Let’s Talk About Climate Change

by Bunny McDiarmid

September 12, 2018

As Hurricane Florence heads towards the southeast coast, it's become a rare threat to the region that hasn't seen a storm like this in decades. The reality of climate change means communities must deal with the aftermath of extreme weather and we must acknowledge the urgency of action needed to protect all from further harm.

An abandoned truck sits at the pumps of a Valero gas station after flood waters from Hurricane Harvey inundated the area in Katy, Texas. Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast some 175 miles (280 kilometers) from Houston, but the nation's fourth-largest city has never needed a direct strike from a catastrophic storm to flood. Rain from the hurricane is expected to fall for days compounding the problem for much of the state.

If the repeated dire warnings from the world’s climate scientists have not been enough, then the recent tragic events in Japan, Europe, and California must convince us to finally admit we have a problem.

Facing up to the reality of climate change will be cold solace to those who have lost loved ones in a tragic few weeks of multiple extreme weather disasters, but we also acknowledge the urgency of action to protect our communities from further harm.

Only by accepting the evidence that this extreme weather is consistent with the predictions of climate change will we be able to come to terms with the crisis we find ourselves in and galvanize action.

Communities across the world are demanding change. They are saying no to suffering, extreme weather, polluting fossil fuels and worsening air pollution and calling for political leaders to act as they also seek accountability and climate justice.

A couple walk hand in hand through flood waters in Beaumont, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The human impacts of Harvey have been staggering, and this disaster makes clear once again that coastal Texas and the wider Gulf region are on the frontlines of sea level rise and extreme weather heightened by climate change, as well as the toxic impacts from fossil fuel infrastructure.

Over the past 30 years, politicians have debated and disagreed over climate change as the fossil fuel industry profited and the reality of global warming inexorably inched closer.

Today’s reality is that global average temperatures were 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures last year and five of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2010. We’re no longer on the edge of climate change but are living among it. This is now our moment of truth.

California, no stranger to wildfires, has experienced five years of extreme drought from 2012-2017 that has made the state’s vegetation “explosively dry” and in combination with the current summer heat, the state is battling a series of terrifying wildfires. The Carr fire in particular exploded across vast swathes of the state’s wilderness, showing the threat of climate change in real time.

Brushy, drylands in California between Orange and Riverside counties continue to burn, leading to more than 20,000 evacuations from a fire blamed on arson. The Holy Fire has scorched more than 21,473 acres after it ignited in the Cleveland National Forest’s Holy Jim Canyon. Thick smoke and ash spewing from the fire prompted air quality warnings. As in many of the wildfires burning across the state, steep terrain in the Holy Fire is making it difficult for fire crews and engines to get close to the flames.

Europe is also burning. Greece is in mourning as the death toll mounts from potentially deliberately lit fires, while massive blazes continue to ravage the Great Northern Forest from Sweden in the west to the Russian Far East.

The devastation is being blamed on record temperatures and heatwaves in the first half of summer in the northern hemisphere, as 2018 shapes up to be one of the hottest years on record, continuing the recent upward trend.

The extent of this year’s heatwave has been attributed to movements in the west-to-east winds, called the jet stream, which has been further north than usual for about two months.

As research into the jet stream and the interplay between global weather continues, there is one certainty that is not in doubt: global CO2 emissions are driving temperatures higher and raising the risk of extreme weather.

Japan has faced an onslaught of extreme weather in recent weeks. More than 200 people were killed in historic flooding, followed by an extreme heatwave and just last weekend a typhoon battered the country again – all of this happening in July.

Each one of these events is a separate tragedy. From the six-year-old child in Japan who died during the heatwave or the nine-year-old twins who perished with their grandparents in the Greek fires or the 81-year-old firefighter who died battling the California wildfires. These are just some of the faces of victims of human-induced climate change.

While the circumstances are different, the tell-tale evidence of climate change is the same and it’s time we have an honest conversation about the world we face.

The brutal truth is that we’re far off track from achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and are instead hurtling towards a 3-degree world – or worse. Some of the world’s oldest trees are dying and the Antarctic ice melt is accelerating.

Scientists arrive at the Pio XI and Amalia glaciers, in the Magallanes region, to study the impact that climate change has had on the glaciers of Patagonia. Traveling with X-ray equipment, a group of scientists applied a technique called radio glaciology to measure the density of ancient ice and determine its retreat.

In October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release its special report examining how we can limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The message will be clear: no level of warming is safe, but we can limit the risks.

There is still time but it requires an unprecedented shift away from coal, oil and gas and transformational change in how we protect our oceans and forests and farm our land.

While we must stop and honor those who are suffering and despair at the loss of life, livelihoods or habitat, we must also act to protect others. We must once more tell the world’s political leaders that the time to act is now. This is the moment of truth.

Bunny McDiarmid

By Bunny McDiarmid

Bunny McDiarmid is an activist with more than 30 years of experience leading national and international campaigns. She is no stranger to Greenpeace, having worked in various capacities with the organisation starting in 1984. She currently serves as co-executive director of Greenpeace International.

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