Our children’s generation is going to have to reduce their carbon emissions by 90 percent if we want to avoid being the first species in history to document its own extinction.
Last week, zoologist, environmentalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough went global across the media when speaking at the International Monetary Fund, warning that on present trends part of the world would soon become uninhabitable and mass migrations would transform the world. He warned that all governments had to meet their commitments to reduce carbon emissions that they had made at the Paris Climate Change conference in 2015.
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMF, asked David about the link between climate change and migration. He replied “It is happening in Europe. People are coming from Africa because they can’t live where they are.” He warned that the crisis would worsen as temperatures continued to rise: “More parts of the world will become uninhabitable, that’s what will happen. I find it hard to exaggerate the peril. This is the new extinction and we are halfway through it. We are in terrible, terrible trouble and the longer we wait to do something about it, the worse it is going to get.”
Pointing out 70 percent of bird species around the world were extinct, he said “We have time now, ten years, perhaps twenty years, to do something about it. The longer we leave it the more difficult it is going to be and if we leave it too long… the natural system will collapse.”
To save our planet, he said governments have to risk the wrath of voters by ending fossil fuel subsidies and by imposing tax on the use of carbon. “We are supporting and subsidising the very things that are damaging our planet. The natural world is so delicate. It needs all the protection it can get. Sometimes that means governments have to take decisions that are painful and cost money.”
I have been a fan of David ever since I started watching his animal programmes on the TV back in the 1950s, now at the age of 92 he is still campaigning hard to save our world from extinction. The issue of global warming was first raised back in 1975 in an article by Wallace Smith Broecker, a professor at Columbia University. His article predicted that rising carbon dioxide levels would lead to the warming and he urged political action to tackle the problem. In 1984, he told the American Congress of the need for urgent action to tackle greenhouse gases in the air, warning that the system could “jump abruptly from one state to another with devastating effects.” Broecker died just two months ago at the age of 87.
Tragically, politicians around the world are failing to tackle the greatest threat in human history. Last year was the fourth hottest on record with a massive UK heatwave, floods in India, and storms across South East Asia, as well as wildfires in Europe and the US. Greenpeace warned, “A year of climate disasters and a dire warning from the world’s top scientists should have led to so much more. Adopting a set of rules is not nearly enough, without immediate action even the strongest rules will not get us anywhere.” At the same time, Attenborough warned, “We are facing a manmade disaster, our greatest threat in thousands of years. The collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world in on the horizon.”
At the end of last year, United Nations biodiversity chief Cristiana Pașca Palmer warned that unless governments agreed on a new deal to save our planet in the next two years, humanity would be the first species in history to document its own extinction.
We need to force our governments to act and set ambitious world targets by 2020 to protect the plants, mammals, birds, and insects that are the basis of global food production and clean water. “The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer,” Cristiana Pașca Palmer told the Guardian, but people do not notice it in the way they notice climate change. Since 1992, over 30 percent of our planet’s ecological wealth defined by species, rivers, soil and forests has been wiped out with huge consequences for hundreds of millions of people.
In the four billion years of earth’s history, we have seen five mass extinctions caused by decades-long ice ages, massive volcanic eruptions, and the asteroid believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs, but now we face a sixth mass extinction caused by the impact of humanity on our planet. In our brief history, 83 percent of all wild mammals have died out, and in the last 50 years, the populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish have been slashed by 60 percent.
One of the factors that led to so many people migrating has been the dramatic increase in flooding which has become more and more severe. Britain’s Met Office has warned that we will see much wetter winters and summers and our temperature could be 5.4 centigrade higher by 2070. We are now seeing an increase in rainfall leading to flash flooding with the prospect that sea levels could rise by nearly well over one metre by the end of the century. Our government has had to spend £2.6 billion on flood defences in the last five years to try and protect 300,000 homes at risk of flooding.
Two-thirds of the ice in the glaciers of the European Alps will have melted by the end of the century, with the possibility that it could be much worse, with virtually all ice gone by 2100. The same is happening in Asia where ice on the mountains will melt with devastating consequences for the two billion people who live downstream. Cutting emissions from forest fuel burnings is the most important factor in preventing the ice melting.
My children’s generation is going to have to reduce their carbon emissions by 90 percent if we are to avoid the risk of extinction. Fortunately, many young people realise the threat they face, and this has led to a wave of school children striking around the world to protest about climate change.
It is the Western world that has fuelled the worst of this crisis. Each US citizen is on average responsible for an annual carbon emission of 16.5 metric tons, whereas a citizen in India is responsible for just 1.7 tons, yet politicians and businesses seem not to recognise the danger. Just last month, the first new deep coal mine in Britain in 30 years was given permission by Cumbria County Council whilst our government continues to slash funding for green energy.
Climate change isn’t just forcing millions to migrate as rising temperatures make their countries uninhabitable, but many of the tropical diseases will spread to Europe as rising temperatures will allow insects like mosquitoes to move from Africa to Europe and Canada, bringing with them yellow fever, zika, dengue, and chikungunya. The study warning of this can be found in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Back at the Paris Climate Change Conference, governments from around the world agreed to limit the rise of temperature to just two degrees centigrade, and if possible just 1.5 degrees, but the simple truth is that we have already seen global temperature rise by one degree centigrade, and the catastrophic weather events of recent years have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, so even keeping the rise to just 1.5 centigrade is going to see tens of millions die over the years to come. Britain’s Met Office warned in February that we could see a 1.5 centigrade rise before 2023.
Although America suffers from a president who is a climate change denier, last November, a US government report warned that climate change is harming Americans’ lives with substantial damage set to occur. The impact of climate change was already being felt across the US with disastrous wildfires, flooding on the east coast, soil loss in the midwest, and coastal erosion in Alaska. The report pointed out that sea levels have risen along the US coast by 23 centimetres in the last 100 years, and that if emissions aren’t reduced, “many coastal communities will be transformed by the latter part of this century.” The report also warned more frequent and larger wildfires portend increasing risks to property and human life, as cited by the Guardian. But even as the report was released, California was devastated by its most deadly wildfire, in history killing over 80 people. Trump, of course, continued to be in denial.
Back in the days when I was mayor of London, I went to lunch with David Attenborough to talk about what is happening to our world, and everything he said is turning out to be true and more worryingly, it’s happening even faster than we originally thought. The simple fact is that all around the world we have to tackle carbon emissions, consume less and waste less, and that will need politicians with the courage to impose new laws which change the way we live in the most dramatic way. That won’t make our lives worse. What is most important in our lives is our relationships with our family and our friends, not how much we can spend and waste. When I look at the spineless and cowardly nature of so many presidents and prime ministers, I think David Attenborough is absolutely right in warning that humanity faces extinction by the turn of this century.
First published by RT.