SCORCHED EARTH ‘Nobody is safe. And it is getting worse’.
Urgent action is needed in the wake of the IPCC’s terrifying report on climate change
Fr Kevin Hegarty
In 1972 Philip Larkin, the British poet laureate, was asked to write a poem for an official UK Government publication, ‘How do you want to live? A Report on the Human Habitat’.
In the poem entitled ‘Going, Going’, he revealed his fears that the environment is on a troubling trajectory. He had thought it was resilient enough to resist even crass human exploitation:
Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
But then he starts to wonder if he’s right (‘– But what do I feel now? Doubt?’) as he witnesses unrestrained economic development that focuses exclusively on profit rather than people:
It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,
That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts —
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.
He fears the England he grew up in, and the parts he grew to love, will be gone:
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.
Larkin died in 1985. If he were still alive he would have learned last week that his prophetic fears are being realised.
On August 9, the sixth report of the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body, was released. It took eight years to produce, is authored by the world’s most eminent scientists and has been approved by 195 governments.
It makes for sombre reading.
The cumulative effect of human activity since the Industrial Revolution is ‘unequivocally’ causing catastrophic climate change. The grim future that environmental scientists predicted 30 years ago, when the IPCC presented its first report, has arrived.
Unless there is a faster reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the goal of the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global warming to 1.5C will not be met. The consequence of this failure will be a world vulnerable to irreversible effects of global heating.
There will be bigger floods more often, more unbearable heatwaves and wildfires and frequent devastating droughts.
The report was issued against a backdrop of climate events that gave credibility to its dire predictions: the wildfires raging through Greece and California; the floods in Germany leaving almost 200 dead and thousands of homes ruined.
Last month the residents of Yarutsk in Siberia, the coldest winter city on earth, were advised to stay indoors as forest fires filled the air with toxic fumes, following heatwaves that began in spring.
In her response to the IPCC report, UN Environment Director Inger Anderson acknowledged the failure of governments and citizens to respond adequately to earlier interventions:
“You have been telling us for over three decades of the danger of allowing the planet to warm. The world listened but did not hear. The world listened but did not act strongly enough. As a result climate change is a problem that is hear now.
“Nobody is safe. And it is getting worse.”
Philip Larkin was not optimistic that we could change course (‘…greeds and garbage are too thick strewn, to be swept up now’).
Peter Thorne, a Maynooth University climatologist, asserts that we are at a ‘pivotal moment’.
In an Irish Times article he wrote: “We now know beyond any doubt that our current lifestyle, principally but not exclusively our reliance upon fossil fuels, is altering our climate in profound and increasingly alarming ways, and that it will get worse unless and until we cease net emissions of these gases.”
It is on this point that the IPCC report strikes a fragile not of optimism.
If we can halve emissions in a ten-year period, achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and remove carbon from the atmosphere, there is an opportunity to keep temperatures below 1.5C and avoid the worst impact of global overheating. The world climate conference in Glasgow in November will reveal the depth of our commitment to radical lifestyle change.