Stick your nose in the Mess


Canada and the other wealthy countries have recently been issued a report card by an independent agency about their progress on climate change. And if I ever brought home such a report card I know I would have been in big trouble at home.

According to the Climate Action Network an international association of more than 1,300 climate groups after assessing the performance of the G7 “the wealthiest countries in the world—including Canada—are lagging instead of leading in the fight against global warming.”

It is not a pretty picture. This is how the director of that network described it: The richest countries in the world are delivering the poorest performance, and some of the smallest and poorest are the leading the way.”

The report ranks Canada’s climate plan as having the same effect on global warming as the policies of the United States, where the U.S. President has rejected the Paris agreement. Ouch! Japan is also in this sorry category. Other countries in the G7 are doing slightly better in the 3°C category. Included here are France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

The report got even more specific.  Mia Rabson described it this way: “The report card says Canada’s current policies are consistent with global warming exceeding 4°C compared to pre-industrial levels, more than twice the stated goal of the Paris agreement of staying as close to 1.5°C as possible and absolutely no more than 2°C.”

Well what does a 4°C average global temperature rise by 2100 mean? It doesn’t sound like much. But it is! First, we must remember that more than a hundred countries have agreed that a temperature rise of 1.5°C would be dire, and a rise of 2°C catastrophic. Guardian  columnist George Monbiot called a rise of 2°C “climate breakdown.” He also said, “This is a catastrophe we are capable of foreseeing but incapable of imagining. It’s a catastrophe we are singularly ill-equipped to prevent.”

As such a previously unthinkable temperature rise becomes all too thinkable, scientists are spelling out for us what this will likely mean.


Drowned cities; stagnant seas; intolerable heat waves; entire nations uninhabitable… and more than 11 billion humans. A four-degree-warmer world is the stuff of nightmares and yet that’s where we’re heading in just decades.


To many of us the end of the century seems like a long ways off. To some it probably is inconceivable. Yet, my grandchildren will be in their 80s then. It is the world they will inherit and I wonder what they will think of us who left it to them.

In my legal career I was a commercial lawyer. One of the things I had to do many times, when my clients were taking risks that I believed they did not properly appreciate, was to make it abundantly clear and understandable. I had to drill the risks home in plain, clear, and understandable terms. The warnings could not be cursory or perfunctory. Often examples were the best way to do that. Sometimes I metaphorically had to stick their noses in the mess to make sure they saw it. I cannot do that for climate change. But Gaia Vince, an independent environmental journalist can. This is what she said:

“Four degrees may not sound like much – after all, it is less than a typical temperature change between night and day. It might even sound pleasant, like retiring from the UK to southern Spain. However, an average heating of the entire globe by 4°C would render the planet unrecognisable from anything humans have ever experienced. The last time the world was this hot was 15m years agoduring the miocene, when intense volcanic eruptions in western North America emitted vast quantities of CO2. Sea levels rose some 40 metres higher than today and lush forest grew in Antarctica and the Arctic. However, that global heating took place over many thousands of years. Even at its most rapid, the rise in CO2 emissions occurred at a rate 1,000 times slower than ours has since the start of the Industrial Revolution. That gave animals and plants time to adapt to new conditions and, crucially, ecosystems had not been degraded by humans.”


I think that makes the issue pretty clear. Now we know where we appear to be headed and there is little sign that we are slowing down.

Humans will survive. But I am not sure that is good news. It makes more sense to say it will be bad news. As Vince argues,

“The good news is that humans won’t become extinct – the species can survive with just a few hundred individuals; the bad news is, we risk great loss of life and perhaps the end of our civilisations. Many of the places where people live and grow food will no longer be suitable for either. Higher sea levels will make today’s low-lying islands and many coastal regions, where nearly half the global population live, uninhabitable, generating an estimated 2 billion refugees by 2100. Bangladesh alone will lose one-third of its land area, including its main breadbasket… Indeed, the consequences of a 4°C warmer world are so terrifying that most scientists would rather not contemplate them, let alone work out a survival strategy.” 

After  speculating how it is possible for us to produce enough food to feed the projected population of 11 billion people when climatic conditions will be so unfavourable to agriculture in so much of the world, Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany has also reached some grim conclusions: “There will be a rich minority of people who survive with modern lifestyles, no doubt, but it will be a turbulent, conflict-ridden world.”

As if this is not bad enough I just heard today that Donald Trump skipped that part of this year’s G7 meeting dealing with climate change. After all he knows it all doesn’t he? And his country has done more to create the problem than any other country in the world.

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