Tag Archives: Global warming

Forest Dump.

For many years I travelled to interesting places to film wildlife, and would usually pointed my camera in the direction that would achieve the most agreeable results, because if I turned in the opposite direction it was often impossible to hide the impact of human activity: sometimes there would be plastic flapping in the wind on a barbed-wire fence; or a forest with its under-storey eaten bare by livestock, perhaps even a forest being felled. My job it seemed was to give a positive spin to the way the natural world looked, even when things weren’t quite right.

Turn the other way and things don’t always look so good. This is rainforest clearance on Island Malaysia for a palm oil plantation back in 1984. And how are things today?… They’re very much worse. Palm oil has accounted for 39% of forest loss since 2000 and the trees are still rapidly disappearing. Recent figures estimate forest loss for palm oil at 65%, which makes it impossible to continue looking the other way, because soon palm oil might well be stretching away in every direction.

As time passes, getting agreeable results when filming wildlife has become increasingly difficult with many natural environments now so degraded they can no longer support complex ecosystems. This unfortunate situation suggests that it’s time to tell things the way they are, even when the audience doesn’t want to hear bad news. It seems there always has to be a positive spin to keep people watching, but rescuing a handful of orangutans will not make a meaningful difference to their impending extinction. There is no doubt that our minds are like little story boxes that prefer the dishonest comfort of happy endings rather than the truth, even when reality runs against our beliefs.

I live not far from a park which is close to a Canadian city centre, but despite this, it still manages to look fairly natural, although everything that surrounds the park has been developed. I say looks fairly natural, but the truth is, all the old growth forests was logged out by the 1930s; but the environment still appears agreeable when viewed uncritically, because the damp, temperate local conditions encourage the growth of fungi, mosses, lichens and ferns, which make the place look quite photogenic, despite there being no original forest left standing. The parks present appearance fools most people into thinking that it is useful natural environment, when in reality the young secondary forest lacks the diversity of the once expansive virgin forest that covered the region less than 150 years ago. Our preference though is to remain ignorant of information that makes us feel uncomfortable: the logging caused the destruction of a complex habitat over a very short period of time; and for very short term ‘profit’. Most of us accept this as ‘progress’, but there is an environmental cost that many of us fail to recognize.

In the park, the stumps that remain from the original forest can still be seen.

One might expect this small remnant of woodland to be much appreciated, but it is not respected by all who enter. The question is: should we be surprised, with today, so many North Americans losing contact with both the natural world and with reality; although in Canada, people manage to do it very politely.

The increasingly poor state of natural environments is a warning sign: when we fail to respect the natural world it inevitably bites back. Presently, the spread of COVID-19 is the most pressing problem we face, with infection rates once again rising, but a few miles to the south, across the border in the USA, things are very much worse.

In the US the leader of the free world has just been beaten in an election by a Democrat, but he remains holed up in the White House in denial. Two weeks after polling, the President has still been claiming victory, venturing out only to play golf and with nothing much else on the to-do list; this at a time when COVID-19 has totalled a loss of 240,000 lives, and with ever increasing rates of infection, people have been dying in record numbers. It would not be unfair to say that President Trump has not been especially proactive in responding to the epidemic anymore than he has in dealing with environmental issues, and yet he has still managed to achieved almost 74 million votes, that’s close to 7 million more than he achieved when first elected to office in 2016. There is something odd about all of this though, because many of his supporters would traditionally be expected to vote for a Democrat, but many feel let down by recent Liberal priorities, and have gone with what they consider an outsider to politics. Certainly Trump supporters are disappointed that he has lost the election; but it is odd that so many found it necessary to stand outside of polling stations in militaristic dress, carrying automatic weapons as if they were living in a banana republic, rather than what they consider to be the greatest country in the world.

Four years on from Donald Trump’s election to the Presidency the tables have turned, and now Democrats are thinking it is their turn to drain the swamp; the problem is the electorate is polarised with both sides believing the opposition to be dangerously unreliable and many draw their conclusions without reference to the facts.

