Can we stop the planet dying

Can we stop the planet dying

Can we stop the planet dying?

As I write, the worst storm in a century is battering Florida and moving towards Carolina. We are but a short step away from a major, catastrophic storm that will lose many thousands of lives and disrupt the economy not only of one country but of the world. Impossible to predict exactly when but sooner rather than later, according to the latest, devastating report on climate change. The odd thing is that in our heart of hearts we already knew that.

You have witnessed violent storms and wildfires affecting everywhere from North America to the Pacific and many places on the easterly route between the two. Winds few natural structures can withstand; seas that, even when calm, threaten the homes and livelihoods of millions, rain that washes away whole mountains. Actually, we knew this too but thought ‘they’ were dealing with it. It seems ‘they’ aren’t – and ‘they’ aren’t going to.

We can no longer ignore the climate, pretend that action is in hand and it will come out all right. The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientists convened by the UN, is dire. It forecasts huge problems arising from climate change by 2040. My grandchildren and my great grandchildren may be living in a world that is dying.

The death of the planet will not be a swift hit from an overweight asteroid, more a long drawn out process of overweight humanity condemning itself to oblivion. It will happen as a result of neglect, not positive malice. It will happen because our patriotism is localised not globalised. It will destroy much of humankind’s achievement, leaving the earth either to creatures of greater sustainability or to a few human survivors who will start again from scratch.

Climate change of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will have a devastating effect on many countries. Estimated cost of damage done by such change is $54 trillion, a sum unimaginable to most of us. The loss in such a process is incomprehensible, too. Works of great beauty, discoveries of immense importance, will be assigned to history.

I was 28 years old in 1960. Singapore could then expect about 24 days a year for the temperature to reach 32 degrees. Today, Singapore can expect a 119 days at 32 degrees or above per year on average. Based on the models we have at the moment, this could mean that by the end of the century, there will be 224 days of these very hot temperatures – there could even be as many as 302. High temperatures increase the chances of illness and death especially among the old and the young.

Governments are failing to deal with this problem because populist voting by electorates implies ‘our country first and to hell with the rest’. So the United States plans new rainforest denuding to extract more wealth from its territories; Africa is raped of climate-controlling resources; the seas are polluted to the point of total destruction of marine life. Today we must be taught to use resources more sparingly not with greater profligacy.

We have been educated to understand that the correct reaction to disaster is to give. Quite right. We now have to switch our thinking from the generosity we display when we see pictures of sad destruction to taking action before the storms hit. The correct reaction to impending planetary disaster is to moderate our consumption. That means a 90% cut in meat eating and generally lower human consumption all round for a start.

How do we teach moderation? How can we convince ourselves and our followers that each of us is a custodian of the planet with an obligation to leave it better, safer, more ecologically balanced? Logical appeals about the future usually fail to achieve their purpose. They lack heart. We need a massive emotive campaign to reduce consumption. Hard as it is to imagine, this must be financed by business. At first sight that seems ridiculous.

But look again. Business depends on mouths to feed, people to sell to, wealth to enable them to pay. If short-term targets dominate business activity, it will destroy – and is already destroying – the planet. Governments must therefore adjust their tax systems to reward longer-term behaviour and penalise shorter-term activity.

Some of the matters we discuss in The Daily Paradox are esoteric, didactic and fun for future thought. The climate is not one of these.

It is today’s pressing problem. It is our pressing problem.

It is your pressing problem.