UN climate change report: a global warning

Lily Holbrook dissects the recent climate change report released by the UN.

Lily Holbrook
11th October 2019
Image: Flickr - NPS Climate Change Response
‘It’s worse, much worse than you think.’
It’s no secret that climate change is probably the greatest problem we as a human population will ever have to face. With the increasingly real prospect of our own climate induced self-destruction, the words of David Wallace Wells may perfectly foreshadow the future we are heading towards within just a handful of generations.

Article after article, news story after news story, climate change never goes away. Yet we still refuse to listen. Over many years, our continued ignorance has led to a reality where a 2 degree temperature rise may now be inevitable. Even if the UK cut 100% of its carbon emissions tomorrow, our ability to stop irreversible climate change is far from certain.

But what does this mean? The latest UN climate report issued by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) predicts that at 1.5 degrees of warming, sea levels can be expected to rise 10 to 30 inches by 2100. If emissions are not cut, this figure could be as much as 43 inches. Looking optimistically, this would mean millions of people having to migrate away from flooded homes. But with enough warming, the entirety of our polar ice caps will, albeit over centuries, melt completely. In time, this could lead to sea level rise by as much as 80 metres. And that phenomenon will drown out the map of the world as we know it. You hear people talk about losing the Maldives. That is only the beginning of the story.

Extreme flooding, extreme weather events, habitat loss. A positive feedback loop where less reflective ice means more heat absorption, more melting, more sea level rise. It might be hard to imagine how just 2 degrees of warming can have a devastating impact such as this. But summed up simply by 11-year old Dutch climate activist Lilly Platt, ‘If you are 2 degrees above normal, you feel very ill. So imagine how the planet will feel.’

Nothing else matters if we don’t have a planet we can inhabit.

The natural world and the human world are so deeply intertwined that we can no longer neglect one at the expense of the other. Economy, politics and industry have long held the priority but the human world and everything it contains cannot go on if the natural world does not exist. Nothing else matters if we don’t have a planet we can inhabit. Up until now, we have thrived in this world, drilling its resources and pushing it to the brink of its ability to sustain. Soon, as the global population continues to rise, we will no longer be thriving, but fighting for survival. And only then, when there is simply nowhere else we can turn a blind eye, will we be truly sorry.

When we reach that day, we will wish we did something now. And we still can.

Evidence of this is proved by the power of individual people to make a difference.

It’s hard to believe that a year ago the world had not yet heard of Greta Thunberg. The 16 year old earth advocate and climate activist first came to the media’s attention when she began her Friday school climate strikes. Since then her popularity has exploded, with her recent speech at the UN Climate Summit sparking praise for inspiring a new generation of climate activists. However, not all comments have been so positive. People have been criticising her for being all talk and no solutions, for pointing blame and fear mongering rather than actually giving us workable solutions. Critics resent her age and gender; some people have even accused left wing political groups of using her as a propaganda tool for political gain.

Image- Wikipedia

But we must remember that she is one individual. One individual who is doing so much more than most of us to speak out about climate change. In my view, she is a girl who knows firmly what she believes in and she isn’t afraid to stand up for it. It is without doubt that she inspires us to talk about climate change and that is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.

So what can be done to slow the effects of the very demons that threaten to take away our future? The first step is to realise that we are the demons. We need to change the whole way society works. Relying on future technologies as we continue business as usual isn’t enough anymore. We have to start now.

A small group of people is the only way change can ever start. And in the words of Greta, change is coming, whether you like it or not.

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AUTHOR: Lily Holbrook
MA Media & Journalism student and science sub-editor for the 20/21 academic year.

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