Ticking bomb.

My month in the woods ‘sitting with the mountain’ was a happy time. It didn’t last though until ‘only the mountain remains’. Maybe breaking a leg was punishment for near escaping the fate of the Flying Dutchman; the sailor who having done a deal with the devil is condemned to wander the seas for eternity. Life had arrived at a point of being senseless beyond seeking purpose and leaving as I intended, an act of solidarity with future generations, to leave as they will leave.

I had a choice where they will not, and the situation can still be rescued, if action is taken. How many times does that need to be repeated? Act now and save life on this planet or continue business as usual and our grandchildren will not live to become grandparents.

It is indeed that serious, some might linger on, but you would not want to be one of them. Earth lost 26 trillion tons of ice between 1996 and 2017, which means that in that same period the amount of heat absorbed by the process of 26 trillion tons of ice turning to water would otherwise have contributed to the planet’s temperature increase. It takes 334 joules to turn one gram of ice at zero degrees Celsius into one gram of water at zero degrees Celsius, and if a further 334 joules is applied to that gram of liquid water, its temperature will increase from zero to near eighty degrees Celsius. Run yourself a bath at seventy degrees and try to jump in.

It’s clear, if we are looking for the burning fuse of the climate-change bomb, it is the length of time it will take to melt the planet’s ice to a point where it no longer acts as a break on temperature increase.

The maths needed to work out the length of that fuse should be fairly simple, and a recent paper puts an ice-free Arctic between now and 2050. As a reminder, we are nearing the end of 2020. We therefore have at most 30 years left before the already ongoing process leading to extinction becomes beyond human ability to prevent. That doesn’t mean we can twiddle our thumbs until 2050, and resume business as usual when this pandemic is over. The Paris agreement set 2 degrees Celsius as an allowed maximum increase in the planet’s average temperature, aspiring to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. A study just released says it is highly likely we we will pass 1.5 degrees within the next 4 years, and that despite the reduction in the rate of emission of greenhouse gasses due to the pandemic.

Often the young scream out for politicians to ‘listen to the scientists’, and for the news media to ‘tell the truth’ as though the scientists are free of the sin of withholding truth. That’s not the case as another recent research paper found. Many scientists do withhold their worst findings or at least claim being prevented from fully informing the public, politicians and media on just how bad things are and give as reasons that they fear for their careers, for the funding of their research, their reputation within the science community, and many also claim they have been the target of intimidation. I reject those justifications – if life faces an existential short-term threat then there is a moral duty to speak, and regardless of consequences. In any case there won’t be Nobel Prizes in 2050, any more than there will be returns on investment portfolios.

If climate change were an alien force hellbent on eliminating all life on this planet, we would be coming together as one species prepared to fight for its survival to ‘the last man standing’. This is what we need and now; a wartime mobilisation of all our resources so that little kid in the street, the one who gave you such a sweet smile, has a fighting chance of existing into old age.

We have a choice, and it is between fighting climate change with our science and technology or fighting each other with our weapons for the last place on Earth where life can linger on for a short time.

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