In medieval times when the crossbow became popular in Europe it was feared that it could bring about the end of humanity. Between the ever popular longbow, and the crossbow, it led to the production of enough arrows, and arrow-bolts, to potentially kill every human on the planet. As it turned out, both were superseded by much more lethal weapons, yet we are all still here.
In 1972, Dr Jordan B. Peterson, of Brown University’s Geological Department, wrote to President Nixon on the results of a seminar on climate change, involving forty-two eminent US and European scientists. The seminar concluded that the Earth was facing another ice age and that it was coming soon. Had the World overreacted then, we might now be increasing our consumption of fossil fuels in a desperate attempt to keep the planet warm.
The point is that every generation has its doomsday followers, its ‘the End is Nigh’ fanatics and the street corner preachers calling on all to repent before it is too late. However, with climate change the challenge to our belief system is like no other. The current scientific consensus is that, if the planet heats beyond ‘x’C ,within ‘y’ years, it will become uninhabitable within ‘z’ years, and that man’s activities are mainly responsible.
Of course, we tend to believe what we want to believe, and the people who disagree with us, are, we assume, either Fr Dougal mad or misinformed. Moreover, we have long ago stopped paying attention to the boy who called ‘wolf’ too often. Factor in climate nationalism where nations may well follow their national interests to the detriment of humanity’s survival.
Taken together, the indications are that mankind is not yet on track to stop climate change before it meets the tipping point. The tipping point is the point where climate change is irreversible, where the planet continues to heat up, ultimately losing its oceans and its atmosphere.
From the recent COP26 event in Glasgow, we now know that the present agreed targets to reduce the effects of climate change may not be met within the time-frame laid down by the scientific community. There are substantial gaps in the promises made and the required actions. Moreover, there is insufficient confidence that all nations will keep their promises.
There are broadly two choices left, if the human race is to survive. The first is continuing to try to slow down, stop, and hopefully reverse, the effects of climate change. The second is to prepare mankind to adapt to the future changed environment, like Kevin Costner in the 1995 film “Waterworld”.
We may not agree among ourselves sufficiently to stop climate change, but we should concentrate our efforts in delaying climate change as long as possible. The time gained, whether decades or centuries, should be used to prepare humanity to live in the new post climate change world. The big question is how much time have we left.
A recent update on the 2015 Paris Accord noted that climate change was happening much faster than predicted, with the tipping point of irreversible change having already advanced, by possibly 15/20 years. Perhaps, more than anything else, this single factor motivated the participants at COP26.
Still, we need to lighten up and remain positive for the future. The carnival atmosphere in Glasgow was provided by eclectic groups of determined but mostly good humoured protesters. Gallows humour prevailed. As expected, by lunchtime on the first day, there were the usual reported sightings of Elvis, while in a pub off George Street a heavily bearded Nostradamus waited in vain to be interviewed by reporters. The media were elsewhere, following Greta and Sir David Attenborough; the latter day prophets of doom.
Given the complicated structure of the Paris accord it was perhaps inevitable that expectations for COP26 would have been too high. There is still time in the coming years to close the gaps, even though the ability of some nations to make the necessary changes will become increasingly more difficult.
Nevertheless, where there is life, there is always hope.