🔒 WORLDVIEW: A reminder that climate change is real & happening now

Decades ago, climate scientists predicted that, if we didn’t reduce the amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere, we would experience changes in the climate – or climate change – including more extreme weather, more severe droughts and flooding, worse wildfires, and changing weather patterns.

As you no doubt know, we ignored the warning and dramatically increased the amount of carbon we released. In the last few years, in fact, over the last few weeks, we’ve seen extreme weather, severe droughts and flooding, terrible wildfires, and changing weather patterns. This is not a coincidence.

In Venice, the city is – once again – underwater thanks to the second-worst floods in its history. Some people will doubtless email me to point out that Venice has flooded before and, therefore, climate change is not the issue (strange logic, like saying that because some people smoke without getting lung cancer there’s no relationship between smoking and lung cancer). But according to one climate scientist, five of the ten highest tides – the ultimate cause of the extensive flooding – in Venice’s history have happened in the last 20 years. The most recent one was last year. In other words, the flooding problem in Venice is getting worse – as climate models predicted.

Australia is on fire. Sydney is threatened by “catastrophic fires” – there are 85 fires burning along Australia’s east coast and 40 of them are uncontrolled. Towns are being evacuated, four people are dead, and over 100,000 homes are threatened. Australia has always had bush fires.

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But these are among the worst ever on the east coast, and the country’s fires are becoming more frequent and more dangerous. Droughts have ravaged Australia in recent years, increasing fire risk, and the country is experiencing more and more days where temperatures exceed 40C. This January was the hottest on record. Again, this is in line with what climate models predicted, although the changes have been faster and harsher than expected.

California has been burning to the ground almost annually – this year’s fires in October were devastating, costly, and among the worst on record. They are getting worse every year as the state gets drier.

KwaZulu-Natal saw two people killed in a tornado this week, one of 17 that have hit SA in the last decade. Two years ago, Gauteng was hit. While it’s true that we cannot link any one particular storm to climate change – we simply don’t have the tools to account for the many millions of variables involved, including the fabled butterfly flapping its wings in a forest in Brazil – it is also true that South Africa has experienced more and more severe droughts, floods, storms, and fires in the last decade. Almost as if those climate models were right again.

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China is facing an outbreak of the pneumonic plague, caused by an exploding rat population linked to – you guessed it – climate change-exacerbated droughts in Inner Mongolia. Again, climate scientists have been predicting increased disease burdens as changing temperatures mean that certain animals and insects have more opportunity to infect human populations. Another point for the scientists.

Now, many climate deniers will argue that these are anecdotes, not evidence – presumably safe in the knowledge that, by the time the evidence is irrefutable and most of the world’s big cities are underwater, they will be dead and it won’t be their problem.

But I cannot, for the life of me, understand why people object to climate action. People advocating for sustainable, green development want us to recycle more, produce less waste, reduce our reliance on energy sources that release carbon and particulates into the air, drive less, walk and bike more, eat more sustainably by embracing cleaner farming techniques, and generally live in a way that does less damage to the world.

Why would anyone object to this? It’s mystifying. Even if you don’t believe in climate change, do you honestly believe it’s a good thing that the ocean is so polluted that there will soon be more plastic than fish in it? What’s wrong with recycling coffee cups rather than throwing them into giant landfills or the sea? It’s better for the environment and can even save money. It’s a net Good Thing.

Or, for that matter, why would you not want to replace dirty coal plants, which release PM2.5 particulates that can enter our bloodstream and cause premature death from heart and lung disease, with solar panels that release nothing?

Why wouldn’t you want people to walk more? Obesity is a leading killer in most countries in the world, exacerbated by our sedentary lifestyles. Parking and walking would save human lives, even if it didn’t have benefits for the environment.

Sadly, rationality has little to do with climate debates these days. Even if simple climate interventions could, quite literally, make the planet a place that today’s children can safely live, many people continue to angrily resist them for reasons I don’t understand. We’re leaving a tragic legacy.