one for sorrow, two for joy. three for a girl and four for a boy
Like many, I have some difficulty in correlating the potential increases in global temperatures with my own experiences and expectations. When I read that the planet may warm by as much as four degrees over the coming generation, I can’t help but think that’s barely equivalent to a twist of the boiler’s thermostat or a woolly jumper staying in the drawer during the deepest, darkest winter. So, really, just how worried by climate change should we be? Well, according to environmentalist Mark Lynas’s recent publication, Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency, the answer is ‘very’.
To date, our world has so-far warmed by a meagre one degree, is likely to see two degrees as early as the 2030s, three degrees around the mid-century and, the aforementioned four degrees by 2075. In other worlds, unless I live to be 112 I won’t see these temperatures, but the majority of people alive today have every chance of doing so.
The one degree increase has brought about such novelties as bush fires in the Arctic and warm summer rain at the North Pole, along with the much more mainstream setting ablaze of swathes of Australia and the US, and accompanied by a fifteen year drought in central Asia that could feasibly be accused of precipitating the Syrian war. Somewhere between one and two degrees will bear witness to the reduction and destabilisation of the Western Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, leading to a rise in sea levels that would place almost 150 world cities, each with ten million inhabitants, at risk of catastrophic flooding. Yep, London’s one of them.
Two degrees, early 2030s remember, will see-off what remains of the coral reefs, the Amazon will be the new steppe or savannah and approximately every third summer there’ll be no ice atop the Arctic Sea. The loss of the rainforest’s ‘carbon sink’ and the Arctic’s sun-reflecting shield could most likely turbo-charge our drive to the world of three degrees, which heralds chronic world shortages of food and water, as major harvests will decline by up to three-quarters. And Southern Europe will be a tad too toasty to consider it the best place for a holiday home, unless the central Sahara is currently on your wish list.
The only good news Mr Lynas can offer is that four degrees doesn’t automatically consign us to instantaneous extinction, though total economic collapse and global migration on a biblical scale will have brought the survivors a great deal closer together. Literally, if not metaphorically. It’s more likely that six degrees, the amount of warming that brought about the cataclysmic End-Permian Extinction period of 250 million years ago, which wiped-out 90% of all known species, will do it for us. Count on cockroaches being in the lucky ten percent and homo sapiens being in the ninety.
As I suspect you may have gathered, the book is not an easy read, and doesn’t have the Hollywood romcom ending we all wish for. But what’s the alternative? Forewarned is forearmed and looking-away now won’t make it go away then. Depressing? Of course. Horrific? You bet. With six degrees of devastation now clearly mapped-out in front of us, best to wise-up pretty sharpish me-thinks. In the meantime, do your bit.