Why don’t you get back into bed? The next few years — the rest of this century — are not going to be pretty. There is an obvious disconnect between any remaining political ambition to fix climate change and the dreary reality of rising temperatures and melting ice. The grim physics of warming means that the next 30 years of warming is already locked, loaded and about to be fired.
This year is on target to be the warmest year in the long term record, without the nudge of an El Niño. Next year, if an El Niño finally turns up, could be even hotter. Record droughts, storms, floods and weather extremes of all sorts are more than on the cards, they’re certainties.
The great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are more mobile and more prone to melt than we thought. The impact of rising sea levels will be obvious everywhere within a decade. The acidification of the oceans caused by their absorption of the greater part of the carbon dioxide we emit will stress ocean ecosystems at the same time as overfishing ruins them.
And while all this stares our civilisation in the face, the NZ government can only promise to “continue to focus on managing New Zealand’s emissions”, and work towards an international deal which it proposes should have no teeth.
The only consolation, should there be one, is that at some point — sooner rather than later, one hopes — the impacts of climate change will be so obvious, and so dire, that governments have no option but to act. By then it will be too late to prevent a great deal of damage and suffering. The only way to short cut the process is to build a popular consensus on the need for urgent action, and to make it an issue at the ballot box.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is our challenge for the next three years.
[For the antidote: Ian Dury]