The Democratic candidate Joe Biden is President Elect having achieved close to 80 million votes in the recent 2020 election — more than any other president in US history, but he is having trouble gaining co-operation from the present incumbent. Historically after most elections the change of power has progressed through a transition period in a smooth and civilised manner, but not this time. There is talk of civil war, but dissent is both fragmented and disorganized and hopefully it won’t come to that.

Despite the enormous political divide, after the election Joe Biden attempted a unifying speech in Delaware and referred to important issues being guided by science, particularly COVID-19 for which he is setting up a task force. However, Biden only managed to speak for around 5 minutes before quoting the Bible, and over the course of a 15 minute speech made more than half a dozen references to the supernatural; including angels, an uplifting hymn and various blessings from God. The American Constitution doesn’t explicitly mention God, and it is therefore surprising that a supernatural being is featured in all the individual state constitutions; and many Americans do not find it incongruous that their politicians frequently refer to science and religion in the same breath, given that one discipline is based on rational thought and the other isn’t; but then I’ve spent most of my formative years in Britain where any mention of God by a politician is usually considered political suicide.

Back in ‘the old country’ (as Brits who no longer live there fondly call it) the figures for COVID-19 are worrying. Taken as a percentage of population they are even higher than in the USA, with the number of deaths recently passing 50,000, the highest figure amongst all the European countries, with a record 33,470 cases in a single day (12/11/20).

Essentially the disease is not being effectively dealt with in a great many countries, and the recent news that three vaccines are to be made available next year (one claimed more than 90% effective, the other two 95%), has offered as a ray of hope to what has become a truly depressing run of the disease. Despite the good news it has been suggested that 25% of people in developed countries may decline the vaccine because they prioritise conspiracy theories over science, despite the latter providing most of the improvements achieved in health and living standards over the last 120 years.

The point is, that if this is the way things are with a global pandemic, what hope is there for species loss and climate change, both of which are presently very much on the back burner. The question is: will we ever overcome our superstious natures and innate tribalism to work together more co-operatively on troubling global issues; or are we destined to stumble along plagued by superstition with so many of us searcing out ‘alternative facts’ of which there of course none. Sadly if the prevailing stupidity continues we might be destined to go the same way as my local forest, which is certainly not as it should be and in consequence may have limited long-term viability.

Sometimes we just can’t see the wood for the trees.

It could be that humans are not programmed for planning ahead on a global scale, with our powers of destruction outstripping our ability to think rationally. So, perhaps it would be better for my state of mind, if I continued to look the other way, just as I once did when filming nature, and ignore the obvious problems around me. The trouble is, as with palm oil plantations, there are increasingly fewer directions to look for a positive view, and so it is necessary to start making excuses not only for all the crap that’s happening in the natural world, but also all the crap that’s going on inside our heads, because very little appears to be changing for the better.

The secret of remaining sane in these troubled times, is to think delusionally… no problem, I can make this change straight away as I assess the trip I recently made with my wife to the local woodland I referred to earlier, where we spent a pleasant afternoon walking around taking pictures of all the things that weren’t quite right.

Into the woods:

The entrance to the forest park was made far more interesting than I could have hoped for, with a set of worn car tyres thoughtfully discarded by a motorist. Presumably the owner had new tyres fitted, and we just got lucky when the decision was made to bring the old ones here rather than leave them with the retailer for recycling. This stroke of good fortune certainly added to the foreground interest of what might otherwise have been a very dull picture.
Snowberries.

Once in the forest, our walk seemed to lack a diversity of colour; we noticed a lot of unnecessary dun browns with altogether too many shades of green, when what was really required was the complimentary colour red (from the opposite side of the colour wheel), to set things off nicely. A painter might easily add a traveller wearing a red jacket to his landscape, but for the photographer in the woods, red is not always forthcoming, unless there are berries… but only if they are red berries.

Then I saw my opportunity.

