The real apocalypse
Well it’s December 21st and the world continues to turn. Apparently the Mayans got it wrong, and/or we misinterpreted the Mayans. I am, however, prepared to believe there’s something in this catastrophic forecast. This time last year I was actually at one of the world’s most impressive Mayan sites at Tulum, Mexico, in the Yucatan peninsula, and an ill-advised sipping of water from my hostel’s water cooler turned into a truly disastrous 3 day stomach bug which threatened to cause me to waste away before I made it to the Christmas dinner table. Meanwhile this year, I am in London and suffering from tonsilitis which is stopping me from continuing my travels around London to catch-up with old friends. Clearly something is not right with the world. However, I’m guessing this wasn’t the level of “apocalypse” the Mayans had in mind.
What this whole apocalypse thing did get me thinking about is another kind of death of “life as we know it” scenario which is in fact taking place around us every day, which is self-perpetuating, and which we should be maybe a little more concerned about than a type of fireball-induced death we apparently had little chance to deter. Climate change, people! Climate change…
Is it possible that in today’s age of science and enlightenment, we continue to do as little as we are to address this quite certain form of impending doom? Apparently so, if the entirely uninspiring outcome of the recent Doha conference on climate change represents our best efforts. This should be a source of concern and fear for everyone on this earth (although those of us who have citizenship of the type of low-lying country which, according to most predictions, may well be underwater by the end of this century unless absolutely drastic action is taken perhaps have reason for even greater concern than the rest…).
It is not as if we don’t have the means to adapt. It’s what we’ve been doing throughout history. If we can take pictures from Mars, we can find ways to live more sustainably, and to generate our energy on a large scale from the amazing renewable technologies that have already proven their viability on a scale that we would have previously thought unimaginable. It’s all about the will, and overcoming vested-interests and the world’s greatest collective action problem.
I liked this TED presentation given by David Roberts about the issue, recorded earlier this year. Watch it if you would like a 15 minute call to action for why we need to act now.
As Roberts states, summarising scientific consensus to date, “There’s plenty of complexity for those of you who like complexity. But we now know, with a fair degree of certainty, that if we keep doing what we’re now doing we’ll face unthinkable catastrophe. That’s the take home message. Saying ‘I don’t want to talk about that because I don’t know the ins and outs’ is like saying ‘I don’t want to raise alarm about Hitler’s army being 100 miles out because I don’t know the thread count of their uniforms or the average calorie intake of a German soldier’. You don’t need to know those things to raise the alarm and to be scared about it. Similarly, if we keep doing what we are now doing, we are screwed. This is what we know now.”
To stabilise temperatures (or in David Robert’s words, “to ever have a hope of ever having a stable temperature”), global climate emissions need to peak – stop growing and start falling, rapidly – in the next 5 to 10 years. According to the International Energy Agency, every year we delay acting we add an additional $500bn to the investment that will be required to tackle climate change.
So there’s our not-so-Mayan apocalypse, one which, unlike the Mayan version, has been backed up by mountains of scientific evidence but has still failed to get the same kind of media attention of late. Each one of us can make a difference by looking at how we impact the environment through our consumption (I certainly could be doing much better, it must be said) and we can use every opportunity we get to try to steer political discussions towards this issue.
I myself plan to pen an article soon calling for The Bahamas government, as the government of one of the world’s most threatened states, to do more to raise awareness about the necessity of action on climate change by ourselves and on the part of the international community if we are to avoid destruction in a relatively short period of time. So far, our new government has not uttered the words “climate change” as far as I can tell. Global economic crisis or not, this cannot be sidelined.
(As a final point, I personally believe that a huge part of tackling climate change comes down to individual state’s decisions to provide the type of enabling legal/regulatory/investment environment that incentivises investment in renewable energy. This is far easier to achieve than action on a global scale, although this is also necessary. On this front, there are few excuses but political ones in many cases…especially that of The Bahamas where, in a land of abundant and potentially energy-producing sun and sea, electricity costs are as much as 383% higher than that of Florida, leaving the cost of renewable energy as a total red herring in the discussion over its viability in that environment. Check out this ranking by Castalia consulting and the Caribbean Renewable Energy Forum if you want to get a truly startling picture of how different Caribbean countries now rank on their efforts to encourage renewable energy).