“What did you do when the earth was unraveling”?

by JULES PECK on Nov 26, 2012 • 6:07 pm3 Comments
I lay awake last night with my six-month-old daughter sleeping in my arms and I cried. I cried for her future, for what she won’t have, what she won’t see. I grieved for a loss she is not yet aware of, for the theft of a life she deserved, stolen by my generation as we sleep-walk into a nightmare future caused by our selfish, thoughtless, wasteful and destructive lifestyles.

And I wondered what I will say when she asks “Daddy how did you all let this happen?”

In 2050 my daughter will be 38. What we do now in the next few years will dictate what kind of a world she lives in then. We now know that if we fail to act radically and urgently to confront and halt climate change, by 2050 the world will be well on the way to unavoidable misery. Just delve into books like Hell and High Water and Six Degrees to see vivid and terrifying glimpses of that hell.

I hope that I will still be around in 2050, to hold her and to help her try to make some sense of what is unfolding. I truly am terrified. You should be too. What I am writing about is not fiction, its not a movie script or science-fiction. It’s real science. And it’s being denied and ignored by hollow, spiritless politicians who would not know one end of a microscope from the other.

The latest science tells us that if within the next 3 years we don’t find the political leadership to stop the rise in carbon emissions, then that world she inherits will be the stuff of nightmares. A world of Hell and high water.

Make or break time
We have very little time now to make the changes needed. It’s now make or break time. There is still a chance we can turn back from this fate but our politicians have wasted so much time in bickering, that our challenge now is far more perilous and punitive than it might have been.

Leading climate scientists like Professor Kevin Anderson are now telling us that, to avoid pushing us into the perilous 4 degrees rise in global temperature which would tip us into that world, rich nation emissions need to peak by 2015. Yes 2015. In just three years time. They then have to start to fall by 10% every year for us to have a hope in hell of avoiding climate chaos.

The implications of such a steep fall in emissions must surely mean the end of economic growth, and the need for a new economics, as anything more than 3 or 4% carbon reductions p.a. are, according to the Stern Review and others, not compatible with economic growth.

4 degrees rise in average global temperatures might not seem much but the planet’s climate is a delicately balanced system. And 4 degrees increase is warmer than the earth has been for 30m years. Even 2 degrees warming – which without extraordinary, unprecedented change we are now very likely to be locked into – is pretty catastrophic, despite being labeled as “safe” or “acceptable” by many. And yet our current inter-governmental and national policies have us locked into that hellish 4-degree world.

Hell, high water
Without radical and rapid change my daughter will live to see; sea level rises of 3-6ft (there go many coastal cities and delta regions, home to many of the world’s people), regular, life-threatening heat waves and storms like Sandy will be common-place, the global extinction of our coral reefs (which are the nurseries for our fish stocks), 40% of global agricultural land in permanent drought (there goes breakfast, lunch and dinner), the die-back of many of the world’s forests, regular and devastating wildfires and hundreds of millions of refugees.

But by far the most serious impact, the doomsday scenario, which is looking ever more likely, is where climate change takes on a life of its own and positive feedbacks mean ever-escalating impacts, with nothing we can ever do to stop them. Once that happens its game-over for civilisation. And these things won’t just happen ‘somewhere else’. They will happen everywhere – where you live.

Manufactured denial
As David Attenborough has said “there is no valid argument for climate denial”. And yet still, astonishingly, this, the biggest story of our times, humanity’s biggest ever challenge, is routinely ignored and sidelined by most people in the mainstream media.

Our news media is crippled by a turmoil of it’s own making, embroiled in its own scandals, they seem unable to see, or choose not to see the facts that are repeatedly presented in thousands of science publications. You do not hear these facts in part because very powerful vested interests prefer you to remain in the dark, in part because it involves us all.

And you don’t hear them because, as some senior scientists are now admitting, scientists themselves are afraid to tell the truth for fear of losing their jobs or funding. This fierce denial of the truth is cracking however and the apparent power of a few could quickly look like emperors clothes.

Finally, alarm bells are ringing
Over the last few weeks the world seems to have woken up to these realities, even if the links to the implications for economic growth are still only rarely made. We have seen a World Bank Report predicting “terrible climate disaster”, and a PwC report ringing the alarm bells. PwC partner Leo Johnson (brother of London Mayor Boris Johnson) has told me of his fear for his children’s futures and said of the task now facing us if we are to avoid runaway climate chaos “We have passed a critical threshold – not once since World War Two has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation, but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years”.

Likewise numerous CEOs of global firms have started to ring the alarm bells, shocked as they are at Government inaction to avert disaster. Richard Branson has set up an emergency taskforce which I am involved in, the B Team because, he says, “we have no Planet B”.

And yet still we slumber
But we’ve also seen a continuation of our crazy, suicidal, business-as-usual politics with the news that there are over 1000 coal-fired power stations being planned around the world.

Whilst Yvo de Boer, former head of the UN inter-governmental negotiations on climate change has said that the next UN climate report will ”scare the wits out of everyone”, we have also seen the brake being firmly jammed on international progress towards binding, science based commitments to halt climate change.

The US, despite Obama’s recent rhetoric are actively trying their best to derail the climate negotiations, whilst many other countries drag their feet or block progress. Meanwhile our own Government in the UK, despite anger from the policy world, is aggressively rowing back from making any meaningful commitments which might show support for international action in the crucial next round of UN negotiations.

