This calamitous warning comes from the latest report released earlier this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Along with the wildfires, torrential rains and floods affecting different parts of the globe, we get another bit of apocalyptic news: the earth is heating up much faster than previously estimated and global temperatures could breach the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming mark as early as in the 2030s.
This calamitous warning comes from the latest report released earlier this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The 234 scientists who prepared this report of over 3,000 pages have pointed out that climatic changes today have accelerated, triggering multiple climate disasters such as those experienced recently in the western United States where wildfires, drought and heatwaves struck simultaneously.
Events such as these could become more common as global warming caused by human activity is making sea levels rise faster and faster, polar ice cover recede and extremes of heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms become more frequent.
The report said the kind of heatwaves that used to happen only once every 50 years now happens once a decade, and if the world warms another degree Celsius, this will happen twice every seven years. “Climate change is here and now. No one is safe. Despite warnings from so many years, the world did not listen. We need to act now”, lamented Inger Anderson, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Experts across the globe are united in sounding dire warnings. Alok Sharma, the British minister who is president of the next UN climate conference (COP 26), to be held in Glasgow in November, says the latest report shows the “lights are flashing red on the climate dashboard… The science is clear, the impacts of the climate crisis can be seen around the world and if we don’t act now, we will continue to see the worst effects impact lives, livelihoods and natural habitats”.
One of the implications of climate change that has not received much attention is its impact on civilisations. Climate change is unlikely to affect all parts of the globe or all nations uniformly. Some regions and nations are more vulnerable, and not just the low-lying ones which could be considerably, if not completely, inundated with rising sea levels. The IPCC observes that since 1950, total global rainfall has increased, but unevenly -- some regions have become wetter, others have become drier. In other words, some countries are going to be hit more than others. This will translate into very significant shifts in the global geopolitical order.
The rise in the unpredictability of weather conditions has a strong correlation with the state of civilisations. Scientists today know that the rise of human civilisation over the past 11,000 years is directly correlated with stable and predictable weather conditions. As weather conditions became more certain, humans could plan ahead and develop agriculture that was reliable over the medium and long terms, and capable of supporting large groups of people.
Dramatic shifts in weather caused many civilisations to decline and fade over time, although the downturn was rarely abrupt or spectacular. The once thriving Mayans of Central America started abandoning their cities around 900 AD, that coincided with the start of massive persistent droughts; and even though millions of Mayans survive to this day there is no trace of their once powerful kingdoms that had survived for almost 3,000 years.
Similar was the case of the civilisation centred around Angkor Wat in modern-day Cambodia: a period of severe drought in 1400 AD caused its gradual disintegration.
This story has parallels in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Mohenjo Daro and other parts of the world.
It’s not as if human societies don’t try to cope with climate change; it is just that often their efforts are not good enough. In many cases the massive effort required to alter the effects of permanent weather changes just isn’t forthcoming. Even today, nations are not cooperating fully to deal with climate change for various reasons. UNEP’s Inger Anderson also pointed out that only 110 countries of the 191 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have submitted new or updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) ahead of the Glasgow climate conference. “We cannot undo the mistakes of the past, but this generation of political and business leaders and conscious citizens can make things right”, she added.
Dr Jason Ur, a Harvard University archaeologist who has been using Nasa imagery to discover lost civilisations in the Middle East, observed: “When we excavate the remains of past civilisations, we rarely find any evidence that they made any attempts to adapt in the face of a changing climate. I view this inflexibility as the real reason for collapse.”
There is indeed an inevitability about the direction of historical processes. Mankind as a whole is immensely resistant to change and diverting the collective momentum of several billion humans is an extremely difficult if not impossible task. Humans are prone to keep acting within their comfort zone, carrying on the way they always do.
Even the horrific Covid-19 pandemic that has mowed down millions across the globe has failed to bring about any fundamental change in human behaviour. Climate change is more abstruse and not of any immediate consequence. It excites only the educated and the environmentally conscious. The average citizen remains unconcerned, except when events begin to hit home, like the wildfires, intense summers, floods and unprecedented rains experienced this year.
For the first time, many people who couldn’t care less about climate change are perking up their ears. The authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change point out that if nations come together the impending calamity can be averted. But will the world change? Will people consume less, conserve more and live closer in tune with nature? It’s possible, but highly unlikely.
Nobody will agree to live more simply: the idea of progress is increased opulence, meaning more to eat, drink, travel, wear and splurge. Mankind will go on burning vast amounts of energy to feed its appetite for animal protein, travel, comfort and consumption. No politician is going to tell voters to tighten their belts and embark on a less voracious lifestyle. That would be political suicide. Instead, every leader as those before them will pledge to maintain their nation’s way of life and fulfil the materialistic aspirations of their people.
Thus, the world is destined to get warmer, weather conditions more extreme and large parts of the land mass submerged. In the near future, the world will be more crowded, certainly hotter and possibly more violent. Welcome to the “new normal”!
The writer is an independent commentator on global political and security issues