Heading for Extinction, Part I
As a group, The Panoply have been working to understand our impact on the climate and find ways in which we can be part of the solution to the climate emergency. Understanding the scale of the problem is vital, so I invited Extinction Rebellion to further educate us here at Manifesto. These are the key takeaways that we’d like to share (and thank you to Extinction Rebellion for sharing this content with us!).
TL;DR: We’re in the process of destroying our earth, but there is “No planet B”.
The earth is our only life support system, and we’re destroying it
We’re destroying the earth in several different ways; its climate, its ecology, and ultimately, the future of human beings and every other living thing.
The climate that we have enjoyed for several thousands of years is changing as we heat up the earth with greenhouse gasses. This is old news… but news that has not been acted on.
Carbon Dioxide levels have been regulated by the activities of living things which pump carbon dioxide into the air, and other living things – plants – which pull it out of the air. Since the industrial age began, levels of CO2 in the air started to increase and in the last few years, levels have skyrocketed.
Add a bit of simple physics and it’s not surprising that the rise in levels of greenhouse gasses has had an escalating effect on the earth’s temperature. We’ve effectively wrapped the earth in a duvet – no wonder it’s getting warmer.
This colour-coded map in Robinson projection displays a progression of global surface temperature (in degrees Celsius) anomalies from 1880 through to 2015 (it gets worse – you can find a map showing up to 2018 here). Higher than normal temperatures are shown in red and lower than normal temperatures are shown in blue. The final frame represents global temperatures (averaged over 5 years) from 2014 through 2015.
Small temperature rise = big impact
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will require drastic action. But why are they worried about such a small increase? Because even a small change in average temperature can produce a large change in extreme weather events and climates.
The earth may have had more extreme warm periods in the past, but that was way before our time! We’re heading towards temperatures that we just don’t know if we can exist in. The UK is already feeling the impacts: 2018 saw the hottest summer on record, 2014 the worst rainfall in 248 years, and a Welsh village has even been decommissioned due to sea level rise.
“Business as usual”
The trajectory we’ll follow by carrying on as we are is fairly easy to predict. Looking at what has happened in the past, and what is happening to places closer to the equator, we’re going to see consequences:
- Accelerating sea level rise due to melting ice and thermal expansion; coastal flooding and storm surges;
- Stronger atmospheric weather systems with strong storms, droughts, wildfires, desertification and crop failure;
- Deaths due to heat stress;
- Famine, water shortages, displacement of people from their homes;
And there are amplifiers that could trigger further heating. As reflective white ice melts, it gives way to dark ocean, which absorbs heat instead. The more the ice melts, the less heat is reflected, and the more heat is absorbed. We enter a vicious circle of feedback loops. Similarly, methane (which traps up to 100 times more heat in the atmosphere over a five year period than carbon dioxide) that has been trapped in the permafrost is gradually being released as the warming climate thaws the frozen ground, making staying within a habitable temperature range even more challenging.
Welcome to the Earth’s 6th mass extinction
We have begun the sixth mass extinction of life on earth.
Today, only 4% of our mammals are wild (compared to 99% 10,000 years ago). High-intensity agriculture has replaced our wilderness, deforestation is reducing carbon drawdown, biodiversity and moisture retention, and the oceans ecosystems are dying as the water temperature rises.
Many adults today were born into a world still rich in biodiversity. The collapse of these ecosystems we are currently seeing has taken place in the last 50 years. Our grandchildren (some are saying if we have grandchildren) may never know lions, tigers, giraffes… or more worryingly still, bees or butterflies.
By destroying the networks of relationships between organisms that produce the food we eat, we are sawing off the branch we are standing on.
Can we stop our own extinction?
The question is no longer “Why should we fix this?” it’s “How can we not?” – Extinction Rebellion
We in the developed countries are largely driving climate change through our industrialisation. Sadly, those experiencing the worst effects are those in the developing global south. The wealthy are impacting the poor, and the presently-living are impacting the yet-to-be-born.
We have moral obligations:
- To other living humans (ecological justice);
- To future humans (intergenerational fairness);
- To ourselves (right to rebel in self-protection);
- To the other living things that share this planet.
We have the ability to think about what we do and decide whether it is right or wrong. And we have the power to change what we do, both individually, and at a collective level.