‘In order to fulfil my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord’, announced President Donald Trump on June 1st 2017 from the White House. Yet the irony is plain to see as this summer both Texas and Florida were plunged into chaos and destruction at the hands of intense storms, fuelled by warming temperatures. Meanwhile across the globe South Asia faced disaster on a far greater scale, with floods directly affecting some 40 million people. Whilst 180 climate deniers sit in Washington’s new congress and look to dismantle vital climate policies, the rest of the world stares through a screen at a global crisis unfolding. It took science a while to catch up with the dynamics of global warming, but we now have a clear understanding of its underlying mechanisms. In the past two centuries human activity and the industrial activities that modern society depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million, causing global temperatures to soar. This is the hot, hard reality that the world faces. What is required is a considerable collective response in order to combat its devastating effects, yet what we are experiencing is quite the opposite.
This August, Hurricane Harvey struck eastern Texas resulting in at least 15 deaths and forced more than 30,000 people from their homes, leading Texan governor Greg Abbott to label it as “one of the largest disasters in American history”. Despite statements from Woods Hole Research Center, a leading climate think tank, identifying a solid link between powerful hurricanes and warming temperatures, Governor Abbot remains a climate change denier. His motives for doing so are entirely political. Houston is an oil town and the American oil industry is directly threatened by climate truth and a shift towards renewables. Thus it is hardly surprising that collectively congress’s climate change deniers have received over $82 million from the fossil fuel industries, according to new analysis from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. But whilst politicians like Abbot receive vast campaign contributions from major oil companies, their refusal to take action with regards to the environment imperils the health and safety of the very people they have sworn to protect. In the last 10 years Texas has been subject to around 20 billion dollars’ worth of weather and climate related disasters. It therefore requires forward looking climate policies which will help to protect the low-lying coastal region from floods that rising sea levels will cause. What it instead has, is a governor who opposes environmental protection, and turns a blind eye to global warming and the grave dangers it poses. Furthermore, the scientific consensus is not only that global warming will make storms of this kind more intense but suggests that they will become ever more frequent. After Hurricane Irma crashed into the Sunshine state and the Caribbean less than two weeks into the recovery efforts in Texas, and later the category four hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, it is clear that we must wake up to this reality. In the words of Miami’s governor Tomás Regalado, “If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is. This is truly a poster child for what is to come.”
Yet it is those living in more vulnerable situations in developing nations which stand to lose the most at the hands of climate change deniers. Monsoon floods claimed the lives of more than a thousand people and made millions homeless this summer in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The probability of these extreme weather events has increased dramatically as a result of global warming, and countries like Bangladesh are at the forefront of such disasters. Home to 157 million people who live zero to five metres above sea level, much of it will become uninhabitable if sea levels continue to rise. Yet this is a country which earns less than a thousand dollars a year and has a minuscule ecological footprint. The injustice is plain to see, we in the global north, with less than 20% of the population are responsible for over 70% of emissions. More shockingly The Carbon Majors Report, from the Carbon Disclosure Project, found that just 100 companies are responsible for more than 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The most polluting investor-owned companies on the list are ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron. Yet when powerful nations like the US fall back on their promise to reduce emissions and contain these polluting corporations, it is the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet who will pay the price. Developing nations like Bangladesh that are already facing severe climate impacts, and urgently in need billions of dollars to build seawalls: storage and distribution networks for food, water and medicine, to cope with climate disasters. But whilst the countries and companies most responsible for warming the planet turn a blind eye, Governments in these vulnerable nations are forced to spend their healthcare and education budgets on costly disaster insurance plans.
Arguably the most pernicious and dangerous myth surrounding the climate debate, isn’t whether or not climate change is real, or whether humans are the cause, but rather the idea that somehow climate change does not matter to us. However it must be understood that climate change is not an issue isolated to communities in low-lying or in storm prone areas but rather a global crisis, which will indirectly affect the lives of many people. Political turmoil in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries has forced more than one million migrants and refugees to flee to Europe, sparking a humanitarian crisis as the international community struggled to cope with the influx. Yet the scale of human migration and displacement as a result of climate change is likely to pose a far more severe problem. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that there are now several million “environmental migrants” and that this number “will rise to tens of millions within the next 20 years, or hundreds of millions within the next 50 years”. The sad reality it that, rather than recognising that we owe a debt to migrants forced to flee their lands as a result of our actions (or inaction), current governments in the west are more likely to build ever more high tech fortresses and adopt even more draconian anti-immigration laws.
Trump’s administration will be destructive in many ways, but nothing will be more devastating than the destruction of our environment. While conservatives look to tell the world that climate change is merely “fake news”, that “the data is unreliable”, we must forcefully resist this rhetoric. An article published in PMC found that 90% of climate change denial books do not undergo peer review, allowing authors or editors to recycle scientifically unfounded claims that are then amplified by the conservative movement, media, and political elites. Yet as Timothy Snyder writes in his most recent book ‘On Tyranny’, ‘to abandon truth is to abandon freedom’. Global warming may be an ‘inconvenient truth’ but it is a truth all the same, and we must take immediate action to curb its destructive effects. If we give into climate change deniers and fail to recognise the scale of the problem on our hands, we run the risk of losing the planet as we know it and all the freedoms which it provides. The time is now. Global warming is the first crisis that comes with a time limit: we either solve it now or don’t solve it at all. We are often told that the solution to this problem begins with individual action; recycling, buying eco-appliances, using public transport. Whilst all of this undeniably makes a difference, the real solution involves a far more revolutionary and politicised response. As previously highlighted the main polluters are multi-national corporations, whose profit orientated ethos has resulted in the torching of our planet. The political project of neoliberalism, brought to ascendence by Thatcher and Reagan has three policy pillars, privatisation of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector and lower corporate taxation. Much has been written about the real world costs of these policies, from the instability of financial markets to the exasperation of inequality. However very little attention has been payed to the effect of these policies on our environment. As energy production has been taken out of the hands of public minded bodies and put into the hands of profit hungry business men, extraction of our natural resources has soured and brought with it a significant rise in pollution. Meanwhile at a time when Governments should have been monitoring and keeping check on the power of these corporations, regulation has diminished. Considering 71% of emissions are the product of this political agenda, it seems clear that any response to climate change must look to address its inadequacies. Thus as we enter a crucial moment in our Planet’s history, we must actively resist those who try to destroy the progress which has been made towards a sustainable future. Instead we must apply our energies and intellect in a collective response to challenge the current political status quo and propel ourselves into a more ecologically responsible epoch.
Photo credit: Simon Crofts