THE HEAT GOES ON
On 14 November the World Meteorological Organisation confirmed that 2016 was likely to be the warmest year on record. That news took me back to primary school. For a 9-year-old The Day the Earth Caught Fire was terrifying. And I didn’t even get to see the film: just reading about it was bad enough. The planet is overheating because nuclear tests have shifted its axis and orbit. Desperate measures are required. We are left hanging at the end, not knowing whether they have been successful.
Now it seems that the earth may be catching fire for different reasons. The WMO figures complement a string of others released this year. Carbon monoxide concentrations have risen to a new high, and may be past the tipping point. And, as Zoe Williams pointed out in the Guardian, the implications of the data may be even worse than we had feared.
The metaphor of the slowly boiling frog may be a little worn, but it is still powerful. I can only guess why COP22 chose the day before Election Day to open their post-Paris Agreement chinwag in Marrakech: maybe this was an attempt to manage expectations in the knowledge that the news would be bad. Having gathered the required number of ratifications the Paris Agreement had entered into effect only a few days earlier, on 4 November. The Marrakesh meeting was never intended to have the impact of COP21 in Paris, and focused on the tedious nitty-gritty of how the agreement would be implemented.
However even in a world transfixed by Trump’s election victory the thought that the USA might pull out of the UNFCC has meant that the seemingly incontrovertible evidence of global warming has attracted some attention.
Unless Elon Musk’s plans for colonizing Mars are an unexpected success we do not — unlike the frog — have the option of leaping out of the pan. We can only try to get the heat turned down. And since we are the ones who turned it up in the first place perhaps we can do something.
Ever the optimist, I cling to better news. Carbon emissions seem to stabilizing if not dropping. We are well past peak car in several OECD countries. If countries can bring in measures that will reduce the number of vehicles per head — make some serious investment in public transport; provide more free bikes; and encourage ride-sharing — perhaps we can turn down the heat.
It is the wealthy countries of the west that consume most electricity and it is up to us to change that. Government policy can prod and nudge us, and so far as personal conduct is concerned I found Jonathan Foley’s recent piece really helpful. We can also be more active in sharing and disseminating information and opinions, and engaging politically where we are able to do so.
It may be too little, too late, but it has got to be worth a try.