Source: The Independent
Every coal train should be ringed with people refusing to let it pass
Buried deep in our subconscious, there still lays the belief that our political leaders are collective Daddies and Mummies who will – in the last instance – guarantee our safety. Sure, they might screw us over when it comes to hospital waiting lists, or public transport, or taxing the rich, but when it comes to resisting a raw existential threat, they will keep us from harm. Last week in Copenhagen, the conviction was disproved. Every leader there had been told by their scientists – plainly, bluntly, and for years – that there is a bare minimum we must all do now if we are going to prevent a catastrophe. And they all refused to do it.
To understand the gravity of what just happened, you need to know a few facts about global warming that, at first, sound odd. The world’s climate scientists have shown that man-made global warming must not exceed 2C. When you hear this, a natural reaction is – that’s not much; how bad can it be if we overshoot? If I go out for a picnic and the temperature rises or falls by 2C, I don’t much notice. But this is the wrong analogy. If your body temperature rises by 2C, you become feverish and feeble. If it doesn’t go back down again, you die. The climate isn’t like a picnic; it’s more like your body.
Two degrees is bad: 2C means we lose much of the world’s low-lying land, from the island-states of the South Pacific to much of Bangladesh to swathes of Florida. But at every step up to and including 2C, if we reduce our emissions, we can stabilise the climate at this new higher level. If we go beyond 2C, though, the situation changes. The earth’s natural processes begin to break down – and cause more warming. There are massive amounts of warming gases stored in the Siberian permafrost; at 2C, they melt and are released into the atmosphere. The world’s humid rainforests store huge amounts of warming gases in their trees. Beyond C, they lose their humidity and begin to burn down – releasing them too into the atmosphere.
These are called "tipping points". Because of them, the world gets warmer and warmer beyond 2C. They stand at the climate’s Point of No Return, beyond which there lies only warming. We are only 6C away from the last ice age; we are setting ourselves on course to go that far in the opposite direction.
So what do we need to do to stay this side of 2C? There is a very broad, rock-solid scientific consensus that we need a cut of 40 per cent in the most polluting countries’ emissions by 2020 if we are going to have even a 50-50 chance of doing so. Then, by 2050 we need an 80 per cent cut from everyone. The fact we are only aiming for a 50 per cent goal of avoiding calamity is a sign of how far we have already made a terrible compromise with fossil fuels – but our leaders are refusing to aim even for those odds.
There was plenty of disgrace to go around in Copenhagen. The world’s worst per capita warmer is the US, yet its President turned up offering a pathetic 4 per cent cut by 2020 – and once you factor in all the loopholes his negotiators demanded, he was actually demanding the right to a significant increase in US emissions. He caved to the oil and gas lobbies who virtually own the Senate. It was – apart from anything else – a terrible betrayal of his own country’s national security. In 2004, a leaked Pentagon report warned that unchecked global warming would ensure "disruption and conflict will be endemic … [and] once again, warfare would define human life."