IF CLIMATE CHANGE WAS AN ILLNESS, WE WOULD IMMEDIATELY START TREATMENT

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by Dr. Hayley Pinto

About 18 months ago I had a life changing experience. I read the intergovernmental panel on climate change report. Before that I thought I was reasonably environmentally aware. I wasn’t. The more I have read, the more evident it seems that climate change is the defining issue of our age. We are on the brink of making our planet uninhabitable, for everyone — not just the poor, the vulnerable, people in Africa and Bangladesh, but also for the rich and privileged, those who have contributed to the problem and those who have not.

Climate change is not just a matter of global warming. A hotter planet means drought, floods, storms and sea level rise. These things are already happening. The 11 million people living in Brazil’s Sao Paolo are experiencing a drought so severe they are trying to drill wells through concrete in the city centre. California is in its 5th year of drought.

As the changing weather leads to food and
water insecurity, conflict emerges

Many of the world’s largest cities either rely on water from mountain glaciers, which are rapidly disappearing, or lie on coastlines destined to drown under rising sea levels, as will much of Norfolk, including our lovely Broads. Wildfires are increasing in frequency and intensity globally, as are major storms. As the changing weather leads to food and water insecurity, conflict emerges. Many people are unaware that the conflict in Syria was preceded by several years of drought. All this is happening with a temperature rise of currently 0.8 degrees.

2 degrees has been identified as the threshold beyond which we cannot safely go. However climate modeling is a complex business and there is no certainty that this will indeed be a ‘safe’ limit. Once certain tipping points are reached, the issue will be out of our hands and temperatures will escalate exponentially. For example, melting the arctic ice is releasing methane in huge quantities, a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. But this is not the end of the story.

(© Guardian)

Based on current emissions we are highly unlikely to stop at 2 degrees and are more likely to hit 4 degrees by the end of this century. Kevin Anderson, a professor of climate change and until recently, director of the U.K.’s leading climate research institution, says “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems”.

would we not, as a society, choose to try the treatment?

I am a doctor, so I am used to dealing with the concept of prognosis. For most diseases you have a reasonable sense of what the outcome will be and a rough idea of timescales.  For example, for a certain type of cancer you could say the 5 year survival is 20%, i.e. you have a one in 5 chance of surviving 5 years without treatment, this could be increased to say 60% or a 3 in 5 chance of survival with treatment. The outcome is not certain, you could still survive or die either way but given those odds I think most of us would choose to try the treatment

If we think of climate change as a disease affecting us all, but especially our children, and given that the chances of  a catastrophic outcome on present emissions are around 90% but this can be reduced significantly with implementation of mitigation strategies, would we not, as a society, choose to try the treatment? Even if there is no absolute guarantee it will work?

(© Independent)

The human race is currently facing possible extinction,
along with most other species, and yet the vast majority
of us are blissfully unaware

In medicine we have this other thing called informed consent. We are obliged to tell people what the options are and what the possible risks and benefits of these options could be according to current knowledge and practice. The human race is currently facing possible extinction, along with most other species, and yet the vast majority of us are blissfully unaware. Decisions are being taken which will decide our fate. It is not that we are being given no voice, we are being actively distracted, just like a bad doctor who rushes you in to signing the form without letting you know about the possible complications.

(© Telegraph)

We have just had a general election in which climate change was not discussed at all. Somehow a situation has been created in which even raising the issue is met with disinterest or derision.  The Guardian just struggled to get 100,000 names on a petition asking major charities to divest from fossil fuels, while a million people spontaneously signed one to bring Jeremy Clarkson back to the BBC after he assaulted a colleague in a spoilt rage.

the changes required will not be led by those currently in power

The really sad thing is that the technology does exist to give us a fighting chance of averting this disaster. That’s just current technology, let alone what we could develop if we put the $700 billion per year we currently use to subsidize the fossil fuel industry into renewable energy research. The changes needed to reduce our emissions will also make us healthier, fitter, breathing cleaner air; it will provide jobs, reduce inequality and isolation, and bring communities together. This is not fantasy land as some would have you believe. It is achievable, if enough of us decide to make it so

What is increasingly apparent is that the changes required will not be led by those currently in power. The question of our time therefore is this: how do we awaken a sleeping population to the reality of a danger they cannot see or hear, but will inevitably, and without their needing to do anything different, destroy them?

(© AFP Photo/Tim Cole)

We decided to take it into our own hands and not wait for someone else to start the wake up call. This is why we formed CHAIN (Climate Hope Action in Norfolk). Our aim is to make people aware of the issue of climate change and possible solutions. We want to give Norfolk residents the chance to learn about it and find their voice to ask for political action. And we want to educate about the big decisions that are about to be made in our names at the climate negotiations in Paris (December 2015).

We need everyone to turn this around, we need to start our own treatment now. We are starting with Norwich Climate Week from the 15th to the 18th of June (program: climatechain.org). Join us for the awakening.

To find out more about the Norwich Climate week, visit climatechain.org or contact climatenorfolk@gmail.com

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