Johann Hari: Our heat is turning the Arctic into an alien landscape

Comment

Share
Related Topics

The symptoms of our planetary fever are becoming more obvious with each passing year. Now a place that has been locked in solid ice since our ancestors were swinging from the trees is turning to liquid, way ahead of previous scientific predictions. Robert Corell, one of America's leading climate scientists, warns: "If you want to see what will happen to the rest of the world, look to the Arctic. It happens there first."

Our heat is what is turning it into a landscape that we can no longer recognise. If humans continue emitting warming gases at the current rate, this will happen in most places – with rising oceans, dried-out and dying agricultural lands, and far more extreme weather events.

The speed with which this is happening suggests it won't just happen to the grandchildren and polar bears politicians keep evoking in speeches. It will happen to us. The world's climate scientists are warning that in my lifetime, we could be on course for five degrees of warming. That's a gap as big as that between the way we live now, and the last ice age. It will change our planet to one we don't understand, and cannot inhabit in anything like our current numbers.

This year, there is a chance – at five minutes to ecological midnight – to change course. The world's leaders will meet in Copenhagen to agree a successor to Kyoto. If they resolve to make substantial and binding cuts, we could keep the ecosystem the right side of the tipping point, beyond which it will collapse. But it has to happen now.

Anything you do in the next few months to pressure your politicians – marching and campaigning and volunteering for Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth – may be the most important thing you ever do.

But many people concerned about this catastrophic global warming are systematically misdirecting their political energies. They are taking their anxieties and ploughing them exclusively into cutting their own personal emissions.

This is, at best, of very limited value, and at worst a placebo that stops you from reaching for the real medicine. The only thing that will keep our climate within safe parameters is mass public pressure on our politicians to agree binding restrictions that apply to all of us – not just the nice 10 percent who will voluntarily cut back.

The time for that pressure is now. The Arctic was a canary in the coal mine. The canary is half-dead. It's time to shout.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little