The Earth is lashing out at humans for mindlessly abusing nature and its resources – Rajika Jayatilake reports

Most societies today are consumeristic and gobbling up Planet Earth’s resources as if there’s no tomorrow. As the nurse from Ohio who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1997 Terri Swearingen said: “We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.”

Endless abuse of the Earth’s resources is finally boomeranging on global societies and climate change is wreaking havoc with a vengeance
across the world.

Prof. Richard Betts is the Chair in Climate Impacts at the University of Exeter and Head of Climate Impacts strategic area at the Met Office in Exeter. He cautions: “We now need to live with the consequences of what we have already done to the climate. We are hopelessly unprepared to deal with increasingly severe extreme weather events, even though these have been predicted by science for decades.”

For instance, over 90 wildfires have blazed across the US so far this year, destroying ecosystems and infrastructure. At least 1.2 million hectares have burned this year during the wildfire season; in the same period last year, only 850,000 hectares burned. Rising overall temperatures are leading to bigger and more destructive wildfires in California with six of the 20 biggest fires in the history of that state taking place in 2020.

For instance, by October 2020, the August Complex fire in Northern California – which was the largest wildfire the state had ever experienced – had burned at least 400,000 hectares (that’s an area greater than Rhode Island). Then the Dixie Fire (also in Northern California), which was considered the second largest recorded wildfire in the history of the state, destroyed hundreds of buildings and entire communities.

Running parallel to the wildfires, record-breaking extreme heatwaves and droughts  are withering the land, from Southern California and Nevada to Oregon. The mega drought is so intense that California’s water authorities banned thousands of farmers from using water from major rivers and streams for agriculture.

Meanwhile, a video that went viral on social media recently showed people crossing what appeared to be a desert in Argentina. But actually, it was the dried river bed of the Paraná River, the second longest in South America. The region is experiencing its worst drought since 1944. Member of the Argentine Association of Environmental Lawyers Rafael Colombo says of the Paraná region: “(It’s) experiencing a veritable environmental holocaust.”

On the other hand, the overheating of the atmosphere is warming ocean waters and leading to a major melting of the polar ice sheets. In fact, the polar ice caps are found to be melting six times faster than in the 1990s.

Corroborating these dire episodes is the new report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which states that sea levels will rise by a scary 25 percent by 2100.

The 3,500 page IPCC report represents years of research on climate change, and contains contributions by over 200 scientists from some 60 countries and cites over 14,000 individual studies. It embodies the most comprehensive assessment available of the true condition of the planet.

Moreover, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the report as “a code red for humanity” and noted that “global heating is affecting every region on Earth with many of the changes becoming irreversible.”

These comprehensive climate assessments have been produced every seven years since 1988 and contain reports by hundreds of the world’s foremost climate scientists. The current report – titled ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis’ – is the sixth IPCC report in existence. It provides the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and attendant changes.

As one would expect, the report paints an extremely grim future for the world. Among other dire predictions, it forecasts that tens of millions more people will face chronic hunger by 2050 with another 350 million residents of urban areas experiencing severe droughts and water shortages.

The previous IPCC report, which was released in 2013, contained calculations of the world’s carbon budget. The UN Secretary-General at the time was Ban Ki-moon, and he implored world leaders to listen to the “world’s authority on climate change” and engage in a new global deal to reduce emissions.

He said: “The heat is on. Now we must act.” The then US Secretary of State John Kerry added his voice to this call in a statement which said that “this is yet another wakeup call: those who deny the science or choose excuses over action are playing with fire.”

The IPCC report was released three months before world leaders meet in Glasgow for COP26. Guterres has urged world leaders to ensure that COP26 is a productive gathering to “avert climate catastrophe.”

UK Minister of State Alok Sharma will preside over the talks. He cautions: “This is going to be the starkest warning yet that human behaviour is alarmingly accelerating global warming…”

Those who deny the science or choose excuses over action are playing with fire

John Kerry
Former US Secretary of State