It is part of the cure to wish to be cured
Bad news is both hard to break and hard to take. The bearer of such has to decide how to approach the task, whether to reveal the news slowly or to go right in. A lot may depend on the messenger's knowledge of the individual receiving same and the level of the bad news. 'Your horse went down at the first,' is bad news, but not in the same category as, 'your family has been wiped out in an air crash'.
The recipient on hearing such news can react in several ways. They can go to pieces and break down – quite understandable. They can face it stoically – like Seneca would have. They can get angry and want to know who or what caused the tragedy. Or, finally, they can disbelieve the news and choose to ignore it – claiming it to be both fabricated and absurd.
First, here is the bad news: our world is desperately diseased and, possibly, suffering what could well prove a terminal illness. The diagnosis is global warming which is a planet-wide phenomenon and is exacerbating day upon day, hour upon hour, and minute upon minute. Unchecked, this will wipe out all life on this planet within 200 years or so.
And the general reaction to this news is: 'Where will we go our holidays this year?' Even some individuals who accept this possible – indeed, probable – outcome still believe that, somewhere down the line, technology will triumph again and our atmosphere will be cleaned, with only a slight harrumph to humankind. In short, 'they' will do something about it.
Maybe, but we cannot assume that will happen. Indeed, the likelihood of a swift technological solution is extremely low. That means we must tackle the problem with the tools we have in hand and do our best with them.
Now, in relation to this belief that the mysterious 'they' will do something about it, is the confidence that some people, the deeply religious, have in thinking that God will not let humanity perish and will step in and save the situation. Again, as with technology, She might! But we cannot count on that either. In any event, God will use Her usual methods and tackle the problem by letting Nature set the agenda; and Nature will go for the jugular and deal with the condition at its source – world over-population.
That means that as rising temperatures ensure vast areas of the Earth become uninhabitable, there will be huge movements of peoples seeking cooler climes and clashing with those already occupying same. It is considered that, by 2070, almost one-quarter of humanity will be evacuating land that will have become too hot to live in. That means there will be many fatalities. Equally, drought and changing weather conditions will ensure that crop yields will decline sufficiently to cause devastating famines and adding to the death toll (the expected yield in cereal crop in Romania this year is some 50% lower than normal thanks to their drought). Given also that there will be many more adverse climate events – like hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, deluges, far wilder seas, melting glaciers – the human and animal death toll will spiral uncontrollably. To add to this misery will come plague – a touch of which we have already experienced – as viruses develop ever anew. With infrastructure under strain, new diseases will ravage the Earth with little hindrance.
If that all sounds alarming – it is. And we have not even touched upon the rising sea levels that will drown cities and make immense inroads into what is now arable land. Goodbye Holland, Venice and many Pacific islands – oh, and New York also.
Oddly, this forthcoming calamitous set of circumstances, if we allow it, may well indeed save a portion of humanity. At present, we are breeding ourselves to the verge of extinction – as predicted years ago by British climatologist James Lovelock, who viewed the entire Earth as one living body and warned that human reproduction, or over-reproduction, was killing the planet. However, if enough people die off and this is combined with efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions – all before the balance is irrevocably tilted towards permanent global warming – enough of humanity may survive to carry on.
But is that what we would want even if it so panned out (and that is doubtful)? Currently, there is an estimated 425 ppm of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas responsible for around 75% of such) in the atmosphere and that is significantly up on the year 2000 when it was assessed at 370 ppm. In turn, this increases what is termed 'radiative forcing' – the warming effect on the climate – which has risen almost 40% in the same time. The other main greenhouse gases are methane (about 15%) and nitrous oxide (some 6%). In terms of tonnage, this suggests that, this year, some 34 million tonnes of CO2 will be released skywards with China responsible for between nine to 11 million of those tonnes. The United States is second, being predicted to release between six to seven million, and the European Union is a poor third on four million. The Paris Agreement of 2015/16 has had little effect in limiting these outages since these figures represent an increase of almost 4% over 2015 emissions.
Almost the last hope of humanity lies in Glasgow in the forthcoming United Nations climate change conference being held there in November of next year. It got off to a bad start with its cancellation from this year (due to COVID-19) and with the fact that, almost gleefully, the city announced it expected around 90,000 visitors and attendees to the event – speakers, scientists, journalists, politicians, security officers and medical practitioners. In itself, that is a number of travellers into the city; air passengers, taxi users, hotel residents, and diners that will certainly, short-term, boost the city's finances but, equally certainly, contribute to global pollution. Why, in this day of smart apps and video links, such a turnout is needed is highly questionable but at least it is discussing the right subject.
To be a success, however, it will have to come to a very firm agreement and a decisive course of action – and that course will have to be drastic if we are to save the planet. It has been estimated that if we planted some 15 billion trees today and stopped cutting down the same number (which we do each year) then we would eventually bring the atmosphere back to what we consider normal. But who is going to do that? There's no money in it!
Yet we will all have to make sacrifices of our comfort and lifestyles to ensure the welfare and even existence of the forthcoming generations. That will mean we have to control population growth (above all) and we have to tax and limit such industries as the oil and natural gas industry, coal mining (especially in China), the industries currently busy deforesting the planet, and the travel and automotive industries. The agricultural industry will also have to be considered because it's the single largest polluter. Currently, and with no sense of irony, these industries claim to be going 'green' and having the welfare of the planet and its peoples as at least one of their major concerns. But beware the power of advertising these industries have. Profit still is their main concern. Do not underestimate that or their strength.
Mike Pompeo, the American Secretary of State and an individual who rivals his boss in IQ, spoke at least honestly when he welcomed the effects of global warming on the Arctic in his speech of May of last year when he foresaw trade routes between east and west being shortened and more fishing grounds being opened along with greater opportunities in the search for oil. The devastating consequence of a total Arctic meltdown appears to have escaped his mind.
That is what those who care for the planet's future are up against – instant money and human greed – and above all, human short-sightedness. All that has to come out in Glasgow next November.
Seneca said to be cured we have to want
to be cured but there is an earlier part to that. To be cured we have to know we are ill – and how
ill we are.
Bill Paterson is a writer based in Glasgow