To understand the scale of the climate emergency, watch hurricanes | Pierre Kalmus
I became a climate activist 16 years ago. Back then, few people cared about climate change. Eye rolls were audible. Media coverage was sparse, and what little there was casually included “both sides”. It was frustrating and tragic to see such a clear and present danger and to know that it was still largely preventable, but ignored by society.
I assumed that escalating direct climate disasters would serve as a sort of safety net to finally force action. I even hoped that humanity would listen to the scientists and start taking action before things got so bad. I didn’t think it was too much to expect; after all, the scientific basis is quite easy to grasp.
But things turned out worse than I expected. I underestimated the depth and intransigence of society’s collective climate denial. Although climate breakdown will be much more intense by 2022 than I thought – it all looks like a decade or two ahead, one way or another – the world is still not dealing with global warming. climate as an emergency.
To understand the emergency situation we currently find ourselves in, the scale and variety of climate damage we have already suffered, all you need to do is look at some of the most recent disasters. Hurricane Ian has just hit Cuba and Florida. The scale of the disaster will only be revealed in the days and weeks to come, although the first glances are shocking. But we know for certain that Ian was supercharged by global warming through several well-understood fundamental physics pathways.
First, hurricanes are heat engines, powered by large expanses of warm ocean. The ocean absorbs more than 90% of excess energy trapped in the Earth system by human accumulation of greenhouse gases, which means more energy available for more intense storms. Second, a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, which (along with warmer ocean water and stronger winds) results in more rain. Third, rising sea levels due to accelerating melting of land ice and thermal expansion of the oceans mean that storm surges will be further supercharged relative to established coasts and low lands. All of these overcharging mechanisms will continue to worsen as global warming itself worsens.
Or consider the record extreme heat, fires and drought that hit arid subtropical regions such as California, Spain, China and elsewhere this summer. The planet has warmed up about 1.3C on average since fossil fuel burning began 150 years ago, and is now increasing by 0.1°C every five years. These average values roughly double over the land surfaces of the planet. This extra heat also supercharges heat waves. Additionally, global heat expands the Hadley cell circulation and shifts subtropical storms poleward, causing a permanent increase in subtropical aridification. All of this tends to dry out soils, kill trees and make forest fires worse.
Or consider the biblical floods in Pakistan a few weeks ago. Or the “apocalyptic glacier” in Antarctica that promises “big changes on small time scales”. Or record the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Or the mad and murderous disintegration of glaciers in Europe.
In short, it was a summer of climatic madness. But even so, it will be, on average, the coolest summer with the least weather chaos. for the rest of your life. It’s just the nature of trends. It should be terrifying.
Rising global heat is causing all the chaos. About 80% and 15% of global heating is due to the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries respectively. As long as these global industries exist, the planet will continue to warm and climate chaos will continue to worsen. It’s that simple and that inexorable.
And climate impacts are essentially irreversible due to the long residence times of greenhouse gas molecules in the atmosphere. Once these molecules leave our cars, planes, and power plants, they aren’t coming back anytime soon. Think of fossil fuels as a sort of thermal ratchet, throwing our climate into permanent chaos.
Since the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries are constantly degrading the Earth’s habitability, and every aspect of human life and civilization obviously depends on this habitability, any elementary school student could tell you that we must end these industries quickly. And even, we don’t do that. Instead, world leaders have done all they can to develop fossil fuels. Moreover, there is no discussion to speak of the end of animal agriculture. Even the new climate bill contains massive provisions designed to develop the fossil fuel industry.
The desperation I feel at this manifest failure of world leaders to take the obvious and necessary steps to stop the Earth’s collapse and potentially save billions of lives led me to engage in civil disobedience earlier this year, an action that resulted in my arrest.
Where should we go from here, and what can you do? These two questions are linked. Our leaders’ loyalty to the wealthy fossil fuel executives, who pay them, is even stronger than their fear of the climate-conscious electorate. Once the grassroots climate movement becomes stronger than the fossil fuel industry, real climate action suddenly becomes possible.
Halting climate breakdown will require broad and deep global buy-in, built through climate reparations and economic protections for the working class as the transition unfolds. This will require the nationalization of utilities and the energy industry, as well as an overall reduction in energy consumption, in addition to the development of renewable energy.
In other words, society must go into climate emergency mode. And the key to making that happen is that you demand it loud and clear, like your life depends on it.