The other day I felt a chill in my bones, while watching Chris Packham describe the Permian Extinction in the new BBC series “Earth”, when the Earth grew just 7C warmer and most life ended.
By the end of the Extinction, 252 Million years ago, the Earth had lost 70% of its land vertebrates and 96% of marine life. As he put it “Sulphurous tides lapped barren shores.”
Although the mass extinction was due to volcanoes rather than humans burning fossil fuels, it’s a stark reminder of the risk we’re running.
We’re already at around 1.3C of warming. That doesn’t sound too bad, until one thinks of it as nearly 20% of the way to global extinction. Frightening tipping points such as melting permafrost, wildfires and record sea temperatures are starting to have real impact. Things are happening faster and sooner than many scientists had expected.
Although examples of progress feel thin on the ground, and our current government is behaving disgracefully, we can, I believe, still avert the catastrophe.
As citizens, voters and members of campaigning organisations, we can’t afford to sit on our hands.
We need to take action: At a minimum, we need to lobby our politicians to do more. To vote for the ones that will, and not for the ones that won’t. This applies both locally, and nationally.
The need to apply pressure extends across the political spectrum. On 24 July I was outraged to hear Rishi Sunak claim that the government was going to make progress towards net zero, but only if it doesn’t cause unnecessary “hassle”.
Labour is rumoured to be considering backsliding on its excellent proposal to end North Sea Oil and Gas exploration. Even the Green Party is having real trouble reconciling its zeal for renewable energy, with local opposition to new infrastructure.
We need to accept that the there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Yes there are lots of solutions that will help avert the catastrophe and make lives better, but these may also have costs and disadvantages. The key local example is of course the Sustainable Travel Zone, currently being considered and amended by GCP. This should help make our City cleaner, fairer and much more pleasant to get around, but some drivers are understandably annoyed at being charged for something that previously was free. I just hope the GCP follows Sadiq Khan’s example in London and holds firm.
I can’t believe many of us would want the epitaph “(S)he could have helped avert mass extinction, but didn’t want the hassle”