Last night Paris’ iconic Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral caught fire. Firefighters were finally able to put out the flames after nine hours and officials say today that it suffered “colossal damage”.
Notre Dame is a landmark piece of architecture and just like many people all over the globe, I couldn’t stop watching the live images yesterday evening. The historical building was built in the 12th century and it took about 200 years to finish. It’s one of the most visited landmarks in the world, with an estimated 13 million visitors per year.
In the media since the fire started, journalists and specialists have talked about the « disaster », « drama », « tragedy » that happened in Paris. And while I agree with the global sentiment, I am wondering why human-induced climate change is never being spoken of in these terms.
Destroyed in the fire last night is Notre-Dame’s woodwork: a jewel of medieval architecture made of beams dating back eight centuries. Also lost in the fire are three relics: a parcel of the Holy Crown of Thorns, a relic of St. Denis and one of St. Genevieve, and the arrow that dramatically collapsed. The images were shocking. These are elements of our cultural and historical heritage. But if we care about a building that’s 800 years old, shouldn’t we care at least as much about saving our 4.54 billion year old planet?
The impacts of human-induced climate change are observed on every ecosystem on the planet and in many parts of the world they are occurring faster than most scientists predicted. A study published in Science in 2016 showed that the current level of warming (just one degree Celsius) has already left a discernible mark on 77 of 94 different ecological processes. More than 450 plants and animals have undergone local extinctions due to climate change, confirms an another report and 47 percent of land mammals as well as 23 percent of birds have already suffered negative impacts from climate change. Altogether, climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth’s land surface and will drive the conversion of 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type (forest, grassland or tundra) toward another by 2100.
The question here is: Why are we not reading headlines in the media about the « disaster » that is the loss of sea ice and the « drama » that is the accelerated sea level rise due to climate change? Why don’t we have cameras pointed towards the Arctic Ocean, which is expected to become essentially ice free in summer before mid-century. Why don’t we have journalists live-reporting from the island nation of Kiribati in the South Pacific, which is at risk of disappearing into the sea before the end of the century? More than a historical monument or a symbol, it’s a culture altogether that we’re losing there. We won’t be able to rebuild Kiribati. And why were there no hashtags trending on Twitter when world heritage forests and 1,000-year-old trees went up in smoke in Tanzania in 2016?
Why are we so eager to protect the things that we’ve built, rather than making sure to protect the environment where we build them so that the next generations can continue to reside here. And why are we still treating the topic of climate change like it’s a niche and unsexy topic? The planet is burning just as Notre Dame was last night, and there are not enough firefighters trying to save it.
Anne-Sophie Garrigou, Editor-in-Chief, The Beam magazine.
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