Sat, Aug 04, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Ignorant elite keeps humanity on a course to climate change

By Jeffrey Sachs

Modern humans, born into one climate era, the Holocene, have crossed the border into another, the Anthropocene. However, instead of a Moses guiding humanity in this new and dangerous wilderness, a gang of science deniers and polluters currently misguides humanity to ever-greater danger. We are all climate refugees now and must chart a path to safety.

The Holocene was the geological age that started more than 10,000 years ago, with favorable climate conditions that supported human civilization as we know it. The Anthropocene is a new geological era with environmental conditions that humanity has never before experienced.

Ominously, the Earth’s temperature is now higher than during the Holocene, owing to the carbon dioxide that humanity has emitted into the atmosphere by burning coal, oil and gas, and by indiscriminately turning the world’s forests and grasslands into farms and pastures.

People are suffering and dying in the new environment, with much worse to come. Hurricane Maria is estimated to have taken more than 4,000 lives in Puerto Rico in September last year.

High-intensity hurricanes are becoming more frequent and major storms are causing more flooding because of the increased heat transfer from the warming waters of the oceans, the greater moisture in warmer air and the rise in sea levels — all made more extreme by human-induced climate change.

Just last month, more than 90 people perished in the suburbs of Athens from a devastating forest fire stoked by drought and high temperatures. Huge forest fires are similarly raging this summer in other hot and newly dry locales, including California, Sweden, Britain and Australia. Last year, Portugal was devastated.

Many record-high temperatures are being reached around the world this summer.

How utterly reckless of humanity to have rushed past the Holocene boundary, ignoring — like a character in a horror movie — all of the obvious warning signs.

In 1972, the world’s governments assembled in Stockholm to address growing environmental threats. In the lead-up to the conference, the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth, which first introduced the idea of a “sustainable” growth trajectory and the risks of environmental overshooting.

Twenty years later, the warning signs flashed brightly in Rio de Janeiro, where UN member states assembled at the Earth Summit to adopt the concept of “sustainable development” and to sign three major environmental treaties to halt human-induced global warming, protect biological diversity, and stop land degradation and desertification.

After 1992, the US, the world’s most powerful country, ostentatiously ignored the three new treaties, signaling to other countries that they could slacken their efforts as well.

The US Senate ratified the climate and desertification treaties, but did nothing to implement them — and it refused even to ratify the treaty to protect biological diversity, in part because western-state Republicans insisted that landowners have the right to do what they want with their property without international meddling.

More recently, the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in September 2015 and the Paris climate agreement in December 2015. Yet, once again, the US government has willfully ignored the SDGs, ranking last among the G20 countries in terms of government implementation efforts.

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