Before me was, not only a splash of red to invigorate the landscape but also a dash of blue, and in plastic! Nothing is better than the vibrant colours of polyethylene terephthalate to make a picture pop; and when the rains come these wonderfully buoyant containers will no doubt be carried away to the Pacific Ocean where over a number of years they will breakdown into micro-particles that will be eaten by fish — if there are any fish left in the sea by then, because plastic breakdown takes a little time; but in the short-term these wonderfully buoyant objects might just make it as far as ‘The Great Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch’ which in itself is remarkable.
A little dog poo on the path keeps you alert to the wonders of the nature, but how much more colourful it is when somebody takes the trouble to preserve this agreeable organic material by sealing it in plastic.
A splash of blue amongst the leaf litter… Usually these wonders are cast into the trees where they remain hanging for months, tantalisingly just out of reach. How I sympathise with the encumbered dog walker who simply flings his pet poo into the branches for others to enjoy — this is liberating for the dog walker and a visual treat for the rest of us… What a pity there aren’t more dogs out there that need emptying in the woods; and here’s hoping for a greater variety of bag colours?
The stag horn fungus has got it right — doing its best to look like cheap plastic.

Many years ago the British naturalist William Gilpin extolled the wonder of a tree, by pointing out how each is formed by circumstances of environment and weather into a unique individuals — no two are ever the same; but these observations were made long before plastic was invented and had Gilpin the good fortune to be confronted by the many varied forms of the plastic bag.

Liberated into the wild they are carried by wind and water to wherever fortune takes them, travelling in their millions to every part of the globe, raising our spirits as an international symbol of freedom. You can’t help but admire the wild bag o’ the forest — it fits right in.

It was also a delight to discover a discarded umbrella — if it could talk what stories an old umbrella might tell. This one has become so much part of the landscape. it might be considered as nothing short of a work of art.

Who amongst the art community could fail to appreciate this as a sculptural form in the landscape. If it were bigger, connoisseurs would consider it monumental.
Fallen leaves will fade away, but Polypropylene ribbon soldiers on for 20 years or more before falling to bits and contaminating the environment, but perhaps this colourful strip is better off here, because as a material it remains unrecyclable.

We were fortunate enough to also see a woodland bird, a varied thrush, which we don’t see as often as we did when we arrived on the Lower Mainland 10 years ago. This is because during that time, woodland areas have been reduced; but I’m not sure it matters. There’s a good deal more colouful plastic to look at now than there used to be, and the thrush’s plumage can’t compete; if the bird should disappear, there will be no shortage of colourful plastic on the forest floor to replace it.

Colourful plastic, or dull old varied thrush? I know which one I’d choose.

This looks like one of those back packs that can be used as a small child carrier; left on a bridge post it added yet another beautiful blue to the forest landscape. But why would such a thing have been left by a woodland stream — I can only think that by some miracle, a child was carried in and then suddenly developed the ability to walk and toddled cheerfully out of the forest to the delight of its parents.

A daring splash of blue that must leave even the most casual observer wondering… Why???

Jen stops to take a picture of a group of toadstools growing on a log by the path, and it occurs to me how colourful her jacket of Perfluorocarbons appears in a woodland setting, and I at once make a suggestion.

“Why not leave your jacket by the side of the path” I ask her, “as a visual treat for others? So many visitors are thoughtfully leaving their plastic items to cheer up this dreary woodland”. But she is not that selfless and refuses, complaining of the cold.
What better place to discard your PPE as a mark of respect to local healthcare workers — like a round of applause it will cost you nothing.

Back in the world where we don’t need to put a positive spin on just about everything, it occurs to me that if we aren’t that bothered about the dumping of plastics in the only natural space close to the city, then something as urgent as climate change; the destruction of natural ecosystems, and the threat of COVID-19, might prove us to be really too stupid to save ourselves.

Certainly it’s easier to look the other way, than fight the large scale indifference many of us have adopted. After all, who wants to face up to bad news and put a lot of effort into making things better when all we need is ignorance and a positive attitude. Let’s all go for a walk in the woods and in the face of what might now be insurmountable problems, go down indifferent but smiling. 

Have 11,000 Scientist Got it Wrong on Climate Change? And the Problem of Melting Ice.

Science and Its Relationship to Climate Change:

On the 40th Anniversary of the first World Climate Change Conference  (Geneva 1979), a statement was published in the Journal of Bioscience, signed by 11,000 scientists advocating a curb on population growth, a halt to forest destruction, a change of attitudes to meat production, and a reduction in reliance on fossil fuels: all with the intention of combating the climate emergency.

