- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #2064
Image: geralt – pixabay.com
“Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared last week, pleading for swift action on climate change. “The air is unbreathable. The heat is unbearable. And the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable.”
It’s time to end the rule of fossil fuel.
The extreme impacts of climate change are in line with scientists’ predictions and repeated warnings; “the only surprise is the speed of the change.”
“For vast parts of North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, it is a cruel summer. For the entire planet, it is a disaster. And for scientists, it is unequivocal – humans are to blame,” Guterres said, not mincing words.
Powerful vested interests in fossil fuels backed by corrupt, self-interested politicians were in denial until recent extreme weather events made it impossible to continue to do so. Today they have made an art of greenwashing – witness the claim that gas is a means of transitioning to renewables.
Governments, including Australia’s, unashamedly lie about progress with greenhouse gas emission reductions while new gas and oil project approvals accelerate along with emissions.
Extreme weather events pose a serious threat to human lives, to the environment, crops, livestock, water sources, and ecosystems.
July was the hottest month globally since records were kept and scientists, using such means as ice cores and tree rings, suggest it is the hottest in 120,000 years.
Climate scientist Karsten Haustein has found the world was 1.5°C hotter in July 2023 than in the average July before industrialisation.
Heat domes, high-pressure systems filled with hot air, hang over parts of America, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia keeping cooler air out. They are responsible for wildfires and droughts as well as deadly heatwaves.
A combination of record warm oceans and high humidity result in the heat being felt more severely, hampering people’s and animals’ ability to sweat and cool down.
Out-of-control bush fires in Canada continue to rage with smoke and ash making its way beyond the American continent to Portugal and Spain. Italy, Greece, and Algeria along the Mediterranean are experiencing record heatwaves and wild fires.
HOTTER THAN A HOT BATH
To put these temperatures into perspective, plumbing laws in Australia limit the maximum temperature of shower outlets and taps in the bathroom to 50°C. This mixed with some cold water is hot enough for a bath or shower. At 68°C, it can take as little as one second to cause a full thickness scald. At 50°C degrees, it takes five minutes.
Temperatures are approaching the point at which the human body cannot cool itself by such means as sweating. This poses a life-threatening situation for workers in industries such as construction, farm work, and other outdoor physical work or sport.
The homeless and elderly are amongst the most vulnerable to heat waves as are those who do not have access to drinking water, cooling, and shelter.
Extreme heat is on the path to making large parts of our planet uninhabitable or unhospitable for human life and the biodiversity and ecosystems that humanity is dependent on. Millions or even billions of lives will be lost if the current trend is not turned around.
In addition to the heatwaves, record rainfall and floods have been experienced in South Korea, Japan, India, China, and Pakistan.
The death toll is unknown.
The oceans, which have historically absorbed a great deal of emissions are warming and acidifying. In the Antarctic an area of ice larger than Western Australia that typically melts in summer and freezes in winter has vanished. Polar regions and oceans have a huge impact on weather patterns.
The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 is too little too late. There is nothing in Labor’s draft National Platform for the upcoming national conference to speed up the phasing out of fossil fuels, let alone opposing the approval of any new fossil fuel projects. Labor is set to maintain the status quo with Australia as a world leader in the export of fossil fuels.
Poorer countries least responsible for emissions are hit hardest with drought, famine, lack of fresh water, loss of crops, little shade or shelter let alone air conditioning or other cooling mechanisms. Rich countries have failed to honour their commitments under the Kyoto Protocols to provide financial aid for adaptation and mitigation to poor countries.
ADDRESS THE CAUSES
Profiteering fossil fuel companies keep coming up with diversions from real action on climate change. They advocate unproven and potentially dangerous mechanisms to sequester carbon – anything to be able to continue expanding operations and hence greenhouse gas emissions.
Compliant governments, in the pockets of these powerful multinational corporations, hop on board, putting life as we know it at risk.
Capitalism with its short-sighted pursuit of maximum profits got humanity and the planet into this mess and it is incapable of getting us out of it.
Capitalism must go and be replaced by a society where people’s needs come first – socialism.
Humanity is on a precipice but it need not be all gloom and doom.
Listen to and learn from the Indigenous peoples of the world who have managed the land, waters, and fish stocks for thousands of years.
No new fossil fuel projects. Phase out existing ones in a rapid and just transition to renewables.
The science is well known. It tells us that a rapid phasing out of greenhouse gases over the next seven years is required.
Pursue zero emissions. Net zero is not zero. Net zero has become a shield for the continuation of greenhouse gas emissions while advocating for unproven and even dangerous methods of sequestration.
Guterres offers hope: “It is still possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C and avoid the very worst of climate change but only with dramatic, immediate climate action. We have seen some progress – a robust rollout of renewables and some positive steps from sectors such as shipping – but none of this is going far enough or fast enough. Accelerating temperatures demand accelerated action.”
As the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation, Petteri Taalas says, “Climate action is not a luxury but a must.”