Risking human existence for a few years of profit


Progress Namibia - Risking human existence for a few years of profit
15 October 2018

[Image Source: www.polyp.org.uk]

So I have been trying to fly less, and when I do fly, I try and fly as direct as possible. You would think that this would be cheaper given that I am using less fuel and burning less carbon. Especially when we as a global community have decided to reduce carbon emissions to such an extent that we do not burn our planet. You would think that using more fossil fuel would come at a higher and higher price. So I tried to book a ticket with my travel agent to Europe where I am piggy-backing a few meetings, including in Geneva, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam. So, here I thought, if I fly KLM to Amsterdam from Windhoek, then I will do the train for the inter-country travel in Europe, to save on emissions. Turns out, that the direct return flight to Amsterdam from Windhoek is more expensive (by a few grand) than if I buy the same ticket but it includes various internal flights. So, to get this straight, having more flights tacked on to this return flight actually makes it cheaper. In this case then if I choose the train option, not only am I paying more for only one return flight, but on top of this I would have to still buy my train tickets. I share this because given our current global situation it is beyond ridiculous that we live in an economic system where you are STILL financially incentivized to pollute and destroy life on Earth.

Last week, the IPPC's 2018 climate change report came out on how far we have come since our Paris agreement in 2015, and how to protect human civilization by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius, which is more stringent than the current 2 degree target. Just to share with you the difference between 1.5 and 2 degree warming: coral reefs, for instance, would decline by 70-90% with global warming of 1.5, whereas virtually all would be lost with 2 degrees. In fact, we would overall see fewer life-threatening heat, drought and precipitation extremes, less sea level rise, and fewer species lost. Remember, it is all connected, so the knock-on effect would be insurmountable if we even do the bare minimum 2 degrees.

To limit to 1.5 degree warming, our countries would need to reduce carbon emissions faster than we have ever achieved. We would need to (urgently) spread the world's best climate practices globally - like changing from cars to well designed public transport systems (like many European countries), good energy efficiency (like in California), vegetarianism (particularly where veggies and crops can grow easily, like in India), land protection in Costa Rica, and bicycle use in Netherlands or Denmark.

Most importantly, if we, along with the existence of most other species that have evolved with us, want to continue existing, all the coal and oil still in the ground, would have to be left in the ground.

And while the air would be cleaner and we would be insurmountably more healthy than we are now, we would have already squandered opportunities for change when profit-driven arguments over the past four decades meant that we have already reached a tipping point - so we will see some devastating climate change now either way for the next decades because the feedback system is so delayed. But it will be hella better than what might happen if we do not change asap.

In 1972, a computer model called World3 that was developed by top MIT systems scientists, predicted that if we continued with population and industrial growth as we have for decades, that human civilisation would collapse by 2040, with the tipping point being in 2020. The work was published in The Limits to Growth. According to the book, "at around 2020, the condition of the planet becomes highly critical. I we do nothing about it, the quality of life goes down to zero. Pollution becomes so serious it will start to kill people." [note on update here: it already has...with 7 million people a year already dying of air pollution...and this is nothing compared to what could come].

If we are incapable of even pricing carbon right, then what hope do we have? And it is so simple. Yes, we will have to make to make some big changes. The SDGs don't talk about radical transformation for nothing. But it is so possible. And if we did it, more of us would lead a quality life. Isn't that alone worth doing something? What is happening now, is that there is global elite capture at the cost of the 99% of humanity, and 90% of other life. Why have we accepted this? Why are we okay with a system that is turning our world into a place where our children and grandchildren will not be able to survive? Why can we not instead change the system to one that turns our world in which we, and our children, can thrive?

Why do we incentivize bad economic policy, and disincentivize economic policy that would create a better world for us all? Why subsidize fossil fuels instead of taxing them? We need to be paying for the real cost of things, and not ignoring the hidden cost. We could be building our transport system in such a way where we eliminate not only pollution, but we also eliminate traffic congestion, vehicle accidents, noise pollution, space pollution (you know how much space our cars take up in a city with too little housing - your car has more housing space than the average Namibian!), stress, anxiety, mistrust. I could go on. Just by changing the transport system alone. But instead we continue investing in big highways for big cars and trucks, and continue selling big cars that pollute our ears, our minds, our air.

Those of us who have been shouting and screaming for humanity to change course cannot shout any louder. As global scientists published in their paper last year, a desperate plea "A second warning to humanity", we are on our last. We are actually past our last warning, because we have already hit various tipping points of no return, but we can still create a better society. It is possible. If we do not, if we carry on as normal, we will have no excuse when the water does not run out of our taps anymore, when our topsoil is gone, when our economies completely collapse, when dust comes instead of rain, when most of us die of sickness and hunger. We will only be able to blame ourselves. And our children and grandchildren will blame us too. And we will have to tell them that we knew what was coming, the solution was simple and achievable, but instead, we did nothing. We did nothing, because we decided to risk our planet for a few years of profit that most of us never even saw.

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