In 2067, when my son is my age, will he look back at this month as the start of serious action to tackle global heating—or as just another signpost on the road to hothouse hell?by Bill McGuire / August 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
Flip-flopping between blistering heat-waves and biblical downpours, July 2019 was a month to forget for many. But it will be one that climate scientists will long remember as marking an especially ominous hike in climate breakdown caused by global heating.
The tally of extreme weather events for the month just goes on and on: high temperature records smashed across the UK and western Europe; unprecedented summer frosts in Germany; Siberia on fire; 90°F temperatures in Alaska; 650 lives lost to monsoon rains in South and South East Asia; 20 million people flooded out in China; the Greenland Ice Sheet losing as much ice during the month as in any normal year. And I could go on.
It is hardly a surprise, and the numbers are still being crunched, but it looks almost certain that July 2019 will prove to be the hottest month ever recorded. Most disturbing of all, the average global temperature for July was 1.2°C above pre-industrial times, meaning that the 1.5°C guardrail—marking the transition from relatively stable climate to catastrophic, all-pervasive climate chaos—is now clearly within sight.
It was also the month when global heating and the climate breakdown it is spawning sidled up close and personal. Just a week after UK temperatures peaked at an all-time high of 38.7°C, torrential rains brought a dam to the brink of collapse in Whaley Bridge, just 25 miles up the road.
The same deluge led to my teenage son’s international scout camp being abandoned and its five thousand attendees being sent on their way. Mud-spattered and exhausted on his return home, Fraser told me the activities on day one were fun, but the rest of the time he had spent digging trenches to keep the water at bay—unsuccessfully. I felt like saying it would be good practice for the climate-broken world he would likely endure in later life, but decided it wasn’t the best time.
Nonetheless, this is the crux of the matter. Will today’s teenagers, in middle age and beyond, be digging trenches to hold back the sea and bursting rivers—or will July 2019 prove to be a game changer, at last forcing the world’s governments to see global heating for what it is—a cataclysmic threat to our lives and livelihoods; arguably to our whole civilisation—and take the action that the science demands?
In 2067, when Fraser is my age, will he look back at this year, this month, as the start of serious action to tackle global heating—or as just another signpost on the road to hothouse hell? Will he consider the past, contentedly, from a world transformed by a green new deal, or with anger and sadness from a wrecked planet over which the light of civilisation is rapidly fading?
I have to say it is difficult to be optimistic, at least as long as sweltering weather is still being celebrated rather than held up as a dire warning of things to come. Even the UK Met Office doesn’t seem to quite get it. In an extraordinary message issued on the morning of what proved to be the nation’s hottest ever day, it tweeted “If we’re going to do it—today’s the day!”
As if we were competing for an Olympic medal rather than facing 24 hours of blistering skin, transport chaos and sweaty sleeplessness. Still, at least no-one mentioned freak weather, which I think is actually a big deal. When freak weather becomes simply weather, you just know that climate breakdown is here—and here to stay.
But recognising climate breakdown is just the beginning. What are we going to do about it? Nothing, so far, including the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, has proved able to halt—or even slow—the carbon emissions steamroller. 2018 saw a record 37.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere and there is no reason to think this year’s total will be any less.
It’s not as if we don’t know what should be done. We know alright, we just refuse to take the action that the science says is needed. And this it at all levels, from the international community and national governments, through corporations and small businesses, right down to us as individuals.
We have to begin to understand that on a planet whose climate is going to hell in a hand cart, everything we do, every choice we make—big or small—will impact upon the lives of future generations.
It would surely help if we consider, before flying off on yet another short break or replacing one gas-guzzler with another, whether our choices would be good or bad for the climate. What we should really be asking ourselves, about each and every decision we take, is: will it make our kids’ future world a better place, or one that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies?
It’s clear that as individuals there is only so much we can do, so that the most critical choice we can make is in the polling booth. Banging on about the goal of a net zero carbon UK in 2050 while planning for a third Heathrow runway, promoting fracking and allowing a new coal mine in the north-east is clearly bonkers. A government that pushes such policies after Parliament has declared a climate emergency has to be in the grip of collective insanity.
What we need now, isn’t more lunacy in the form of a no-deal Brexit that will inevitably plunge carbon reduction plans into disarray, but a government that walks the walk on global heating, not just talks the talk. I urge you, when the time comes to make a choice—and it will likely be soon—please make the right one.