The term climate change was first used in a 1979 study regarding the impact of carbon dioxide emissions on climate. In the early 1800s scientists realised that the climate of the world had not been a constant but had been subject to change, causing the Earth’s ice ages of past millennia. Ice ages started 2.6 million years ago alternating with inter-glacial periods. The last ice age came to pass around twelve thousand years ago when the sea level was 120 metres lower than it is today. The sea levels have been rising ever since as the glaciers and ice sheets melt.
In the late 1800s scientists discovered that natural greenhouse gas (methane, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and water vapour) emissions had an effect on climate. In the middle of the 19th century human industrial activity started releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in substantial volumes as a result of widespread farming of livestock, the burning of fossil fuels for power, transport and industry and global deforestation.
Since the appearance of the first life forms on Earth, 4.5 billion years ago, there have been five mass extinction events that each killed 75% to 96% of all life on the Earth. I feel the need to point out the obvious which is that we, humans, are part of life on Earth. These events were largely caused by geological upheavals such as volcanic eruptions, meteor strikes, tectonic plates shift and algal bloom. Climate change was a contributing factor in every one of these events.
Scientists are today unanimous in declaring that we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction caused entirely by humans. I suggest that you put this fact in your pipe and smoke it for a while.
Climate change is a scientific term that is well understood by scientists but much less, if at all, by the rest of us. Since the early 1990s the United Nations has been holding climate change conferences with the next one, COP26, due in Scotland in November of this year.
Biodiversity and its importance is another issue that is poorly understood, let alone appreciated, by people generally. The United Nations biodiversity conference, COP15, is to be held in China in October of this year. These fifteen summits have had no credible impact on global biodiversity losses. While humans talk, land and marine animal populations are plummeting to extinction at an accelerating rate. Forests are being destroyed. All still existing natural forest and ocean habitats are polluted and degraded. A conservative estimate is that one million species will become extinct in the foreseeable future if we do not take decisive actions.
Climate change is popularly seen as being intimately connected to global warming and indeed it is. The media gave this subject much attention at the time of COP21 held in Paris in 2015 when 170 countries agreed to limit global carbon dioxide emissions. This they agreed to in order to contain the global average temperature increase within 2 degrees Celsius (°C), or less 1.5°C, over pre-industrial times (around 1850). This was to be a voluntary effort and no time limit was set. As a parenthesis I will say that this agreement was not worth the paper it was written on as carbon dioxide emissions have continued to increasing year on year since 2015. At the end of 2019 we had already reached an increase of 1°C and now have less than ten years left to pass the 1.5°C threshold.
We should be aware that these small percentage temperature increases will have disproportionately huge consequences. The 1°C, 1.5°C or 2°C increases hide extreme weather conditions; extreme heat, desertification; extremely cold, glacial temperatures; cyclones and forest fires; floods and rising seas; unprecedented drought and famine; migrations of millions of people fleeing unbearable weather conditions and food and water shortages.
Climate change or global warming and biodiversity loss are just two aspects of something else that is far more deadly. What is actually taking place on Earth, as you read this, is the deliberate destruction, by people, of the natural environment. This is Ecocide and will eventually cause the end of human civilisation. Remember that people need Nature but Nature does not need people.
This article was published in the Senior Times of the Times of Malta on the 18th April 2020
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