State of the World

State of the World

Back in 1989 as a new, raw (and much younger!) Green Party member, I bought a copy of the Worldwatch Institute’s Report entitled “State of the World 1989”. Their reports, still published annually, identify current environmental problems and advocate workable solutions.

Picking the 1989 book up from my bookshelf a few weeks back, my eyes were drawn to the section “The threat of Climate Change”, a part of the chapter “A World at Risk”. It is interesting to look back over 32 years with the benefit of hindsight. (All quotes are from this section of the book.)

“Just since 1958, the CO2 concentration has gone from 315 parts per million to 352 ppm”

An increase of 37 ppm over 31 years. In May 2020 the figure peaked at 417 ppm, that’s an increase of 65 ppm in 31 years; this is almost a doubling in the rate of increase. And no sign of a levelling off.

“Between 2030 and 2050, average temperatures could be 1.5 – 4.5 degrees Celsius higher than they have been in recent decades”

The NASA Goddard Space Centre reports figures of a 0.75 degree C increase in global temperature during the period 1989 to 2020, so by 2050, the lower end prediction may not be so far out. The temperature rise is currently around 1.1 degree C above pre industrial times.

“Accelerated species extinction is an inevitable consequence of a rapid warming”

Such is the rate of decimation of Earth’s biosphere that scientists now talk of the Sixth Mass Extinction Event taking place and the term Anthropocene has been coined to highlight the effect of humanity on ecosystems.

“Unexpected droughts, extraordinary heat waves, and devastating hurricanes are among the dangerous events likely to be more common in a warmer world”

Such extreme events now seem relatively common news, be they fires from Australia to California to Siberia (or Wareham Forest), hurricanes in the Caribbean and Southern USA, cyclones in Asia or flooding in Northern England and Wales.

“By the end of the next century (meaning 2100) sea level may be up by as much as two metres”

In 2019 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that sea levels will rise by between 0.61 m and 1.1m by 2100. Less than the 1989 prediction but still enough to devastate low lying cities and towns like Weymouth.

It is absolutely clear that the basic science of climate change was sufficiently well understood in 1989 that quantitative predictions comparable to those made today were possible. They were spot on regarding the likely consequences of climate change.

During the 32 years since then, despite an ever-increasing plethora of supportive scientific data, a combination of global corporate lobbying generating climate change denialism with short-term- minded democratic governments showing various degrees of incompetence, indifference, indecision, procrastination and prevarication, has brought us to the point we are at today. Despite all the climate science and the warnings of countless scientists, climate change may well now be deemed to be generally ”accepted” as a process, but the fundamental changes necessary to deal with the problem have simply not happened. Nor are they seriously on the horizon.

Throughout the last three decades the Green Party has banged away about climate change. It is almost certainly too late to stop many of the consequences of climate change, but action now could reduce the severity of the impacts.

“The challenge is to act before it is too late….. The longer society waits the more radical and draconian the needed responses will be.”

How right they were and how I wish, wish, wish that more had listened. The essence of what was said still applies; the longer we wait the more radical and draconian must be the response.

It remains an uphill battle to convince government, be it at national or local level, that radical, ambitious and immediate actions are essential. Every Green Party member needs to put their shoulder to the wheel and support –or maybe even become in the near future – Green Party elected representatives who, despite their relatively small numbers, continue to punch well above their weight in setting the agenda and influencing policy in the direction of a safer and more just world for all our descendants.

We do not have the luxury of leaving structural change for another 32 years!

Graham Lambert, February 2021