For future of our species, it’s time to fight

Published: January 4, 2019

For future of our species, it’s time to fight
Fast-worsening climate threat calls for leadership to avert catastrophe

The New Zealand Herald 1 Jan 2019 
Donna Awatere Huata comment

The latest science is telling us we are rapidly running out of time and yet big corporate interests are still the ones shaping the debate.

On September 30, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stepped off a plane and waved a signed document with Hitler declaring “Peace for our time”. His appeasement pre-empted the invasion of Poland and I fear we have seen another appeasement in Poland 80 years later against a threat far more dangerous to our species than the fight against fascism.

The recent UN climate conference in Poland has been hailed as some sort of breakthrough, it was nothing of the sort. Refusing to wean the planet off fossil fuels, no clear target for 2030 was set. What amounts to little more than vague promises to record existing emissions is not a “breakthrough”, only a step in the right direction if the alternative was to do nothing at all.

The latest science is telling us we are rapidly running out of time and yet big corporate interests are still the ones shaping the debate while governments offer nothing more than appeasement to those big polluter interests.

To achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit requires a worldwide cut of 45 per cent in gas emissions by 2030. Scientists are telling us the window of opportunity is fast closing, making this delay even more morally despicable.

The irony of the conference was that it was sponsored by the coal industry and Poland made it clear that coal, which fuels 80 per cent of its energy, is there to stay.

An audit of the Paris Agreement promises in 2017 tells us that if action against climate change is limited to just the current pledges the planet will still heat by 3C by 2100. That kind of warming would be catastrophic for many parts of our planet, to the point formal social structures in some countries would simply shut down.

While optimism is important to help stop people slipping into nihilistic apathy, we can not continue to appease corporate interests and must force immediate strategies to mitigate and adapt to the challenge of climate change, and to do this we need the economy on a war footing.

Global warming is as much an existential threat to our way of life as the fight against Nazism in World War II and demands a similar single-minded response if we have any hope of adapting in time.

We must look at an enormous upgrade of planting forests, we must look to be carbon neutral within a decade, not by 2050 and we must provide tax breaks for an economy that sustains, not pollutes.

The latest scientific research is grim — 14,000 tons of fresh water per second is pouring into the oceans from a melting Arctic while Antarctica is far less stable than we had previously believed. If the “Thwaites Doomsday Glacier” melts, we will see a 13-foot (4m) sea level rise.

But it gets worse. The latest paper in the journal Science shows these events are linked and can become feedback loops for far more disruptive climate events. The desalination of the water near vulnerable current pumps like the Labrador Sea could shut down the ocean conveyor belt that takes heat from the tropics and makes Northern Europe inhabitable. That shutdown could cause global climatic chaos.

These aren’t theoretical any longer, they are looming possibilities for a planet that hurtles towards a rapidly warming future. To continue with business as usual misunderstands the enormity of the problem facing us and is a cowardly appeasement that sells out future generations.

Now is the time for leadership and courage, not hollow words and empty deeds. It took a lot more than handwringing to defeat fascism.

Donna Awatere Huata, a former Act MP, is Māori Climate Commissioner, an office set up by iwi to give Māori a voice in the development of climate change policy.

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