Saving the planet and ourselves

Participants look at a screen showing a world map depicting climate anomalies during the World Climate Change Conference at Le Bourge, France, in December 2015. File photo: CNS/Reuters

As I wrote this, monster Typhoon Kammuri (called Tisoy in the Philippines) was ravaging the Bicol region in the central Philippines. It packed winds of up to 209 kilometres per hour (130 mph) and it was more ferocious than previous typhoons to hit that part of this nation’s archipelago. Tidal surges wrecked houses and the wind is ripped away and shredded the light bamboo structures of the poor. On the mountains, landslides threatened entire villages. 

This is climate change for the worst, the very worst as the earth grows hotter and the oceans warmer causing massive evaporation and forming the typhoons and massive rainstorms that are causing flooding everywhere.

It is not only the Philippines that is being pounded by extreme storms and massive flooding. Australia, California and central and South Africa were recently hit by severe drought. Seemingly endless forest fires have been ravaging forests worldwide and the smoke and smog is killing thousands of people. The great Amazon rainforest is burning. Thousands are suffering. Plants and animals perish. Over a hundred elephants died from starvation in Zimbabwe this year.

This we must and can stop. The experts and advocates saving the planet call it “ecocide” where the ecology and environment is being destroyed before our eyes. There is always hope that humans can change their destructive lifestyles and convert from using coal and fossil fuels that drive industrial production to renewable sources of energy such as geothermal, solar and wind power. 

The United Nations Climate Change Conference called COP25 brought together more than 50 heads of state in Spain where the nations must present new climate control action plans if we are to control the rise in world temperatures.

United Nations (UN) secretary general, Antonio Guterres, said that action and important decisions must be made now to cut the greenhouse emissions that are pumping deadly gases into the atmosphere. Coal-fired power plants and factories burning oil are the main culprits as well as the millions of diesel- and gas-powered vehicles around the world. 

The greater risk, according to some climate advocates, is what Guterres said: that the “point of no return is no longer over the horizon” 

The change to renewable sources of electricity has to be urgently accelerated if we are to hold the rising temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius and to each carbon neutrality by 2050. That is, to produce no more CO2 than the forests and oceans can absorb, and offset by planting trees, using carbon capture technology and zero tolerance for greenhouse gasses.

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What he means is the point when the climate gets so hot that it is not possible to stop or reverse it. When the planet has heated up to melt the permafrost, billions of cubic feet of methane gas will rise into the atmosphere and thicken the blanket around the planet so no heat can escape and the sun will bake us as if we are in an oven. 

The ice in Antarctica and the Arctic is melting so fast there is too little ice to reflect the sun’s rays back into space. It could lead to disastrous global drought and food crops will fail and mass starvation will be the result.

The scientific evidence is clear. The years 2014 to 2023 will be marked as the hottest years in 150 years. That indicates that the climate has warmed one degree centigrade since the levels in 1850-1900. The forecast of temperature rise will be between 1.03 and 1.57 degrees above pre-industrial levels in the coming years. 

However if nothing is done now, by the year 2100, the increase will reach a critically disastrous 3.2 degrees. If industrialised nations act now to change, then the increase will still be a very dangerous and disastrous 2.9 degrees.

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The biggest polluters on the planet are the United States (US) and China. India is not far behind. 

The US president, Donald Trump does not believe the scientific evidence that the climate is changing since he lives in permanent climate-controlled environment with air conditioning. 

China wants to be a global power as powerful as the United States and keeps building coal-fired power plants to produce and sell to the world, and grow economically and militarily.

However, the good news is that leading Democrats from the US Congress are in Spain for the conference. US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said at the opening of the conference that in addressing the climate injustice, many small island nations must have support and there must be “economic and environmental justice for all.” 

The president of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, Hilda Heine, said that they are fighting for life as oceans rise due to melting ice caps and are inundating their low-lying islands.

Another deep concern posed by the rising waters around the Marshall Islands is the huge concrete dome known as the Runit Dome that encases 3.1 million cubic feet of deadly radioactive debris and soil, including the death-dealing plutonium. Susanne Rust of the Los Angeles Times reports that the United States detonated 67 nuclear bombs between 1946 and 1958 in the Marshall Islands.

Several islands were vaporised and thousands of islanders were evacuated and exiled. Many were suffering severe effects of radiation. The huge dome is gradually coming under threat from the rising oceans, and the radioactive waste will likely seep out and contaminate the ocean waters and the marine life. 

It could be goodbye to the Marshalls and their wonderful, resilient people. We hope not and if global action is taken to curb global warming there is a chance they and mankind will survive.

Father Shay Cullen 

Author: SundayExam