Last Ice Area. Photo by Vicki Sahanatien.

Will we survive the next 100 years?

First, let me say that I’m not an environmentalist or a scientist — but I’m bio-curious, and over the last year I seem to increasingly ask myself the same question: Is this the end?

It started with Cape Town on the verge of running out of water late last year. Then this summer sweltering heat in the Northern hemisphere lead to Japan declaring a natural disaster. Shortly after, Japan was hit with its strongest typhoon in 25 years.

And now the thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up for the first time. This has opened waters north of Greenland in a region known as the Last Ice Area.¹ I’ll tell you why it is important; this is the WWF’s description of the area:

“Only one Arctic region is expected to retain its summer sea ice until 2050: this is the Last Ice Area.”
This region “will likely harbour the largest concentration of Arctic wildlife dependent on the sea-ice edge for survival, including bowhead whales, seals, narwhals, and polar bears”.²

Here’s my question: What the fuck is going on? And are these the last few generations of humanity after 200,000 years on Earth?


James Hansen testified in Senate on June 23, 1988 warning of a link between human activity and global warming. The following week emission reductions were discussed for the first time at the World Conference on Changing Atmosphere in Toronto.

The not-give-a-fuck attitude of our actions, non-effective government policies and a lack of intent from the most influential corporations around the world keep me up at night (I sleep for 8 hours but I would sleep for 12 if it wasn’t for this mess).

More than anything, there are 4 things we all need to know before we become extinct.

1. The Facts

This part is the easiest to understand. The population has exploded in the last 50 years from 3.5 billion to more than double at 7.4 billion today. To sustain this increase we need more resources.

Resources, however, are depleting fast — we are using clean water, clearing forests and losing arable land faster than ever before and crucially, faster than nature can regenerate.³

Further, our use and over-reliance on oil, coal and natural gas is suffocating the planet with greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. As a result, the overall temperature of the planet has increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1880. The impact we’re seeing of this warming is far worse than we imagined.⁴

We’re working to stop this warming at 2 degrees Celsius but we may already be on the path to 6 degrees by the end of this century. 6 degrees! The implications of this on every aspect of our society from food supply to public health are unthinkable (probably thinkable for more clever people than me).⁵

2. Consumerism

There is something wrong with the way we measure the bottom line. It’s not clean air, the quality of our water sources or the designated areas of conservation. It’s GDP and profits — basically CASH.

Government and private corporations measure success by how much money we have. Capitalist societies to the Communist Party of China have built a system where we all are in a race for more money. For what? Stuff and things.

We want more and more things. We’re living in societies where more is synonymous with a better quality of life. We have a lack of understanding of the true cost of producing, consuming and discarding products. There is no clear information and corporations are not legally required to take responsibility.

One load of laundry
2.4kg carbon dioxide and 116L water⁶ ⁷
Producing a cotton t-shirt
11kg carbon dioxide and 2700L water⁸ ⁹
Flying from London to Mumbai
816kg carbon dioxide¹⁰

Households’ demand of non-primary products and services is contributing to ‘more than 60% of global greenhouse gasses and between 50% and 80% of total land, material and water use’. Beyond basic necessities, our obsession with things and travelling across the world is both destroying our natural resources and irresponsibly adding climate-harming emissions.¹¹

3. Environmental Policies and Action

“It’s time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.” — James Hansen, 1988

In the 30 years since James Hansen testified before the Senate Committee, no significant environmental action has been jointly implemented on a global scale. Any real effort to tackle climate change has been paralysed through short-sighted politicians, pressure from carbon emitting industries like oil, extensively deregulated markets and free-trade agreements.

In fact, we’re digging deeper and more dangerously for fossil fuels. Oil companies are looking to exploit melting Arctic ice for offshore drilling.¹² At the Alberta tar sands in Canada, the extraction of bitumen across an area the size of England has been dubbed the most destructive industrial project in human history. This process is 3 to 4 times more greenhouse gas intensive as conventional oil.¹³

To leave us a good chance of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius, studies show that 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide can be burned between 2011 and 2049. Coal, oil and gas companies are planning to extract and use reserves that will release 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide. That’s 5 times more than the global target! The Paris agreement now seems like a weak effort to delay an inevitable shitshow.¹⁴

For the last 30 years thousands of scientists have been warning the world of the looming threat to humanity of the rise in greenhouse gases. So far, we haven’t done much about it.