Harmony in the forest, but for how much longer?

By 2016 studies indicated that 90-100% of scientists believed that climate change was real, and if climate deniers wanted confirmation of their beliefs it would be best to consult amongst the doubting 10% and avoid those better informed where the census was up around 97%.

 Those with a vested interest in climate change, and politicians wishing to maintain support amongst deniers have regularly consulted with those who have the least expertise in an effort to elicit doubt.

By 2016 various papers had been published on ‘Scientific Consensus’ in relation to ‘Knowledge’

and an interpretation of some of them is shown in the graph below. At a glance, the base line looks dodgy: running from POOR to GOOD isn’t a precise way to measure anything, and must be considered unreliable.

Nevertheless, the top end of the graph is supported by other research projects that indicate a high degree of consensus amongst the most knowledgeable – nothing seems wrong here; but at the bottom end where scientific knowledge is poor, precision of measurement becomes more difficult because it all depends on how knowledge is being measured and who is being asked.

With this in mind the graph could start almost anywhere, but despite this there is clear evidence that the closer scientists work to climate change, the more likely they are to agree that it is happening: something in the science must be influencing their conclusions, whilst the less well informed demonstrate a greater bias, or they just don’t know enough to draw reliable conclusions. The abstract Consensus on Consensus. 2016. John Cook et al. looks at the relationship more closely.

We can’t be expected to follow every line of scientific of research, but are always better informed by science than matters of opinion. For those who choose not to accept the scientific consensus it is a matter of cherry picking the evidence to support personal beliefs; visiting the internet is a  good way to do this, because what we see there will be ruled by digital algorithms that use our previous search histories to select what we see next. 

If we want to confirm our beliefs in really stupid things, the World Wide Web maximizes our chances of doing so; it can even put us in contact with like minded people… Despite this, the internet is not the enemy of rational thinking, but an unfortunate quirk of the way the system operates causes it to search for information in a way that scientists don’t, which reinforces bias. Science works hard to avoid such a thing; prioritising facts over opinions it accumulates knowledge and opens up possibilities. The internet can be equally informative, but used uncritically it quickly reinforces our preconceptions, narrows our thinking and sometimes leads us away from the truth – not that a mistaken or surrealist thought is always a bad thing, it’s just isn’t the best way to deal with global warming – we need to keep it real.

If it doesn’t seem likely – you’ll find it on the Internet.

If we fail to confirm our beliefs amongst the scientific community, and can’t find what we need on the internet (which seems unlikely), there are any number of fake scientists and conspiracy theorists who can supply us with alternative views on evidence based information; but  those who want to stay closer to the truth, it is best to consult studies that are recognised by others accredited in the field. Over the last four years the percentage of scientists who believe that anthropogenic climate change is happening, has been rising and is now at around 99%.

Quite possibly, we are living through one of the most challenging centuries humanity will face – twenty years in, the likelihood that 11,000 scientists are wrong about the climate emergency is unlikely.

What we know:

  1. Carbon release into the atmosphere is increasing and human activity is the cause. Agriculture, forestry and industry are factors and the burning of fossil fuels is especially consequential and causing the Planet to warm.

2. The process is being monitored by scientists, and efforts are being made to convince politicians to act responsibly, limiting Carbon release to moderate the warming effect.

3. This must happen soon, because there are potential turning points beyond which it will be impossible to recover.

4. What needs to be done is clearly understood, but progress in combating climate change has been slow and there is cause for concern.

5. Some of us seem complacently smug about making small personal changes without fully appreciating the magnitude of the situation – small changes in lifestyle will not be enough.

If governments are to combat climate change, they must take action soon:

many world leaders and their governments have so far avoided coming into line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement – the first worldwide legally binding accord on climate; adopted at ‘The Paris Climate Conference’ (COP21) in December 2015 it set a framework to reduce Carbon emissions by limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with a target increase of not more than 1.5°C by the end of the Century.

The most recent Conference of Parties (COP25) recently took place in Madrid, and there was a pervasive sense of frustration amongst delegates because many governments fell short of prescribed temperature rise targets, and in some cases delayed meeting them altogether.