So what are these politicians up to? Where do they think their children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces will be safe in 2050?

Some of the more progressive members of Government do know better but, by dint of being progressive, have little influence over the close cabal around Cameron and Osborne. Of my former colleagues in the Quality of Life Policy Group, Nick Hurd MP’s new daughter will be 38 in 2050, Zac Goldsmith MP’s children will be in their 40′s, Lord Deben (John Gummer), now Chair of the Climate Change Committee, will have grandchildren of similar ages. I’m sure that they are as fearful for the future as I am.

But sadly there are many others in ‘the greenest government ever’ sic, for whom this all means very little. Somehow they have got into their heads that they know better than the world’s leading scientists. Either that or they assume they’ll be able to ride out the storms of the 2050′s in their luxury yachts. How wrong they are. No one will be untouched by the horror we are about to unleash as Kevin Anderson and others predict that this 4-degree world will be “beyond any possibility for adaptation”. That’s science-speak for saying that no matter how rich or clever we are there will be no way to adapt to such a world. In fact, if that is the future we chose, those who were clearly responsible will find nowhere to hide from the anger of the people.

George Osborne’s and David Cameron’s children will be around the age they both are now in 2050. How will they look back on their fathers’ legacies I wonder? Likewise John Hayes MP’s children will be a similar age. Will they be proud of what he and his climate skeptic colleagues did to cause their suffering?

What did you do?
But a 4-degree world might still be avoidable. If there is a will there must be a way. We can all of us stand up and say “enough of this madness, I’m angry and scared and I’ve had enough.” Either our so-called ‘leaders’ change now or they will have to go.

We must all ask ourselves, what will we say when our children and grandchildren ask us in 2050 what we did to try and avert this dreadful, avoidable world?

Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Association and previously with OPEC, has said of the fact that we are now almost locked into this future that “everybody, even school children, know this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.”

Speaking of those same children in his recent TED lecture, NASA climatologist James Hansen has said how terrified he is for the future of his grandchildren.

Paul Gilding, to a pitch black packed auditorium, asks a similar question in his must-see Fear and the Coming Collapse of Civilisation TED talk “Imagine what you’ll tell your children when they find out we knew all these things, and didn’t act. And the lights go out.”

In part of his apposite and poignant poem Hieroglyphic Stairway, Drew Dellinger writes:

It’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great, great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great, great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unravelling?

surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?
as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?
what did you do
once you knew?

Whoever you are, no matter what age, whatever you do or did, CEO, retired oil industry executive, advertising executive, teacher, miner, accountant, mother, Telegraph or Sun reader, you all live on this same one spaceship Earth. You can and must make a difference. This is real and very nearly present danger of apocalyptic proportions. Are you going to lie down and take it? Or are you going to wake up, get informed and turn your fear and anger into something productive. Are you willing to fight for an alternative to Hell and High Water?

We have no time left. No time for yet another ‘kick it into the grass’ and ‘discount the future’ obfuscation. No more reviews and taskforces or endless talk-shop committees. Time now for real action.

What can you do? Firstly get informed. Don’t wait for the media to tell you about this. They won’t, or if they do it will be too late. Don’t gamble on that and don’t gamble on the hope that ‘they’ will come to their sense. This is your world, your future and that of your children and grandchildren. Become informed. Cut your own carbon footprint and join a local Transition group or start one up. Tell your friends, colleagues and neighbors about this. Ring the alarm bells.

Write to your MP, and demand action. Tell them you are scared and angry. Put them on notice. That’s you democratic right. It’s your democratic duty. That’s what your grandparents and great grandparents fought so hard for. Don’t let them down. Don’t squander the rights they fought for and do your duty to future generations as they did for us.

This is our chance to make a difference. In his book Hell and High Water, Alastair McIntosh speaks of the ‘spirit of the blitz which will be needed to avert disaster. Unlike previous generations we have had it easy. Well now its our turn to step up, this can be our ‘finest hour’, our “fight them on the beaches”, our St Crispin’s day, our D Day.

Are you willing and ready to stand up and be counted? I know I am. I’ll fight for the future my daughter and all future generations deserve. What else can I do? And you?

what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?

surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?
as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest

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Tags: civilisation, climate change, David Attenborough, doomsday scenario, Drew Dellinger, economic growth, Fatih Birol, future, global temperature, James Hansen, Professor Kevin Anderson, Richard Branson, TED Talk, Yvo de Boer
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Citizen Renaissance was conceived by Jules Peck and Robert Phillips in the spring of 2008 – on the eve of the global economic crisis and before The Big Society had really seen the light of day. Originally published as a wiki, Citizen Renaissance explores the collision of the three seismic shifts of our time: the perfect storm surrounding Climate Change; the Wellbeing Imperative; and the axiomatic rise of Digital Democracy. At its heart lies a call for more citizen-centric thinking and behaviour and an end to the global imbalance of Wants & Needs. Citizen Renaissance continues today as a forum for thought; a platform for the exchange of ideas; and as a collaborative project that seeks to develop a Manifesto for Change.
Jules Peck was Director of David Cameron’s Quality of Life Policy Group, advising the Conservative Party on wellbeing and environment issues.
Robert Phillips is a Writer and Thinker. He was previously President & CEO, EMEA, of Edelman, the world’s largest Public Relations firm. Although a committed workaholic and Manchester United fan, Robert is still determined to change the world in his spare time.
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