2017: Devastating fires in Portugal, Hurricane Maria kicking Puerto Rico KO, record temperatures in Sydney, an iceberg as big as Delaware braking of the Antarctic Larsen-C ice-shelf, a wildfire season spanning 6 months in California, accelerated melting of Greenland’s glaciers, streets turned into rivers in… I could go on and on. As bloggers and journalists on climate change we used to write in the future tense to describe a warmer world. That has changed.
I have the feeling the last year gave us a look into the future. As you might know, it is difficult to prove the relationship between one particular extreme weather event and the rise of average global temperatures. Yet, we do know as a fact that the intensity and frequency of weather events like those scourging the planet the previous 12 months will increase. What do I say, are increasing. You see, I haven’t got used to the change of tenses myself yet.
The more obvious the changes in our planet’s health becomes, the more desperate and extreme the reaction of the small group of skeptics. I will never forget that picture of a self-satisfied Donald Trump walking into the Rose Garden of the White House to announce the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord. “To protect the United States and its citizens”. Yeah right. Claiming that he would renegotiate the deal and if that wouldn’t work, “that’s fine”. Clearly, he didn’t understand the tiniest bit of the Paris Agreement, which leaves it to the countries to set their own individual non-binding targets. If you don’t want to do anything, you don’t have to.
As much as I was concerned about Trump’s decision, with which he fulfilled one of his favorite campaign promises, I was straightway disgusted by the applause of the audience. A well-dressed, rich, undeniably white audience. They clearly fancied the idea that their new president just said ‘fuck you’ to the rest of the world. ‘Fuck you’ also to the Green Climate Fund which will help developing nations mitigate the worst effects of climate change. “America first”, you know.
Luckily, luckily, it was not all bad news in the 18th year of the 21st century. Significant progress was made on several fronts, though they were sometimes lost between all the pessimistic headlines. For example, renewable energy continued to drop in price. In many countries around the world, record low prices were noted for solar farm tenders. The first subsidy free offshore wind farm was contracted in Denmark. No surprise that two thirds of all newly installed power capacity were renewables.
Meanwhile, several countries with the Netherlands in the lead announced they would ban the sales of new fossil fuel cars from somewhere around 2025 or 2030. China already started to roll-out massive fleets of electric buses. By now, the e-mobility space is not only about Tesla anymore, nor is it limited to cars. News about electric ships and planes made headlines. Hydrogen based vehicles are making a come-back. After energy provision, transport seems the next sector on the horizon to be cleaned-up. That’s great news.
It is with this positive vibe that I want to move into 2018. More than ever the past year has shown us why we urgently need to slow down further warming of the planet. It has also shown we can move forward quickly. Since the Paris Agreement came into force, most of politicians are finally on board. Where they stayed shy to mention the issue a couple of years ago, many love to make bold statements nowadays.
That’s all great, but for 2018 the promises will need to be translated into concrete action. We have had enough talking. 30 years have been lost with arguing and discussing on yearly climate summits since James Hansen from NASA testified in the US congress to present the agency’s concerning findings about the greenhouse effect in 1988.
Cities and regions in particular have become outspoken proponents of aggressive action. In the US, governors and mayors seemed to rush to fill the vacuum left by their new President. It was California’s governor Brown who met with president Xi Jinping to discuss climate action in China (which, by the way, adopted a country-wide carbon tax), not an official from the White House. I truly believe cities can play a valuable role in providing climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, because the policy makers stand so much closer to the citizens. They are so much more aware of the local needs and sensitivities.
Yet, too many of the ‘100%-renewable’ or ‘go-carbon-neutral’ campaigns are based on little or no scientific backing or stock-tacking of current emissions. Nor is progress tracked appropriately. Without those essential tools, how can we ever know if anything is achieved at all? Therefore, also on the local level it is time to put the words into concrete and adequate action.
Let us not forget time is quickly running out. Scientists have shown that if the world does not bend the emissions curve downwards by 2020, there is virtually no chance of avoiding global average temperatures rising above 2-degrees Celsius. This enormous challenge is difficult to comprehend. After a few years of emissions being stable, 2017 saw again an increase. The close interrelation between the state of the world’s economy and emissions is frightening since it seems to mean that politicians’ promises for economic growth will outrun their promises on climate action.
I see only one answer to this dilemma: a different kind of economy. One where we, in the first place, consume less. Less stuff, less meat, less flights, less electricity, less bitcoins (but let’s not start that discussion here). And what we do consume has to be different. Cleaner, fair, replenishable. In 2018, we have to make that shift. In the current state of affairs, moving slowly is as pointless as not moving at all. And that is not an option.
I hope you find renewed motivation to fight climate change this year, my dear readers. I wish you all the best for 2018! May it bring happiness, joy, and love. To start of some productive climate action, why not subscribe to my newsletter to never miss out on a post? ;)