From top: Schoolchildren strike for climate action in Dublin city centre last week: Bryan Wall
The students striking for action on climate change represent probably our last and best hope for any meaningful change. In Dublin over 11,000 students took part in the protest while in Cork around 5,000 took to the streets.
Worldwide, over 1 million students went on strike in over 100 countries. Nonetheless, the question remains, is it too late to do anything? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be yes. The best we can hope for now, barring some kind of technological miracle, is mitigation.
Nothing has been done decades to create more sustainable societies and industries. Instead, businesses and their friends in government continued to extract and pollute as much as they wanted. The science has been known for more than a generation.
As far back as 1968 there were warnings about the damage CO2 could do to the environment. The American Petroleum Institute at the time had received a report which clearly stated that CO2 “may be the cause of serious world-wide environmental change”.
What’s more, the report detailed that “man is now engaged in a vast geophysical experiment with his environment”. Even in 1968 the authors could write that “There seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe”.
Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, and warming oceans were some of the consequences they predicted. And here we are, 51 years later and we are still not adequately prepared for the damage that has already been done, let alone the damage that awaits us in the coming years.
Nick Cowern, an emeritus professor of atmospheric science, energy, and climate change has some stark truths for us. He pointed out that if all of our emissions stopped now, it would still take hundreds of years for the biosphere to absorb all of the CO2 that has already been emitted.
And even then, the global temperature would still go above 3 degrees of warming. So we on our well on our way to hurtling past 3 degrees of warming given that emissions are not going to simply stop overnight and all at once. What will that mean for us?
David Wallace-Wells describes this scenario in his new book, The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future. He writes:
“Warming of 3 or 3.5 degrees would unleash suffering beyond anything that humans have ever experienced.”
On our way to that level of warming we will have made survival for millions, if not billions, of people uncertain.
“it’s possible as soon as 2050, when we will be at about 2°C of warming or a little bit warmer than that, that many of the major cities in India and the Middle East will be lethally hot in summer.”
This means people “won’t be able to reliably go outside, work outside during the summer months without incurring some lethal risk”.
Then there are other side-effects. In a paper prepared for the UN Global Sustainable Development Report, the authors pointed out that “Meeting current or growing levels of energy need in the next few decades with low-carbon solutions will be extremely difficult, if not impossible”.
What’s more, “economies have used up the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle the waste generated by energy and material use”.
Essentially, then, we’re caught in a vicious cycle. Renewable energy isn’t reliable or common enough — at least that’s the argument — to provide for growing levels of energy use right now. We’ll have to rely on fossil fuels for the next few decades instead.
But at the same time we’ve already burdened the planet with so much waste that even the permafrost in the Artic and Siberia is starting to melt.
And given that “1.8 trillion tons of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere” is contained in that permafrost, the future looks even more apocalyptic. So, we must turn to renewables. But we can’t. Instead we rely on fossils fuels, and on and on. Ireland, as you’d expect, is not immune from any of this.
A new report issued by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) found that Ireland is doing miserably compared to its neighbours in doing something about climate change. Ireland has a binding agreement with the EU to have 16% of its energy provided by renewable sources by 2020.
Instead only 10.6% comes from renewables. Ireland is not going to meet these or other 2020 targets according to the SEAI. In fact, at the moment Ireland is 26th out of 28 countries in terms of its progress towards meeting its targets.
Ireland is not the only one that is failing. Every country and corporation is. It’s just that some are failing more than others. Some don’t even care if they fail. According to the Guardian, a study found that 100 companies were responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Such an abhorrent figure should have people calling for revolution, be it green or otherwise. This, as Greta Thunberg pointed out, has been left to the younger generations; to the children of those doing most of the polluting.
She also rightly said that “change is coming, whether you like it or not”. The idea that people will continue to wait for their governments to do something while they are starting to die from the effects of climate change is laughable. People have their limits. We are quickly approaching them.
And we have already seen that climate change can have a role in provoking long and deadly wars. The Syrian civil war, for example, has been partly blamed on the effects of an unusual drought which struck the country in 2006.
Farmers were forced to migrate to the cities in order to survive, where their unhappiness with the government response turned into rage. Of course, there were other internal and external reasons for the civil war but climate change was one of them.
Syria could be a portent of what we can look forward to around the world over the next few decades. An economic and social revolution is needed. There have been calls to mobilise on the level of World War II in order to, at the very least, mitigate the damage that has already been done.
This is a laudable tactic but it is one doomed to failure unless we topple the corporations doing most of the damage. If we want a viable planet and ecosphere for ourselves and our children, revolutionary action of this kind is the only way forward.