We are running out of time…

A friend sent me a link to a good article this morning (thank you!) about climate change and how if we don’t address it soon, it may end up becoming impossible to address. It is based on a leaked IPCC report, working group III – policies to limit damage, which is due for release in April this year.

The main points are: global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise; the Kyoto protocol has not been successful; we have about 15 years to limit carbon emissions after which time future generations will have to find the technology to suck greenhouse gases from the air and bury them; and governments are still *inexplicably* subsidising fossil fuels rather than spending the money on developing alternative energy sources. Why, oh why?

Although some wealthy countries have managed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, this is only because many of the products consumed in those countries are manufactured elsewhere and imported. Thus they have simply exported their emissions.

The climate change problem is a race against the clock. The longer we delay tackling it, the harder it becomes to tackle because greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. Last month I wrote about a new paper, Dangerous Climate Change, which said that if we stopped emissions in 2015, CO2 would return to the safer level of 350ppm by 2100 as Earth’s natural sinks absorbed it. But if we wait 20 years before doing anything about it, and it’s looking more and more like this is what we’re going to do, then it will take until 2300 before CO2 returns to 350ppm. If we wait 40 years, then it won’t return to 350ppm until sometime after the year 3000.

And if this isn’t freaking you out enough, last month a researcher from the University of Oxford wrote a very sobering article called Children of the Jet Stream: Parenting in an age of climate change. Here is an excerpt:

My situation is perhaps unusual in so much as I earn my living researching climate change policy, so my kids know that this issue is important to me, and something I am engaged with both when working and in what little free time I have. But I have to present to them the positive disposition of someone who believes his efforts are worthwhile, and part of a larger project which will build a secure and fulfilling future for them. However, I know in my heart that were such a future a realistic vision, we would already be well on the path to it by now.

How do I carry on with encouraging them to do homework and plan their future careers, when my gut instinct is that I should be teaching them how to survive in a world of insecure food supplies, and cope with a failed neo-liberal economy no longer able to function in a world wrecked by climate change.

In my travels around the UK, I have been in awe of the achievements of our ancestors and I am thankful for all the things they have given to us. The Victorians in particular, with their innovation and engineering prowess, have left us a legacy of which to be proud. But what are we giving to our descendants? We are giving them a wrecked climate and all the bickering, inertia and selfishness that is contributing to our inaction. Where are the passionate Victorian innovators and investors in our own society today? I really think they have their heads buried in the sand.