Speculation among those concerned about climate change has been that a reckoning will arrive only when really big and obviously climate-related disasters hit developed countries, Gwynne Dyer writes in his latest column. Cyclones drowning Bangladeshis and droughts starving whole provinces in Africa don’t count, he suggests, because most people in the rich countries just see that as business as usual.
With recent heat waves and storms in the Northern Hemisphere having been so far beyond unusual, he reckons it has now come to pass: “. . . a heat wave that is a full 5 degrees Celsius higher than the previous national record in Canada is clearly not ‘natural variability’. Most people in North America now realise that something big and bad is happening to their climate.
“Only two weeks later, the same wake-up call came to Europe, with unprecedented downpours that washed away whole villages in western Germany and Belgium. This week it’s heat waves and huge wildfires in northern Siberia, and massive floods in China’s Henan province. (A year’s worth of rain in three days in Zhengzhou.)
“The price of these warnings has been remarkably low as natural catastrophes go: around 300 dead each in North America and western Europe, and only dozens each in Russia and China. But the whole industrialised world has been put on notice that the climate disasters will not only be happening in the poorer parts of the world.”
Dwyer says there is “almost nothing we can do to lessen the climate misery that awaits us in the next 20 years, because the CO2 and other greenhouse gases that will drive that heating are already in the air. It will go on getting hotter and the weather will continue to get wilder for at least that long”.
He dismisses the possibility of limiting average global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial, as the Paris Accord seeks; it’s already 1.2C above. However, “it is still possible to stop short of +2C, and spare our children and grandchildren a lifetime of grief — if the fabled ‘early and deep emissions cuts’ finally start actually happening in the next few years. Probably.”
The right sounds are now coming from Europe and the United States. As well as delivery on that, we need to hear similar from China, India and many other countries. As Dwyer writes: “. . . the obstacles of entrenched disbelief and denial are crumbling. We are entering a period where big political and behavioural changes are possible, and we need to take maximum advantage of it.”