In the early 1970s when I made this simple cartoon I was unaware of what the future would bring. it isn’ just water vapour that planes put into the air: Carbon emissions from air travel has become a serious problem and continues to rise. If nothing changes, air travel alone will use around half of our emissions budget by 2050. Ironically I’ve contributed to the problem by flying around the world to work on environmental stories, but when it comes to climate change, few of us are squeaky clean.

Unfortunately, there has been a mismatch between what scientists know and how politicians behave in light of the facts. Climate scientists tend to be pessimistic about the current trend in rising global temperatures whilst politicians are more optimistic – in part because, when they take time to consult scientific research (which is by no means a given), they reach conclusions in a way that scientists don’t, cherrypicking the evidence that best suits their policies. The reality is, their goals are very different.

A Cross Section of Scientists and Politicians Stand Together.

It’s easy to tell the optimists from the pessimists, but the situation is complicated. Baz seems cheery, he’s a politician but has always identified as a scientist – he’s mistaken, although he does have a GCE O-Level in Biology, but has worked as an economists for most of his life – he thinks natural resources are free, to be taken without penalty, and world economies must keep expanding to survive, even though our world has finite resources. Then there’s Phil, who thinks he knows a lot about science because he has a school certificate in sociology. Recently, he’s been appearing on T.V., describing himself as a crypto-zoologist, claiming the existence of animals for which there is no scientific evidence, in some cases describing them as spiritual entities. Phil has a gift – he can sound convincing about almost anything, and the less he knows the more convincing he sounds, especially to those with limited scientific knowledge. A cursory glance at Phil’s face suggests pessimism, but really he’s just gormless – Phil is a likeable idiot.

Crypto Phil came for a visit the other day and noticed tracks across my lawn: he told me that their size and the presence of toes were a sure sign that a bigfoot had visited my garden. This he said was unusual. I mentioned that before the thaw had set in I’d been walking along the same snow track to put food out on the bird table. ‘And are you seeing fewer birds since the footprints showed up?’ he asked. The weather had become milder, the snow was melting and I admitted that fewer birds were coming in. ‘There you are then.’ he said. Phil likes coming to conclusions – it’s all the stuff before that he has trouble with.

Science is a rigorous process with the fine details being continuously refined; it never stands still and those working in different disciplines may not have enough expertise to make value judgements outside of their field. So, what chance do the rest of us have? Well, not a lot, but if the science under consideration derives from a prestigious scientific journal such as ‘Science’ or ‘Nature’, we can be fairly confident of the veracity of the published work, everything will have been vigorously peer reviewed, and we should pay attention to the conclusions because science is not a matter of opinion to be countered by ‘alternative facts’. There is in any case usually no need to get sniffy about less prestigious publications, as most are peer reviewed journals and in consequence reliable, although it is wise to be discerning. ‘The Journal of Little Green Men’, probably doesn’t need to be on your reading list unless all your research is being done on social media. 

There’s no need to make things up about science and nature – the real world is interesting enough already.

The result of Britain’s December 2019  general election was interesting because Parties with strong environmental policies (such as the Green Party) did not make inroads into votes going to more traditional parties. This raises the question as to how the electorate can be persuaded to vote for politicians prioritizing environmental issues over other concerns, because If this can’t be done, the traditional parties will have to be pushed into do doing far more to combat climate change.

Motivating individuals to react proactively to the climate crisis has been difficult; a great many people will happily admit to the problem, but so far, few have been inclined to vote for change. Tell people that it is necessary to keep global temperature increase down to 1.5°C over a century and they show very little interest – probably because the information is presented with no sense of urgency and it doesn’t spur individuals on to demand action from their leaders. Recently, Brexit split Britain with clear opinions for and against and there was a clear understanding that this was an important issue; but compared to rapid species loss, declining natural environments and climate change, it might prove in the longterm to be far less consequential.

Britain has experienced some really warm summers during the last century. The summer of 1976 stands out in my mind in particular because I spent a good many days filming heathland and woodland fires. Going back through meteorological records there have been many hot summers, but nothing compares to the present. The last 9 years have, globally, been the hottest on record.

