Life is full of choices. Coffee or tea? Coke or Pepsi? Fox or HBO? (Actually scratch that last one). Now, imagine there was a big red button which, if pressed, would make you rich beyond your imagination, but there’s a catch: the world is guaranteed to end after you die. What would you do? You would like to think the answer is obvious, and yet a substantial number of people on the planet would push that button. And that is the problem humanity faces with climate change. Is it worse than Armageddon by an asteroid hurtling towards earth, or aliens coming to take all our air? In some respects, no, because it is within our control to change the current circumstance. But in other ways, that is what makes it all the more infuriating. The biggest realistic threat to our existence is ourselves, something which should be as malleable as a paperclip, and yet the most unconquerable challenge since Charlie Sheen went to rehab. Has Man come to a point where he would choose convenience over consequence?
BP recently published a report, “BP energy outlook 2030,” stating that the problem of “peak oil” – when oil supplies decline after reaching the highest rates of extraction – is no longer a problem. Due to new unconventional sources of oil, enough black gold will be produced to allow the world to use as much oil as it needs for decades to come. Add to this new extraction methods, growing populations and flimsy environmental policy, and by 2030 man will be extracting and burning more fossil fuels than ever: 15% more oil, 25% more coal and 45% more natural gas. In fact, BP envisages that two-thirds of all new energy over the next two decades will be supplied by increased fossil fuel burning.
However you can’t have a rainbow without the rain (a fairly apt saying in this case). A result of this “most likely” scenario is that the global thermostat will rise 4c. Temperatures have so far risen 0.8c and scientists are already getting fidgety, attributing extreme droughts, flooding, storms, crop losses and ice melting to this increase. These dramatic climate changes are occurring far earlier than weather models ever predicted, and far ahead of worst-case expectations. The World Bank describes a 4c rise as “devastating” stating that “the world is barreling down a path to heat up by 4 degrees at the end of the century if the global community fails to act on climate change, triggering a cascade of cataclysmic changes” including “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.”
Don’t forget that this is the “most likely” scenario we end up with. This is not based on a worst-case scenario or even “business as usual”. In fact BP’s models “assume continued tightening in policies to address climate change.” So a 4c disaster is what humanity ends up with if everyone keeps all their announced climate promises. Unfortunately not many countries are. For example, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper promised emissions would be cut 17 percent by 2020, but his own government projections say that target will not be achieved.
So, if we want to be honest with ourselves, 4c is looking optimistic. When “catastrophe” is your optimistic future one might as well start building their doomsday bunker now.
The other thing to remember is that this report comes from BP, not Green Peace or Friends of the Earth. This is from a global fossil fuel corporation not some possibly bias environmental report. For one of the largest energy companies in the world to be the one to tell us we are heading in the direction of a downward spiral is admitting we are in deep, deep trouble. Perhaps it is a sign of just how out-of-control we have let the climate threat become that a major oil company is now publishing their internal confirmation that we are hurtling off a disastrous 4c climate cliff.
So what now?
Writing in the Washington Post last week, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said:
“the world needs a bold global approach to help avoid the climate catastrophe it faces today … If there is no action soon, the future will become bleak … With every investment we make and every action we take, we should have in mind the threat of an even warmer world … ”
This is about a change in mindset, changing how one perceives the planet and its current situation. If a relative becomes inflicted with a rare illness, what would you do? Take them to the doctor to diagnose the problem, after which you would take them to the hospital for advanced treatment and care to get them better. You are told that the medicine will be expensive and may not even work, but you plough on nonetheless – in fact all of this, from the first visit to the doctor takes time, resources, and money, and the results are by no means instantaneous. Despite all that, one’s primary concern would not be the expense involved – why? Because you have a responsibility over this person, because you care about them, because you want them to get better and you will do anything to alleviate their suffering, and try any means to slow the symptoms. And that is how we should see the environment and the planet. Humanity, because of the way we use the earth’s resources together with our scientific and technological advances has a responsibility to help in any way possible. People, politicians and corporations alike must work together to ensure such a change for the better takes place, and whilst it seems like an indomitable challenge, keep greedy hands and stubborn minds away from that big red button.