The world I found myself in post university daze; threatened by financial collapse and global terror, was one of silent and profound anxiety. An anxiety that is intensifying day by day, with the advent of near apocalyptic developments in our climate. Unlike cyber warfare and financial crises, climate change has a momentum which makes it close to inevitable and threatens the conditio sine qua non of our survival. If the drivers of change are largely unabated, the world of 2050 is very likely to be one faced with serious risks on a planetary scale.
Climate change threatens irreversible and dangerous impacts and the international effort to stem it is headed for failure. Global trends in the economy, emissions and population growth make it extremely unlikely that the planet will remain below the threshold set out in the Paris climate agreement. To date, the world has warmed by just under 1’C due to greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans and at present, we are ill prepared to face risks from a changing climate. Previously, scientists had thought the most dangerous effects of climate change would begin after 2’C of warming, but concern is growing that this figure is too high. 2’C locks us into a major sea level rise over the next few centuries and new research shows there is only a 5% chance the Earth will avoid warming by at least that amount come the end of the century.
A wide range of environment-related risks, notably extreme weather events and failure of climate change mitigation, as well as water crises, have emerged as a consistently central feature of the GRPS risk landscape. These risks are interconnected with growing political, social and economic developments, including conflict and migration.
With regards to mitigation, the reality of the situation is that any progress made by today’s actions on emissions will not be felt for decades to come. This is why the bulk of the focus of the blog will be about cities and communities adapting to pacify climate related risks. It is hard to say where in the range of possibilities the climate will have reached in 2050, or if 2050 should even take centre stage. While the state that the climate will have got to by then is not known, it also won’t be easily altered to any radical extent, which is why an investment in adaptation is going to prove to be especially critical for all of us.
The blog will also explore the impact climate change will have on society and culture. Aside from instilling a new sense of purpose and urgency as to how we process what’s happening around us and prepare for what’s ahead, we will address the impact a changing environment is going to have on human behaviour. What the climate does will invariably influence what people do and before we can take collective action, we need to reach a collective understanding of the nature and urgency of the threat we face. Currently, the tone of the issue rests at two extremes and those having the conversation fall into two categories – ‘the complacent’ and ‘the terrified’.
Understanding climate change is a complex exercise. Like most people, I was guilty of underestimating and thereby disregarding it as a super colossal but precise problem, with a clear human solution. I judged the issue on the basis of my finite understanding of it. I understood the premise but manufacturing a credible response is far more sophisticated, more intricate, more complicated, more endlessly multi-dimensional a task than I had understood it to be. The idea that the changing climate, by virtue of being a specific problem, had a straightforward solution, is not an accurate representation of the issue and is emblematic of the inertia in the system.
Most of us know what climate change is. A phenomenon caused by human action - the emission of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and burning forests along with other greenhouse gases emitted by industry and agriculture, and further pollutants. A natural, ecological, global problem with a clear cause - us.
When it comes to determining what we need to do against evaluating what we are actually doing to stop climate change, the answer becomes less obvious.
In order to come to grips with such questions, I decided to launch The Climate Change Project and in order to provide some semblance of an answer, the content will centre on the points below:
The pace of climate change and the timing of our response is becoming all the more critical. Again, there is a lot of ambiguity around this, because although the science of climate change is qualitatively fairly well understood - science can say why carbon dioxide and various other additions to the atmosphere warm or cool the world – it is still quantitatively quite poor when it comes to predicting the amount of climate change produced by a specific alteration to the atmosphere.
How much warmer the world is going to get and at what pace is hard to pinpoint.
What we’re in dire need of is a new risk management approach. We have been talking radical action but the goals we are ascribing are not radical enough and we’re a long way off from meeting them. The drivers of climate change are built into today’s infrastructure, making them extremely hard to influence in an effective way. The challenge we face is not to solve a problem, but to manage a panoply of risks at every level. Such a risk management approach is not yet mainstream, in part because the political forces aligned behind the ‘specific problem, specific solution’ approach have not yet taken on board the degree to which their approach has disappointed. Such an approach also diverts attention to reducing the vulnerabilities of countries, economies and people to climate change, and on helping them with adaptation.
If the eighteenth century was defined by its commitment to progress; the nineteenth century by evolution; the twentieth by industry, our era would certainly have ‘innovation’ and ‘disruption’ as it’s unofficial mood mascots. The rhetoric of disruption is unnecessarily and ambiguously used ad nauseam. The words ‘innovate’ and ‘disrupt’ have come to grace job profiles, marketing copy, sales pitches, websites etc. everywhere and we seem to associate unlimited, unassigned value to what have now become redundant words, expressing ideas that are either too familiar or too unrealistic to be of use. The language ascribed to these buzzwords is one laced with overhaul, agitation and invention. Disruptive innovation would for example, have us colonise Mars, an uninhabitable planet experiencing its own bout of global warming.
This is part of the problem.
Much of today’s discussion of the climate change issue is framed in a deeply unrealistic rhetoric of scattered action (slash emissions now - 10 years to save the planet, and so on). It ignores the factors which make such action so difficult. Climate change has a broad base, endless ramifications, and a very constrained space for response. It will define this century’s development and the truth is, it’s hard to definitively say how much warmer the world is going to get, at what rate and to what effect.
And it could be that we’re too late to ‘fight’ global warming and now need to focus our attention on working backwards from the damage in order to design a safer, more sustainable habitat on Earth.