Fight for our planet
Quentin Parker says the world needs to go on a war footing to tackle the deadly climate crisis
Quentin Parker is an astrophysicist based at the University of Hong Kong and director of its Laboratory for Space Research
Irecently read an article on an Australian newsfeed about what has been happening in South America. It not only took my breath away; as a scientist, I felt a mixture of incredulity, fear, anger and despondency that reached the pit of my stomach.
It is midwinter in the southern hemisphere but climate scientists are aghast at the temperatures just recorded across vast swathes of Chile and Argentina. These are 10 to 20 degrees Celsius warmer than normal, and thought virtually impossible for this time of year.
It has been described as one of the most extreme weather events the world has seen. The temperatures are even higher than those usually recorded in the northern hemisphere at the same latitudes in midsummer, at over 35 degrees in some places.
This is so far from normal that if we don’t take notice now and act, then when will we?
We keep hearing about the latest climate extremes as a “wake-up call”. This includes the recent rainfall in Beijing that is the worst since records began 140 years ago. There have been so many wake-up calls lately about the climate catastrophe that I am surprised we can get any sleep at all.
More members of the public are now sitting up and paying attention. All mainstream media must become part of the solution and publicise these events objectively and broadly.
Influential climate deniers must be robustly called out and starved of any legitimacy. Climate sceptics must be made to absorb the reality via incontrovertible facts and data, and get with the programme. Climate activists must become more numerous and more mainstream. And everyone needs to face the undeniable truth that the world’s entire sustaining ecosystem is under unprecedented threat.
Each of us has a responsibility to ourselves and to our children to fight for our planet. Though changed and still changing, the Earth can remain habitable for most of us in the future.
This is not sensationalism – it is the hard, evidential reality all over the world.
Even the still pristine and remote Antarctic has experienced temperatures up to 40 degrees above average, and is experiencing the lowest levels of sea ice ever recorded at precisely the time it should be expanding.
To tackle this existential global threat, we must place the world economy on something akin to a war footing.
All big, polluting economies need to pivot totally away from fossil fuels as fast as possible and, just like a shooting war, mobilise all resources and human efforts to fight as hard as we can to preserve ourselves and our way of life in all its diversity.
Big oil has a particular responsibility to invest its enormous profits into a massive and sustained push into renewable energy. Political leaders, no matter what type of government system they work in, must act decisively, unselfishly and collaboratively without regard to tribal loyalties or big business influence. Self-interest is becoming everyone’s interest.
Our common enemy is our own climate, not just climate change. If we continue to prevaricate, we face a climate catastrophe.
The climate emergency is unfolding more rapidly with more extremes than even pessimistic models predicted. The time to start concerted action has long passed but we must not believe that we are powerless, like the last survivors of a nuclear holocaust in Nevil Shute’s evocative novel On the Beach, becoming fatalistic and doubling down on consumption and excess.
We can still make a real difference to the climate trajectory. But the window for action is closing fast and any delay makes future abatement and mitigation more costly and difficult.
Think of it like a deadly asteroid heading straight to Earth in sci-fi films like Armageddon, Deep Impact and Don’t Look Up. If you detect this asteroid early enough, you only need to alter its orbit by a tiny amount when it is very far away to ensure it misses Earth.
But, the closer it gets, the harder it is to change its trajectory – until it can become too late to do anything. For decades, we have been warned about what is happening with our climate. We can still act; it is not yet too late.
In a major war, there can be immense death and destruction – this is exactly what we are seeing around the world with extreme flooding and burning happening simultaneously in different parts of the world. This is costing billions of dollars in destroyed infrastructure and resources, and costing lives and livelihoods.
So, in the end, what is the real difference if the destruction and death are the same? The difference is that, this time, the entire world must fight this common enemy, with each country and economy playing a fair role according to its capacity.
Here in Hong Kong, we have just experienced the warmest July on record – no one is immune. Our government must play its full part, even locally, to push sustainability, reduce pollution, improve energy efficiency and phase out petroldriven vehicles as soon as possible. It also needs to generate more wind and solar power wherever possible, and ensure the power plant on Lamma Island works on making carbon capture a reality.
This must not be aspirational, it must be committed action, and it must happen now.
The window for action is closing fast and any delay makes future abatement and mitigation more costly and difficult
South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd.