“CODE RED” WARNING TO HUMANITY OVER CLIMATE CHANGE

I remember that in 1986, I was able to use a calculator that was powered by solar energy. My expectation, then, was that in a few years time, all hand-held appliances, and many that were stationary, would be equally solar-powered. But in 2021, I have to plug my telephone into the mains [electricity supply] to charge it. 

The funny thing is that in 1986, I was living in England – by no means a country which had a super-abundant supply of sunshine! In my naivety, I thought that countries like Ghana would soon declare installations like the Akosombo Dam obsolete. Because sunshine was, for them, almost omnipresent, direct and relatively easy to tap.

Little did I know that precisely because the use of solar energy would give relatively better economic advantages to “poor” countries like Ghana, its advance would be slowed down by the very countries whose technological know-how had brought solar power into existence in the first place.

The reason why solar has not taken over the power supply of Planet Earth is that the world economy does not operate to satisfy the laws of logic! On the contrary, its strongest operators seek to maintain the “narrow” advantages that have accrued to them through the sometimes piratical activities they have engaged in, during past years.

For instance: in the 1950s, an alliance of seven multinational oil companies – Exxon, Mobil, Socal, Royal Dutch-Shell, BP, Texaco and Gulf – held dominance over 85% of the petroleum reserves of the world. Their dominance endured until the 1970s. World Governments did their bidding, for they controlled world economies through pricing, which in turn, gave them enormous power over the world’s most important stock exchanges. 

When solar energy and other renewable energy sources began to threaten the dominant economic position of these companies and the governments over which they exercised influence, they used their clout to slow down solar’s progress. 

“….Because the renewable energy transition is fundamentally a political struggle, efforts to shift from fossil fuels and decarbonize societies will not prove effective without confronting and destabilizing dominant systems of energy power,” says one study of the oil industry.

The study acknowledges that “Our present era of fossil-fuelled economies, societies and civilizations has given rise to an anomalous anddangerous moment for contemporary humanity and our shared biosphere… The accelerating trends of planetary warming, evidenced through storms and ice melts, droughts and hunger, unrest and migration, increasingly compel a heightened sense of urgency regarding the need to rapidly end the age of fossil fuels,” the study adds. 

A growing consensus now views the transition to renewable energy systems, frequently understood as a process of fuel substitution, as a key strategy to address the climate crisis. But “despite a growing sense of urgency, the deployment of renewable energy technologies has been frustrated…. In many cases, local conflicts around renewables energy installations, especially wind power but also solar facilities, have delayed or even halted the uptake of renewables”.

The result of this delaying, or halting, of the uptake of renewables, has been a threat to the continued existence of life on Planet earth. As humanity watches helplessly as – with increasing frequency – fierce fires kill people and destroy homes in California, Turkey, Greece, Siberia and other countries, it has become evident that the 

days of the fossil oil lobby are numbered. But it won’t give up without a struggle. 

Now, the United Nations Organisation is not always to be trusted to take action to save humankind from self-destruction, despite the “good intentions” that underlay its formation after the Second World War. But the organisation has now published a Report, produced by its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that depicts, in stark terms, the choice between urgently acting to save Planet Earth or killing it off with all its inhabitants. Unlike previous reports, there are no reservations in this one. 

The Report, described by the UN Secretary-General ,Mr António Guterres, as a “Code Red for humanity”, states that human activity is changing the world’s climate in unprecedented and irreversible ways.

Increasingly, it notes, extreme heat-waves, droughts and flooding, are being experienced, as a key temperature limit is in danger of being broken “in just over a decade.”

Scientists drawn from all over the world, took part in producing the Report. It is to be presented to a UN Conference on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021. The only comfort it offers is an acknowledgement that a catastrophe can be avoided“if the world acts fast.”

It advocates “deep cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases” which, it says, could “stabilise” rising temperatures. This assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is contained in a 42-page document known as “The Summary for Policymakers”. It will be followed by a series of reports, to be published before the key climate summit in Glasgow (known as COP26.)

The IPCC was set up in 1988 to assess the science around climate change, and provide governments with scientific information. Its new document declares that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land”. One of the authors, Mr Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, used “sports terms” to depict the dire situation facing the world: “one could say” (he noted) that the [earth’s] “atmosphere has been exposed to doping, which means we have begun observing extremes more often than before.”

The Report’s authors conclude that since 1970, global surface temperatures “have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years.” The warming is “already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe”

Whether it’s heat-waves like the ones recently experienced in Greece and western North America, or floods like those in Germany and China, “their attribution to human influence has strengthened” over the past decade.  Global surface temperature was 1.09C higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900. And the past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850.

Additionally, the recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared with 1901-1971.  Human influence is the main driver ( to an extent of 90 percent!) of the global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s and the decrease in Arctic sea-ice. It is also “virtually certain” that hot extremes including heat-waves have become more frequent and more intense since the 1950s, while cold events have become less frequent and less severe.

The makes clear that the warming the world has experienced to date has made changes to many of our planetary support systems that “are irreversible, on timescales of centuries to millennia.” The oceans will continue to warm and become more acidic. Mountain and polar glaciers will continue melting for decades or centuries“AND FOR MANY OF THESE CONSEQUENCES, THERE’S NO GOING BACK,”the Report concludes. 

These things are happening in spite of the fact that almost every nation on Earth signed up to the goals of a Climate Agreement reached in 2015. That pact’s aim was to keep the rise in global temperatures well below 2C this century and to pursue efforts to keep it under 1.5C.

The question is: if Paris (2015) has failed to achieve its goals, what hope is there that Glasgow [2021] will fare any better?

We can only hope that the leaders of the world have learned their lesson —  the lessons painfully taught by  the climatic catastrophes of the past six years. And counting.

By CAMERON DUODU

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