A hot summer’s day in Britain during the early 1980s. Memorable to me perhaps, but over a  short period of time more recent weather conditions have become more extreme.

Ian Bateman of Exeter University has authored a new study published in Nature – Food, and spoken about the effect of the warming climate on agriculture in Britain. He says that a standard rise of 2°C of global temperature over an average lifetime might initially benefit agriculture, as past warmer years have usually benefited food production; but if conditions should become too dry, it would be necessary to pipe water to the eastern side of the country from the north and west – these regions of higher rainfall; the cost of doing this would most likely eliminate any profit from the increased production; and if temperatures kept rising the benefits would be short term.

The scenario could be even more worrying if global warming proved to be more extreme, say a 3°C rise in temperature resulting in a more rapid melting of the Arctic ice and Greenland ice sheets which might turn off the Gulf Stream bringing warm water up from the Caribbean to flow around Britain. The Gulf Stream presently provides a warmer temperate climate than Britain could reasonably expect from its northern geographical position. If the stream just flowed (as it might) from west to east across the Atlantic and never reached Britain the results would be catastrophic.

When compared to most of Europe, the Gulf Stream makes Britain and Ireland a special case in the climate stakes. If these Islands could think, they might imagine themselves much further south because of the warm water presently flowing around them. If the gulf Stream switched off the climate would become significantly less warm and the British would at last be justified in moaning about their weather.

With the Gulf Stream off, Britain’s food production would be reduced by a third or worse. The Islands rely on food imports from other countries and if a reduction in food production is widespread, feeding Britain’s ever increasing population would in retrospect make Brexit seem trivial: unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to visualise ahead of time which are ‘the most important’ of ‘the most important things’ to worry about.

A BBC news reader recently expressed surprise when she read out, ‘almost 3% of the World’s Carbon emissions come from shipping goods around the world’. Like many other heavy transport systems, cargo ships run almost exclusively on ‘dirty’ Carbon based fossil fuels. Imagine then if we weren’t able to eat oranges or bananas because we lived outside of the regions where they grow; we might consider things were going backwards; but there is no doubt it would moderate climate problems if we all ate food grown closer to home.

There is however some good news: a change of emphasis has occurred in the way science and the media deal with environmental issues and climate change. In the past scientists never expected their many years of research to lead to the public interpreting the findings and acting appropriately, or expect politicians to act quickly on issues related by their work. The interpretation of science has always been the job of the media – with varying degrees of success – but with the present immediacy of environmental issues scientists have become more inclined to speak out, and the current mood of the media is to provide them a platform to do so.

Twenty years ago it was difficult to find scientists capable of  engaging public interest; those that could, would often transition to the media where they were more likely to be listened to and the money was better; but things are changing – why would scientists allow their ideas to be re-jigged by media personalities if they are able to speak effectively for themselves?

Professor Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds recently spoke to great effect on the melting of Greenland’s ice sheets and potential changes in sea level; he explained the current scientific work concisely and without melodrama  – in part because the current scientific work is so dramatically clear there is no need to overstate the case. The Planet has been heating for the last 30 or 40 years, and we have shown little concern for the consequences – and in the last ten years the Greenland ice sheets have begun to melt at a much faster rate than predicted.

Close to the Arctic Circle there is not only visible ice, but a lot of water held in the land as permafrost.

I fly from Vancouver to London Heathrow in early spring to visit my father in Southern England. Airlines usually take the most direct route flying north east over the white wilderness of Canada; then over the Labrador Sea before reaching the extensive permafrost and ice sheets of Greenland –  these northern landmasses keep you thinking the great white north will never end. But in the most literal sense, it seems they will, with things now changing more rapidly than expected.

The Arctic is melting faster than was the case 25 years ago when snowfall was countering ice sheet and glacier melts into the ocean. Since 1992 3.8 trillion tonnes of ice has disappeared from Greenland, with water flowing into the Ocean causing a rise in sea levels of 10.6 millimetres – this might not seem a lot, but for every centimetre rise, around 6 million people are put at risk and likely to experience at least one flooding event each year. Inevitably, without action, this can only get worse.

In recent time glaciers have been melting more quickly into the oceans.

