Is the climate beginning to change?

19 Jan
What will be the consequences of pollution in the years ahead?

What will be the consequences of pollution in the years ahead?

By Chris Hansell

Last June I went to China. Arriving in Beijing I spent the first day exploring the city and visiting its more famous haunts. We had just come from a very hot Australia (I’m not boasting – I spent eight months working at a supermarket to pay for the trip, which only lasted around sixty days).

After so diligently plastering every inch of exposed skin with sun cream while down under, I made the foolish decision of going out in the Chinese capital without my factor 50. What could go wrong?  I couldn’t see the sun for all the clouds. After a month of searing sun to be somewhere overcast reminded me of home. That was definitely cloud, wasn’t it?

It was mid-afternoon before I realised the skin on the back of my neck was crisping.

So when I read last week that levels of pollution in Beijing were so bad that residents were being told to stay indoors I could not muster up much in the way of surprise. My only real disbelief was in why this story wasn’t higher up the news agenda.

It might be safe to say that environmentalism has fallen out of fashion from its heights of popularity several years ago. An economic catastrophe caused by banks has left us without much time to think about becoming more responsible with our planet, which would be sad if it wasn’t alarming.

The draft version of the US national Climate assessment recently had some unsettling things to say about the state of the climate. Floods, heavy rain and even wildfires headline a changing climate across the US.

The language of the report is not what you would expect to find in a report that will land on the desk of the US president in the next year or so. Before the end of the draft report’s first page the scientists involved in the study lay out two uncompromising points: ‘these changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity’. The second point is this: ‘the sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming.’

It is going to be near impossible to read this report as anything other than a validation of climate change as a real danger (barring some dramatic rewriting). Perhaps scientists are finally tired of fair weather words from politicians and news channels. And who can blame them?

The bushfires raging in Australia in early January have led the Australian Climate Commission to link climate change directly to their summer heat wave. In the UK flooding seems to have become so commonplace it now seems unspectacular. Up in Alaska the melting permafrost concerns American scientists enough that the climate assessment says there is a serious risk to infrastructure.

The solution offered by the UN’s annual Climate Change Conference in Doha in November, attended by representatives from nearly every country on the planet, was to give everyone eight more years to reach Kyoto targets. This extension may be in jeopardy if Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan decide not to agree to it.

Without the involvement of these heavily industrial nations the new agreement would cover less than 15% of global carbon emissions.  The Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997. A new agreement to tackle climate change will not come into effect until at least 2020, almost a quarter century after its predecessor.

Scientists can’t make the world combat climate change; they can only tell us what will happen if we do nothing. The rest of us, including politicians, need to pull our fingers out.

Some other links you might want to check out:

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