Thu | Oct 18, 2018

Gordon Robinson | Apocalypse now

Published:Sunday | October 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The Riverton dump on fire earlier this year.

The apocalypse won't be coming as a result of nuclear warfare, famine, poverty, pestilence, or genocide.

Its harbinger will be climate change.

Climate change is something most know peripherally ("Bwoy, it a get hotter every summer") but shrug off as a political problem too complicated to understand. "No worries. It nah goh affeck us 'til long after wi dead. Mek we clean up di beach; ban plastic bags (single-use only); and pass nice-sounding laws like Anti-Litter Act. No need fi frighten."

Wrong! On. Every. Count. It's not going away. And it won't wait for us to die to have a severe impact on our lives. The first and most important thing to do is to stop pretending climate change is scientific gobbledygook and break it down into terms simpletons like me can understand. Readers, what's coming up right now is of deadly importance to you, so put down the remote, sit up straight, and take it in. Very. Far. In.

'Climate change' is caused by global warming. That's no longer a fashionable phrase. "Ah, wey dis global warming deh? It cold 'til ... ," says the Jamaican emigre to South Dakota in January. Maybe, but get this: It's all about global warming. Global warming is caused by an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Yes, the same carbon dioxide we exhale with every breath. Carbon dioxide absorbs heat, so the more we expel into the atmosphere (especially by unnatural means), the hotter the Earth becomes.

This isn't a recent discovery. In 1859, an Irish physicist named John Tyndall found this out and determined that variations in atmospheric composition created changes in climate. Eighteen fifty-nine! His findings inspired Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist and Nobel laureate, to deduce in 1896 that combustion of coal and petroleum could raise global temperatures. Arrhenius calculated that the warming would become noticeable in a few centuries, or sooner, if the consumption of fossil fuels continued to increase. Eighteen ninety-six!

Little did he know that consumption of fossil fuels would increase faster than the PNP could pounce on Andrew Wheatley. Forty years later, Guy Stewart Callendar, a British steam engineer, observed that temperatures at some weather stations were the hottest in recorded history over a five-year period. He wrote that humankind had found a way to "speed up" nature's processes.

This isn't the work of some mad modern scientist. This has been a much-unheeded discovery for almost 200 years.

FACT: It is carbon dioxide that's warming the planet, melting ice sheets in the Arctic, raising sea levels, endangering coastal cities, and threatening human civilisation.

FACT: Since Tyndall's discovery, the world has warmed more than one degree Celsius.

 

Paris climate agreement

 

The objective of the much-ballyhooed Paris climate agreement, signed by many nations in 2016 but ignored by the USA, is to restrict global warming to two degrees Celsius. It's a non-binding, unenforceable agreement paid less respect than Rodney Dangerfield. The odds against the Paris Accord succeeding have been calculated at 20/1. Turfites know what that means.

FACT: If we succeed in restricting global warming to two degrees, we'd only be facing extinction of the world's tropical reefs (yes, TROPICAL reefs - that's us), sea-level rise of several metres, and abandonment of the Persian Gulf. That's the extent to which the Paris Accord hopes to limit the damage. Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario.

It didn't have to be like this. The world had a golden opportunity in the 1970s to do the right thing and came within a few signatures of a climate-change accord that would've averted disaster had it been enforced. The world's nations accepted that data collected for 20 years showed conclusively that humans were altering the atmosphere by indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels. What happened? Lobbyists from the fossil-fuel industry thwarted the good intentions of the many with standard tactics (including the corruption of some scientists), eventually succeeding in obfuscating the danger.

So, here we are in 2018.

FACT: If we restrict global warming to three degrees, we can look forward to short-term disaster like forests in the Arctic and more coastal cities lost. Robert Watson, a former director of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, argues that this is the realistic minimum.

FACT: A four-degree warming will result in Europe in permanent drought; large areas of China, India, and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia disappearing into the sea; the Colorado River becoming the Colorado trickle; and the US Southwest mainly uninhabitable.

Let's try to avoid talking about a five-degree warming because some of the world's leading climate scientists have warned that this could mean the end of human civilisation.

Gentle people, this is no joke. Geophysical Research Letters has reported (March 2018) that the western part of Greenland's ice sheet is melting at its fastest rate in 450 years. The current state of Arctic ice melt hasn't been seen in 5,000 years. Despite an 1874 classified CIA report that concluded that climate change that had begun in earnest circa 1960 "already caused major economic problems around the world", and future economic and political effects would be "almost beyond comprehension", fuel emissions continue to rise.

On August 5, The New York Times' international correspondent, Alissa J. Rubin, reported:

"In Northern Europe, this summer feels like a modern-day version of the biblical plagues. Cows are dying of thirst in Switzerland, fires are gobbling up timber in Sweden, the majestic Dachstein glacier is melting in Austria.

In London, stores are running out of fans and air-conditioners. In Greenland, an iceberg may break off a piece so large it could trigger a tsunami that destroys settlements on shore. Last week, Sweden's highest peak, Kebnekaise mountain, no longer was in first place after its glacier tip melted.

Southern Europe is even hotter. Temperatures in Spain and Portugal are expected to reach 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend. On Saturday, several places in Portugal experienced record highs, and over the past week, two people died in Spain from the high temperatures and a third in Portugal.

But in the northernmost latitudes, where the climate is warming faster than the global average, temperatures have been the most extreme ... ."

What can we do if the mighty USA seems not to care? To begin with, we must take a philosophical approach. We're not responsible for anything anyone else does, but we're certainly responsible for what we do. We must do our part. The announced single-use plastic-bag ban, if actually legislated (I see Wisynco already pushing back, asking for a five-year delay), is like 20 lawyers at the bottom of the sea - a good start.

 

Ban not enough

 

But, without more, it really isn't much help. Bans don't work (especially in Jamaica), and our education system doesn't address the need to change an ingrained culture of "ah, no nutten". The ban needs to be combined with strict enforcement as well as a corresponding system of incentives for the recycling of plastics.

See 'bredrin' walking along Sandy Gully with empty beer and plastic soda bottles in hand. He's about to throw the beer bottle into the gully but stops himself at the last minute. "Rahtid, mi can get sumting fi dis," he mutters to himself as he tosses the plastic bottle instead.

We must commit to a transformed system of primary/secondary education that prioritises civics and civic-mindedness. Children live what they learn. Let's start with baby steps by teaching our babies to grow up thinking differently than we did.

Until our education system catches up with the reality of climate change and students graduate with a new mindset, we need to offer 'bredrin' a cash incentive to return the plastic bottle and to learn how to properly separate solid waste for recycling.

We need to move from announcement government to an action government that matches cultural realities.

Let's get serious about renewable energy. We've been talking about LNG for 15 years, and LNG is but a small step in the right direction. LNG is NOT renewable energy. It's time to stop the political pissing around with renewable energy. Either crap or get off the pot.

Remove all Customs duties and GCT/SCT from the importation of anything involved in solar energy. Close down that glorified middleman named NESol and properly staff the USF to promote solar energy islandwide.

And another thing! It's full time we dismantle the NSWMA and the entire local government cesspool. Use the money saved to create a proper, privatised system of garbage collection and recycling. Invite investors to erect and operate modern landfills. Get rid of the Riverton Dump. Why should I care about my gas-guzzling SUV when Government unendingly adds to carbon emissions with regular dump fires?

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.