Greenland is losing ice 7 times faster than was the case in the 1990s and if the warming continues many millions of people will be exposed to coastal flooding by the end of the century. A current IPCC projection demonstrates that if the situation continues at the present rate the melt from Greenland could push sea levels to rise by 8 or 9 centimetres by the end of the century. If it were just 7 centimetres which is a conservative estimate, the results would still be devastating for coastal areas and low lying communities around the world.

The Annual Arctic Report Card 2019 shows the Arctic is melting at an alarming rate, and much faster than scientists had previously anticipated. Without immediate action melting permafrost could soon release 600 million tonnes of Carbon (C) and Methane (CH4) into the atmosphere.

None of this is speculation – monitoring ice sheets by comparing satellite images over time provides compelling evidence of the problem. Perhaps we should think about this in the  same way we consider a close relative dying – there is never a convenient moment, but it has to be dealt with appropriately.

In the Antarctic scientists are now working on ‘The Doomsday Glacier’ which is falling into the sea at a rate of two miles a year. Thwaites Glacier sits on a vast basin of ice with a front that measures almost 100 miles across. At the point where the glacier approaches the sea the landmass forms a ridge that dips back under the base of the glacier and favours water flowing back landward; and this contact with water is hastening ice melt. It is startling to think that around 90% of the worlds fresh water is locked up in Antarctic ice with Thwaites Glacier presently containing half a meter of potential sea level rise. If the Western Arctic ice sheet should also melt which is possible, the loss will be equivalent to an astonishing 3 metres sea level rise .

If emissions of global warming gases were cut significantly the impact on reducing rising sea levels would be significant, but if temperatures continue to go up things will only get worse. There is still time to react, but as yet not enough is being done to hit global Carbon emission targets. In the end, the necessary changes might be driven by concerns over the dire economic consequences of doing nothing, rather than any loss of life or unfavourable changes to natural environments. As odd as it might seem it might be business interests that push politicians towards better outcomes. 

We are now close to reaching critical turning points which would lead to irreversible changes to the way global systems operate. Scientist might disagree on exactly when these changes will occur, and some changes might not occur all at once, they could perhaps move by degrees; and if we adapt our behaviours to changing conditions we might stave off imminent disaster; but abrupt switching points beyond which there are no returns remain frightening possibilities.

There have already been climate changes directly related to human behaviour and such events can no longer be ignored. Making predictions about almost anything has a degree of variability, and not knowing exactly when irreversible changes will occur, plays into the hands of those wishing to demonstrate that climate change isn’t really happening. Ironically, there is nothing worse than reaching a turning point, only to discover that ‘you’re not quite there yet’, although anything that buys time for leaders to react proactively must be a good thing, but with climate change happening more quickly that anticipated, there isn’ the luxury of too much time.

It is difficult to convince people that things will go wrong before they happen, and often a disaster must occur to precipitate a reaction. On occasions, big companies behave cynical: recognising a potential problem that might prove hazardous, they plough on without making changes, in the hope that profitability will exceed future insurance claims. However, when it comes to the climate emergency, refusing to act proactively is not a realistic option: if there are turning points beyond which we can no longer achieve stability we must act quickly;  many children seem aware of the urgency – politicians… not so much.

If the climate continues to warm, it won’t be a simple matter of fisherman moving further up the beach, lifestyles and even lifetimes will be changed.

With such huge profits being made from fossil fuels it is easy to understand why producers are reticent to give them up.

There has always been an unwillingness to factor in the millions of years of chemical and physical reactions that go into forming high energy fossil fuels, and the problems associated with the release of huge amounts of stored natural energy in such a short space of time has been largely ignored.

It seems we are best at solving immediate short term problems – our brain’s evolutionary course has left it inadequately wired to deal with uncomfortable situations that unfold over longer periods, and it might be necessary to start compensating for our ‘fallibility of thinking’. However, now that climate change is unfolding so rapidly, we might begin to see things more clearly. Run away ice melts in polar regions are just one of many signs of serious change and reinforce the view that 11,000 scientists are unlikely to be wrong about climate change. We must accept the evidence and push our politicians to act appropriately… and most important of all, they must do it soon.