The Limitations to Climate Change

The Limitations to Climate Change

Climate change does not exist! How can the climate be changing!

The cry is common, and it is easy to vocalise. However, the fact that the concept of climate change exists is not something that I, alone, am saying. As a scientist and having worked in environmental engineering for a quarter of a century, I tend to believe the work of the many dedicated researchers who tell me that, if we do not change our model of co-existence with our environment, and soon – like, now, the chances are high that our common climate will alter in a way that, because of our intellectual limitations, is difficult, if not impossible, to understand.

And there, perhaps, is the rub: the ‘chances’ are high. The fact that chance is involved provides a get-out clause for other interests. Nothing ‘radical’ enough is happening in our atmosphere that can make us see unequivocally the urgency of the situation. The problem is not obvious and therefore not immediate.

What about the devastating hurricanes that have pummelled the shores, cities and communities of coastal areas in increasingly numerous occasions over the last few years? I hear you cry. Sceptics answer that we have always had devastating storms. How about the demise of many species of plants and animals and of the photos of polar bears clinging forlornly to a melting platform of ice in the middle of an endless and unforgiving ocean? Sceptics will answer that we have always had extinctions, and then point to the many that have punctuated geological history. The argument of opponents to climate change is clear, how can an animal as insignificant as a human being, create such havoc?

The underlying reason is perhaps less clear and encompasses the fields of long-term and short-term vision. The corollary of insignificant human thinking is that today, all that matters is bottom-line profit; who cares about tomorrow.

But, it is true that the problem is not clear and that unmistakable signs of environmental degradation cannot be distinguished when taken in the context of geological history and we have to put this into the context that each and every one of us has a blind spot that prevents us breaking the skin of our own bubble of reality. Paying the bills, making a profit and improving our condition in life of our nearest and dearest are conditions that are as deeply ingrained in our psyche as breathing is an automatic reaction. Long gone are the days of the hunter-gatherer living in harmony with her environment. Of course, perhaps the pressures of life were of a distinct nature all those long years ago.

The reality is, and as was graphically pointed out in the recent UN Assembly that addressed the changing climate, ‘we are the first generation to experience the reality of climate change and the last to be able to do anything about it’.

What to do then about changing attitudes and bringing this global and, importantly, wholly inclusive threat to our (probably temporary, at the rate we’re going) residence on the Blue Planet?

The world needs to stand up against all the isolationism of those who would peddle the myth of human insignificance. Now it the time to stand up and scream ENOUGH!

Positive actions like protest marches held all over the world help a lot in bringing the issue into mainstream thinking, and perhaps a united approach to prevent big business interests, whose focus (and lobbying muscle) is on drilling deeper, cheaper and more efficiently, is essential in creating the same bad smell reaction that now accompanies smokers everywhere.

And, we all need to reflect that, as we are all part of the problem, things need to change radically. The biggest question in all of this is, are we ready to face the reality of the difficult choices that lie ahead?