifying how ozone is destroyed by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). World leaders were initially reluctant to take decisive action. A decision was reached at the end of The Vienna Convention in 1985 simply to ‘urge countries to control emissions (of CFCs) ‘to the maximum extent possible’. It was a ‘sticking-plaster’ solution. In 1988, new scientific research emerged which convinced world leaders that very decisive action was in fact needed. Even the most dire computer predictions of the rate, extent and impact of the depletion had not predicted the development of a huge hole in the ozone layer. One was later discovered over Antarctica, to be followed by a similar discovery over the Arctic where its impact on millions of people would be potentially devastating. The result, apparently out of nowhere, was to agree to a rapid phase-out of all ozone-depleting chemicals. By the summer of 1989 at an ozone conference in London, British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher called for a total ban and the rest is, as they say, history.
About ten years ago I came across ‘The End of Nature’ by Bill McGibbin in a secondhand bookshop. Published in 1990, it painted a graphic account of recent findings from researchers all over the world highlighting the problem of the extent to which consistent increases in greenhouse gas emissions was leading to a warming of the atmosphere. McGibbin drew extensively on the available research. He made the clear connection between human activity and warming that would, according to the computer modelling of the time, eventually change the earth’s climate. There were many who rejected his conclusions.
Most people now accept the earth is warming. The commitment to taking steps to deal with the potential threat on the part of world governments is lagging behind the pressing need to heed the warnings. The ozone crisis has much to teach us about how we need to respond to the existential threat of climate change. As McGibbin was at pains to explain, our perception that nature operates slowly over vast periods of time is a flawed one. Equally, the idea that nature is too big for us to have an impact on its workings is wrong. We are living at a time when we know the atmosphere has changed. The available evidence indicates that the emission of greenhouse gasses like CO2 is increasing as a direct result of burning fossil fuels previously locked beneath the planet’s surface and other human actions. We have changed the atmosphere. These changes are changing global climate.
Thirty years ago Bill McGibbin made predictions about global warming. He reminded us that climate is very’ noisy’. He accepted, we may not be able to predict specific storms, droughts or floods but IF his predictions were accurate, increasingly and systematically, he believed we would see the emergence of new extremes “The effect on us, though indirect, will be pretty dramatic – changes in the atmosphere will change the weather, and that will change the air our children breathe. The temperature, the rainfall, the speed of the wind will all change.”
He ended the first chapter with this sobering thought: “Man’s efforts, even at their mightiest, used to be tiny compared to the size of the planet – the Roman Empire meant nothing to the Arctic or the Amazon. But now the way of life of one part of the world in one half century is altering every inch and every hour of the globe.”
If that was the case then, how much more does it hold true another thirty years on? We have choices. The young people emerging across the continents with their minds focused on their futures and that of their children are right to call for change. It is the belated duty of adults to stand with them and to support their vision for a more equitable and secure global future. We cannot wait for our leaders to catch up.