Despite Trump's blusterby Bryony Worthington / April 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Nasa recently announced the discovery of a solar system with seven earth-sized rocky planets, three of which could potentially sustain life. Interesting news, but at 235 trillion miles away, no one is going there soon. In the meantime, we need to look after our only home. We must protect ourselves from climate change. Our fate turns on a race between physics and politics.
The physics of climate change is off and running—we’re not sure how fast, and we don’t truly know the end point. But we do know that in the last century, dramatic increases in fossil fuel burning and changing land use began fundamentally changing the composition of the atmosphere. Warming has already raised sea levels, caused ocean acidification and coral reef bleaching. It contributes to depleted biodiversity, droughts, mass migration and extreme weather events including recently extreme high temperatures in the Arctic, heatwaves in Australia, drought in Bolivia, famine in north east Africa, flooding in the United States.
As for the politics, even before Donald Trump, our response had been too slow. The most instructive single metric is the parts per million (ppm) of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which not merely continues to increase, but to accelerate. Over the last 50 years the average increase was 1.7 ppm; in the last five 2.5 ppm. We need to up our game.
In 2015, it seemed possible to hope after the world came together to tackle climate change in Paris, helped by a newly positive US approach. Then last year, the prospect of a Trump presidency galvanised countries to ratify in record time. The Paris Agreement included a clear statement: in the second half of this century, all man-made emissions of greenhouse gases must be reduced to zero or be captured and stored.