Alberta tar sands. Photo by Gareth Lenz.

4. Elon Musk

“Climate change is the biggest threat that humanity faces this century, except for AI.”

Despite his strong views, Elon Musk is using resources to colonise Mars 33,900,000 miles away rather than rapidly improving environmental conditions here on Earth — his home planet may I remind you.

Why does he want us to go to Mars? Firstly, it’s cool. Second, he says that “if we were a multi-planetary species, that would reduce the possibility of some single event, man-made or natural, taking out civilisation as we know it, as it did the dinosaurs”. He believes the only chance humanity has of survival in the long-run is a fresh start on another planet.¹⁵

“There have been five mass-extinction events in the fossil record. […] Unless you’re a cockroach or a mushroom — or a sponge — you’re fucked.”

I don’t know if the end of humanity is near but we have reached ‘decade zero’. We are living in a short window of opportunity of 5 to 7 years to radically change the path we are currently on. Beyond this point, whatever happens will be irreversible and we risk locking ourselves into uncontrollable warming.¹⁶

We have it in us to organise from ground up and show the leaders of the world that we want bold, tough and legally binding policies. We must demand nothing less than 100% renewable energy by 2030. We must demand car-free cities built for cycling and pedestrians. We must demand low-energy agriculture. We must demand it today — through our actions and from the people we vote for.


Sources

  1. Watts, Jonathan. “Arctic’s Strongest Sea Ice Breaks up for First Time on Record.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 August 2018, www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/21/arctics-strongest-sea-ice-breaks-up-for-first-time-on-record.
  2. “The Last Ice Area.” WWF, www.wwf.ca/conservation/arctic/lia.
  3. Mittal, Ishwar and Gupta, Ravi. “Natural Resources Depletion and Economic Growth in Present Era.” SOCH- Mastnath Journal of Science & Technology, vol. 10, no. 3, 2015.
  4. “World of Change: Global Temperatures.” NASA Earth Observatory, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/DecadalTemp.
  5. Klein, Naomi. “Introduction.” This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Penguin Books, 2015.
  6. Clark, Duncan, and Mike Berners-Lee. “What’s the Carbon Footprint of … a Load of Laundry?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 25 November 2010, www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2010/nov/25/carbon-footprint-load-laundry.
  7. Golden, Jay S., et al. “Energy and Carbon Impact from Residential Laundry in the United States.” Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences, vol. 7, no. 1, 2010, pp. 53–73.
  8. Systain Consulting. “The Carbon Footprint of Clothing.” Carbon Footprint Study 2009 Final Summary.
  9. “The Water Footprint Of A T-Shirt.” HuffPost, The Huffington Post, 27 January 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/27/cottons-water-footprint-world-wildlife-fund_n_2506076.html.
  10. Calculate the Emissions for Any Flight, www.chooseclimate.org/flying/mapcalc.html.
  11. Ivanova, Diana, et al. “Environmental Impact Assessment of Household Consumption.” Journal of Industrial Ecology, vol. 20, no. 3, 2015, pp. 526–536.
  12. Magill, Bobby. “Melting Sea Ice Makes Arctic Drilling a Risky Business.” Climate Central, 4 February 2014, www.climatecentral.org/news/melting-sea-ice-makes-arctic-drilling-a-risky-business-17018.
  13. “Planning and Banning.” This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, by Naomi Klein, Penguin Books, 2015.
  14. Rusbridger, Alan. “Climate Change: Why the Guardian Is Putting Threat to Earth Front and Centre.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 March 2015, www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/06/climate-change-guardian-threat-to-earth-alan-rusbridger.
  15. Strauss, Neil. “Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow.” Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/elon-musk-the-architect-of-tomorrow-120850.
  16. Klein, Naomi. “Introduction.” This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Penguin Books, 2015.