It’s remarkable to note that the first prediction of climate change was made by a Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, in 1896. Maybe more remarkable, modern science seems to show that Arrhenius was not only right about the warming effect of burning fossil fuels but that his calculations are turning out to be accurate. Arrhenius estimated that a doubling of C02 in the atmosphere could cause average global temperatures to rise by around 6 degrees. So far, scientists think that he might be right.
But Arrhenius and his generation did make one large mistake – they believed that such enormous consumption of fossil fuels would take a very long time. Instead, the next century saw growth so chaotic that it transformed the world, and, consequently, also brought it to the brink of destruction.
Take a moment and think about that world – or – if it’s easier, the world your grandparents told you about. When global population was only a few billion and maybe a couple of people on the street had a car. When you had to mend and make do, shop in your local street, when information came in the form of a letter, and things were washed by hand… Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking we’re harking back to days that were easier – (simpler maybe, and I am of the opinion that there are benefits to living in a simpler world) – those days were harder. So, when fossil fuels started doing the work for us we took advantage of it, and here, if you focus back on your surroundings, is the completely transformed world of today. Fossil fuel consumption brought about almost unrecognisable change within a lifetime.
If we had forgotten, or were unaware of, Arrhenius’s warning maybe that was understandable. But in the last half of the previous century scientists started ringing the warning bell again. Over a hundred years after the original climate change prediction we have proved Arrhenius correct – and are well on track to 6 degrees average warming and another transformed world, but this transformed world will not make life any easier…
In our current easy world, something else has just got easier. Melt in the Arctic has made it possible for oil companies to start drilling up there. The great Arctic carve up has begun. In greed and stupidity, members of our species are trying to exploit climate change to feed our addiction to oil. The short term benefits of keeping our cushy post-industrial society going seem to take prime focus. We’re taking advantage of climate change while we can, never mind the fact that people are already dying in their hundreds of thousands as a result of it. We’re going to drill for every last drop.
If we could fast forward in time, what would we see? The Arctic might become more habitable for man – some scientists reckon that, with the projected parts per million of carbon soon to be in the atmosphere, the poles will become tropical regions. Good for drilling? Well no, maybe not – because we might not still be here.
Maybe this sounds crazy… just too far fetched? After all, how could things change that much so fast? Surely, fossil fuel consumption couldn’t bring about an almost unrecognisable change within a lifetime…? Can we really have harnessed that much power, to be able to change the world that fast…?
It seems we’re unwilling to learn from our ancestors. Something about the human brain expects permanency. Just as Arrhenius couldn’t have imagined our world of 7 billion people, cars, planes and fast food, we refuse to accept that something harder, violent and vicious looms in our future. But the human brain’s attachment to the way things are isn’t purely negative. I, for one, don’t want the Arctic to melt, or to be drilled in, although I will probably never set foot on it. I don’t want it to change.
It looks like it’s time for us to make up our minds about which types of change we like and which ones we don’t, and act fast. If you, like I, don’t want large and irresponsible multi-nationals to drill for oil in the Arctic, endangering an ecosystem already under pressure and driving the continuation of climate change, you might want to join Greenpeace’s new campaign to save the Arctic. Their ultimate goal is to make the Arctic a protected zone – like the Antarctic already is thanks to their past efforts. The oil companies seem determined to keep drilling. If we want to try to preserve some of the world we love we’re going to have to do what we can to stop them drilling for every last drop…