Australia is on fire.
I don’t mean in the Alicia Keys sense. We are literally burning here, with massive fires, such as one only hours from where we live, which killed 4 people, and others in South Australia where people have also died. To put that into context, we have a good warning system, and people in fire-prone areas are used to preparing for and defending their properties against fire. For people to die… it’s unusual. It’s terrifying and tragic. And it’s only the beginning of summer–the start of the bushfire season. Our summer is predicted to be horrendously hot, coming off the rest of 2015, the hottest year on record.
As our leaders have been meeting for climate talks in Paris, I’ve been reading and watching with interest. When I look back in a few years’ time, I want Paris to have been the turning point, where leaders got together and decided that it was absolutely the greatest threat we all faced: that of mass extinction of species, of extreme weather and water shortages, and that they were going to do something about it, to make sure that we and much of the rest of the living world would be able to not merely survive, but also really flourish beyond 2050.
It means so much to me that this is taken seriously. It’s not just about what kind of world in which my children will be living, it’s what kind of world I will spend my old age (assuming, as I do, that I will live a long and healthy life!). I’ll be 74 in 2050. What kind of summers will we have then? Will the hot weather extend even longer; will the fires start earlier and end later; will we have enough water to fight them, or will we have to let them simply burn out, when they reach the ocean, as authorities feared they’d have to do with last year’s bushfire to the east of where I live.
I know that it’s especially difficult to discuss a commitment to acting on climate change and investing in renewable energy, when the city in which the conference has been held was the city which was attacked by terrorists only days before. Climate change seems like a distant problem, and terrorism an immediate threat. But if terrorism is already flourishing in a world where our climate is still relatively livable, what will happen when it becomes too hot to cope with? Every year, people die from extreme weather. Earlier this year, scores perished in simply awful heat in India. Extreme winters in those countries which already experience snow and ice mean the most vulnerable are at risk of freezing to death, especially if they’re not able to access reliable heating. And if we don’t do something about the way the climate is changing, then extreme weather will be more frequent and will cost us more–in both lives and money.
It is so important that we begin to invest now in renewable energy sources and find ways of reducing our impact on the climate. And not just because people, plants, and animals are suffering from terrible pollution, or because we’re losing diversity from our environment, or because the people who are the poorest and have the least are going to be the most affected… oh, wait. PRECISELY because the people who are the poorest and have the least are going to be the most affected. If we are failing the poorest, if our governments decide it is not important enough that nations are going to lose millions of hectares of arable land and housing, causing food and housing shortages among the already disadvantaged, where do we think they will turn for support? As I was discussing only a couple of weeks ago, poverty breeds extremism.
We might imagine that we can put climate change on hold until we’ve dealt with the threat of terrorism, but the truth is, if we do nothing about the former, the latter will only become more of a threat. And as much as I believe in personal responsibility, and that we all need to ensure we’re making ethical choices with regards to our food, clothing, transport and how we use electricity and water… it is not enough unless our governments are also taking the initiative and legislating change. If I know humans, we’ll wait until our hand is forced, before we change our ways, and top-down action is the only way to ensure this will happen.
I so badly want the conference in Paris to be a successful one. The cynic in me suggests that the richer countries will shrug and make some piecemeal commitments, while poorer (and lower-lying) countries plead for their very existence. But I still hope that this will be the moment of change. I hope we’ll be able to look back at 2015 and think, ‘Ah. The year we were on fire. And then we took real action on climate change, and look at us now. Now we really are on fire. Ha! You know. In a good way.’