Tick. Tick. Tick. That’s the climate clock ticking. I don’t know how many of us actually hear it. Indeed, I don’t know that some us even care to.
Either way, as one very captivating September 4, 2019 CNN headline reads, “The Amazon is burning. The climate is changing. And we are doing nothing to stop it”.
However, surely, more of us are beginning to get it… IT, you know, the fact that even if climate change were not actually happening, then even the risk of it and all its attendant ‘side effects’ – hotter temperatures, category 5 hurricanes, extended droughts, dried-up freshwater, food insecurity, public health crises – would be worth some of our time, some of our individual and collective attention.
And the fact is, the climate is changing. The science tells us so. Meanwhile, across the globe we see or hear the reports of impacts already being felt.
“Already, two of Tuvalu’s nine islands are on the verge of going under, the government says, swallowed by sea-rise and coastal erosion. Most of the islands sit barely three metres above sea level, and at its narrowest point, Fongafale (the largest of its islands) stretches just 20m across,” reads a May 16, 2019 report from The Guardian.
Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on 1.5 Degrees of Global Warming has substantiated for us that a world at 1.5 degrees of warming is in better shape than one at two degrees Celsius, which is where we are headed and fast. Translation? Go for 1.5 instead of 2.
Still, despite all the risk to ecosystems and ecosystem services to life as we know it, and the repeated warnings at least as far back as Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ in 2006, many of us appear impervious and others deliberately obtuse.
It is against this background that I read with interest the CNN article/column – written by journalist Nick Paton Walsh and the headline for which I quoted earlier – whose reflections on climate change mirrored my own perceptions of the predicament with which we are faced.
He concludes: ‘The most obvious resolution will come in a few decades, when the heat gets too much, crops fail, clean water becomes more valuable than oil, and the things you were warned about start to kill a lot of people. Then change will be inevitable and unavoidable, and the number of people all hoping for the same life of wow will sadly drop to something more sustainable’.
Look, there are stakeholders who are working at various levels, as well as within and across sectors – scientists and some policymakers among them – to get a handle on climate change and to do the resilience building.
But the pace is not enough and the volume of work requires more hands on deck to build on the science, to mobilise needed finance, to develop and share new technologies, to innovate, to learn, grow, adapt and, ultimately, to survive.
In public health, there is what is known as ‘herd immunity’. It is where resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population is the result of a sufficiently high proportion of individuals being immune to the disease, especially through vaccination.
We need to replicate that in the effort against climate change. We need herd immunity for climate change where climate change is the disease and collective, comprehensive and sustained response actions from the majority of countries, their leaders and their people are the vaccination.