2019 Will Show Us Who Is Destroying the Planet
The injustice behind climate change will become obvious, and those causing it will have nowhere to hide.
Collage: Marta Parszeniew
Hardly a week goes by without more nerve-shredding news of the climate-based crisis facing humanity. The only response seems to be indifference from politicians and directionless catastrophism from the press. Welcome to "Some Like It Hot", a column about environmental ruin that doesn't just say, "Oh god we're all screwed", but also: "and here's why".
Spring of 2018 saw southern Europe covered in snow, as the Arctic basked in warm weather. In the summer, historic storms hit the southern United States, India experienced a major heatwave and a bit of Greater Manchester went on fire.
The science linking extreme weather explicitly to climate change can be nuanced. Pointing out a single event and linking it directly to global warming can be silly. But the bottom line is that, in 2018, extreme events were perceived as less extreme. A new normal began to emerge.
Do we care? Reality may have splashed water in our faces and forced us to wake up, but does that mean we have the resolve to tackle this new crisis?
Our world will change at different rates in different parts of the world. Temperature rises of 1.5 degrees will be extremely perilous to low-lying Pacific Island nations, while more bearable in the west. Summer heatwaves will cause hose pipe bans in northern Europe, while making it difficult to survive in the Middle East.
This July, as temperatures hovered around the high 30s in Europe, it hit 42.6C in Oman overnight. Can you imagine sleeping in that?
There are lots of things that go on in far-away parts of the world that we are aware of, but don’t really care about or understand. The war in Yemen, extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, human rights abuses in the Philippines. All are in some way down to actions taken by the governments, institutions and large companies that make up our economic system. But they are all far-away, and for a few years, the worst impacts of climate change will be too.
So again, do we care? In some parts of the world, the early signs don’t look too promising.
Like some schleppy dude who is about to lose the only woman he’ll ever love, we don’t seem able to gaze passed our collective naval and make a change that will improve our lives. The world is too scary. Reality is too hard to bear. So we just go back to what we know. Silently practicing Football Manager press conferences in the bathroom mirror as we drag a toothbrush across our mouth, eating Coco Pops at 4.15PM and stepping into the voting booth to tick the box that says "back to the 1930s, pls".
The great tragedy of this moment is that just when the world needs to come together to get a handle on this terrifying threat, much of it has instead turned inwards.
In all the political shit we waded through in 2018, the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil was the turd that really stuck. Brazil is one of the countries that absolutely must be on board if we are to stop global temperatures from rising to civilisation-ruining levels, and they’ve voted for a man who basically wants to turn the Amazon into a soy farm. For a few days, that’s all I could really think about. I found myself going to work and having to remind myself to move my face when people spoke to me. To smile and pay attention. That evening, a friend was telling me a story and then trailed off. I had forgotten to respond in any way to what she was saying.
It's odd when events make you numb. When the ticker at the bottom of BBC News makes you wonder what the point is. There have been moments this year when I have felt the same way. Reporting on climate change can be really depressing. But whatever I did to make a living, our climate would still be "breaking down", so why should I? Why should any of us?
One of the things about getting older is that you face increasingly terrible events and surprise yourself by overcoming them. Often, we're stronger than we realise. The world through most lenses looks pretty terrible right now. Global politics is a mess. Emissions, after plateauing for a few years, are now rising again. Scholars have warned that a "Trump effect" is slowing the momentum sparked by the signing of the Paris agreement three years ago. Brexit continues to sap all the energy from the political process in the UK, weakening the country’s ability to lead on climate.
And yet, we’re still here. Waking up each morning and putting one foot in front of the other.
There is hope out there, opportunities to be grasped and change to be made. The agreement reached at the UN climate conference in Poland last month falls short of what is needed to transform the fossil fuel-driven economy, but it’s something: foundations to be built upon when the political landscape changes.
And there are signs that it is changing all the time. The cost of renewable energy continues to plummet, without, in most places, enjoying state support. In just a few weeks after the midterm elections, congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez turned the "Green New Deal", a jobs and infrastructure scheme to rival President Roosevelt’s flagship policy, from a fringe idea to the front of the Democrats' agenda. Last year, a new world began to seem possible.
While heroes emerged last year, 2018 was also marked by a clear enemy coming into focus. Climate change is not a nebulous concept. There is nothing intrinsic in humanity that makes tackling it impossible. It is and has been caused by a small section of the global population and a handful of companies. The climate debate, such as there is one, is no longer divided by those who agree with the science and those who ignore it: it is divided by those who have a financial interest in destroying the world and those who want to save it. In the coming year, that divide will become more obvious. We just have to keep going in the meantime.
Joe Sandler Clarke is a reporter with Unearthed