Open letter to the international community attending the London 2012 games
Dear People of the World,
The 2012 Olympics were a huge inspiration as to how we can come together to overcome challenges and achieve success – at many levels; as participants, as spectators, as competitors, even as a host nation. No doubt the Paralympics will equal or surpass this.
But these Games can be an inspiration for us to confront the biggest challenge our species has ever faced – perhaps will ever face: The changing climate and the threat it poses to our civilisation’s very existence on this beautiful planet.
Climate change is happening now. Those with vested interests in continuing our current destructive practices would have us think otherwise. We may have some colder winters, but climate change unfolds unevenly over time and is not uniform across all areas of the globe – during a record cold winter of 2010 in the UK, snow was being trucked in to the winter Olympics in Canada. And think of the stock market:
“Any competent financial advisor will tell you that the road to secure retirement is paved with market drops. Any competent climate scientist will tell you that our road to a hotter planet will be paved with cold snaps, even record-breakers.” – Prof. Laurence Smith
Even those formerly sceptical come round to the irrefutable evidence eventually, as Prof. Muller has recently shown. We may not understand the physical science of the Earth well enough to accurately predict how the climate will change over long periods, particularly at the regional level, but then we don’t understand meteorology well enough to determine whether it will be raining or not in Chicago next 15th April. Doesn’t mean that it will not be raining in Chicago come 15/04/13!
But our models are getting better. Twenty years ago, scientists had to ‘write-in’ complex, irregular climate variability events such as El Niño/La Niña cycles. Nowadays, they arise spontaneously within our models: a clear indicator that we are getting more and more accurate in our predictions.
Even without the models, the field of paleoclimatology gives us irrefutable and chilling evidence of how rapidly and enormously the global climate can and has changed. Ice cores tell us that around 11,500 years ago, surface temperature in Greenland increased by 8.3°C in a single decade. In the Pliocene, when sea levels were 25 metres higher than they are now, the C02 content of the atmosphere was just 100 parts per million (ppm) more than they are now. Our annual rate of increase is currently about 2.07ppm and rising.
We are already committed to a 0.7°C rise on 1990 levels, simply from the long-term warming effects of what we’ve already put in the atmosphere. Even the IPCC (notorious for underestimating global climate change to achieve scientific consensus) in its most optimistic SRES scenario – known as ‘B1’ – sees us approaching close to a 2°C rise in global temperature by 2100. In this model, northerly latitudes, including the Arctic, would see rises anywhere between 3.5 – 6°C by century’s end. That might not sound like so much until you realise that the temperature difference between a giant ice sheet covering Edinburgh, Berlin, Moscow and New York was only 5°C lower than now, during the last Ice Age.
The biggest challenge is not in physically doing what is necessary – we have the technology and skills to transition to a sustainable society without a huge amount of difficulty. The challenge is in overcoming the doubts and confusion sown by those with vested interests in preventing change. To overcome our fears and take that first step into new territory. It is the challenge of confronting the forces of demography, globalisation and climate change and asking serious questions about the way we organise our economies, societies and local communities, the way we use our Earth’s natural resources, how we distribute them and how we preserve them for future generations.
In truth, our biggest challenge is a moral challenge.
And we face it now.
Our fears of change are unfounded. We have the capabilities to make the transition – we merely lack the willpower. Countries leading the way in these areas over the coming decades will certainly prosper and become more resilient to fluctuations in the world economy.
We can see climate change happening outside our windows, with a plethora of extreme weather events over the last few years – most recently with extreme droughts in the US and Europe straining our food supplies. We cannot prevent it, but we still have time to avoid uncontrollable and catastrophic changes to the world’s climate if we act now.
We will not escape evolution’s law, as old as Time itself: adaptation engenders survival.
Now is the time to take this seriously – to heed the facts and warnings from respected scientists and to have the courage to take the necessary actions, collectively. Let us use the inspiration of the Olympics and Paralympics as a springboard for a transition to a secure and sustainable future.
With our fondest hopes for this nation of ours and the world,