It’s estimated that more than 1,300 people die every year from the direct effects of global warming. So far. I don’t think anyone would argue, if that statistic is true, that the actual death rate is much higher. After all, it should be obvious that there are other lethal effects of climate change that are simply too subtle to detect. Whichever the case, every year at least thirteen hundred people haven’t had to wait for the world to come to an end because of climate change. The world already ended for them.
Before you get too comfortable with the idea and compare climate change deaths with deaths due to, say, Covid-19, remember that we are only seeing the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg. Things are going to get far worse and they are going to get worse rapidly.
In April of this year we were told by the United Nations climate report that It’s ‘now or never’ to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade. We were told we have eight years left to prevent climate change from turning into an irreversible global disaster. We now have a little more than seven years. And counting.
The problem isn’t “just” devastatingly hot summers, melting polar caps, more frequent and intense droughts, category 5 hurricanes, heat waves, rising sea levels, mass migrations, food riots and warming oceans. The problem is also what those effects, devastating all by themselves, are going to do to us in combination.
An interesting analogy is a medical condition known as polypharmacy. Polypharmacy is a condition that can be caused by the ingestion of multiple medicines, prescription or otherwise. While side effects of such medicines are known and can even be relatively benign, what’s not known is how they will behave in combination. In combination the side effects can be and often are lethal. The possibilities are almost infinite and hence unpredictable. Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger and the pianist Glenn Gould all died young due to polypharmacy, just to name three people.
Similarly, we don’t really know what the individual effects of global warming are going to do to us in combination. But scientists can just about guarantee that those effects will not be isolated. They won’t be standalone effects like the proverbial 10 plagues of Egypt. It will be much, much worse, and feedback loops from the interactions of different catastrophes happening on different parts of the globe will make it devastating in unpredictability and murderous in consequence.
One thing we are fairly sure of, scientists predict that if we maintain our current greenhouse gas emissions trajectory, climate change will cause more than a third of the Earth’s species to face extinction by the year 2050. In other words, in just a little over 27 years from now, 3 million species will become endangered and quite probably go extinct. That number of extinctions could include human beings. By the end of the century, 95% of all species on earth will face extinction. And we’re guaranteed to have loads of fun along the way.
So while we’re clapping ourselves on our collective backs about the results of the midterm elections, let’s not forget that Republicans, who narrowly recaptured the House, are going to demonstrate just how committed they are to curbing inflation by wasting more of our precious time cruelly persecuting Joe Biden’s chemically-addicted son in the name of cheap and partisan vengeance.
Meanwhile the world is going to hell and representatives of many nations are flying their private jets to meet up at COP 27 to play virtue-signalling games with the life of our planet. They are there not to solve the problem. They are there to greenwash the whole thing right under the rug and congratulate themselves with photo-ops and fine speeches while they do it.
Now, I’m going to use a rude word. Hide your eyes and skip this paragraph if you’re offended by rude words. But it needs to be said loud and rudely because many of us need to be shocked into attention: we don’t have time to fuck around anymore.
I’m going to use another rude word. That word is greed. But it’s a special kind of greed for which evil is too soft an adjective. It’s greed caused by people who already have plenty of money, enough to last them several lifetimes. But they want more, and they don’t care if they come by it at the expense of our planet. Where does evil like that come from? What new word can we devise that can possibly do justice to the depths of that kind of depravity?
We can only shake our collective heads and move on. We all need to do our part to save our planet. We need to start today and we need to get serious. Each of us is responsible for saving the planet the same way each of us was responsible for turning the much-ballyhooed “red wave” into a pink puddle. Our little votes really do count in a big way when all of us “snowflakes” come together and form one huge collective avalanche.
So speak up about global warming every chance you get. Don’t be obnoxious about it, be rational, be compassionate, but be effective. Learn as much as you can about climate change so you can speak about it knowledgeably. Boycott offending companies, companies with poor or egregious ratings. Recycle. Wean yourself away from gasoline powered transportation. Make living green the new guiding principle of your lives.
If you can’t bring yourself to become vegan then at least stop discouraging and making jokes about those of us who are. Encourage, don’t discourage. If we make saving the planet popular and profitable and destroying it embarrassing and ruinous we might just pull it off. We might just save the planet and thereby save ourselves.
I don’t know what’s going to happen and neither do you. But I do know this: if we don’t do everything we possibly can — right now — to save our home and the animals who dwell here, we will live to regret it. One day we will wish pitifully and hopelessly that we had and it will be too late. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.