Sunday, 31 January 2010

Our planet, our future

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It is difficult to appreciate and understand the scale of the warnings given by what seems like a majority of eminent and senseable scientists (and some politicians and business people). 
Hilary Benn, MP and Environment Secretary warned recently that we are reaching the point of no return for biodiversity. He stated that, "So the action we take in the next couple of decades will determine whether the stable environment on which human civilisation has depended since the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago will continue." He went on to give examples of what is going wrong:-


  • More than seven million hectares are lost worldwide to deforestation every single year.
  • The burning of Indonesia's peat lands and forests for palm oil plantations generates 1.8bn tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, and demand is predicted to double by 2020 compared to 2000.
  • Overfishing has reduced blue fin tuna numbers to 18% of what they were in the mid-1970s.
Hilary states he is 'optimistic' about the future but the figures seem dramatic and there is a sense that no one really knows the longer term effects of how humans are using and abusing the planet.
The pendulum seems to be swinging against the scientists who have set out the case for climate change and the dire effects of human's insatiable greed for consumption. A Nature report this week tempers some the worst predictions but confirms (again) the ongoing increases in average temperatures. Does that mean that the film The Day after Tomorrow was Hollywood scripting based on an environmental theory fast forwarded and compressed into pure hogwash? Maybe. The BBC's summary of the Nature report goes on to say that "The report's lead author, David Frank from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, told BBC News that many of the calculations for the IPCC assessment report did not include an integrated carbon cycle. He said that if the results his paper were widely accepted, the overall effect on climate projections would be neutral."
The question is that whilst the Nature report seems to conclude that the past variations in CO2 and temperature are small, when temperatures start to increase will their model continue to hold true? In other words finding that the increase in CO2 due to human activity may not have quite so bad effect on the natural carbon cycle of the plant.  Great, except if as the report acknowledges temperatures are still going to rise significantly, we still need important and dramatic changes to minimise the effects of the rising temperatures. 
It doesn't help that there have been strong criticisms about one page of a 2007 report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report made claims on the Himalayan's glaciers disappearing by 2035, which was based on poor science. The reaction from the critics of the mainstream theories on climate change and some elements of the media seemed to be joy that mistakes had been found in the 935 page report. They could not challenge the overall findings or the confirmation of continued warnings about human effects on the climate.
Since, there is little prospect after the Copenhagen Accord, that the world's nations are prepared to take aggressive actions against the rising temperatures, my children and grandchildren face a daunting world of erratic and increased flooding, drought and devastation. 
The Lancet with University College London Institute for Global Health Commission have produced a expert paper on the health effects from climate change. It noted that "Climate change will have its greatest effect on those who have the least access to the world’s resources and who have contributed least to its cause." With 10 million children dying every year now from dirty water, lack of food and medicines the effects of climate change will result in more hunger and more deaths. 
Given President Obama's domestic difficulties will probably result in him having to concentrate on reform of the banks, job creation and the healthcare system. Without strong determined leadership by the world's superpower it is unlikely that other nations will collectively change their behaviour. 
Climate change is real and the effects are being felt now. Yet is the sun setting on the time we have to make real changes to mitigate the worst effects on our environment?



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