Craig Dalzell – 21 July 2022
Did you enjoy the coolest summer of the rest of your life?
Ok. Maybe not “the” coolest, but we’re certainly on the path towards it being one of the coolest summers of the next several centuries and if this year’s heatwave in the UK doesn’t wake us up to that then I don’t know what will. If temperatures exceeding 40oC don’t do it, then perhaps when the UK records its first 50oC temperature? Or when tens of millions of people flee now-uninhabitable areas of the planet and show up here wondering why we don’t let them in after we caused the damage that they’re fleeing?
I’m too young to remember the 1976 heatwave that has been quoted by climate deniers this week (one that “only” reached 35.9oC). I do clearly remember the 1997 heatwave that saw maximum UK temperatures of 33.5oC and maximum Scottish temperatures of 29.6oC. I remember that one because of several classmates at my high school passed out with the heat and several windows in the building popped out from their frames.
This week’s heatwave was worse than either of those. The worst the UK has experienced on record and a harbinger of heatwaves to come as global warming makes them more common, more severe and more unpredictable.
This is the world we live in now, with a century of warming and current temperatures around 1.2oC above our planet’s pre-industrial average. The world hasn’t been this warm since before the dawn of agriculture and it hasn’t warmed at the rate we’re seeing basically ever outwith the kind of mass extinction event usually associated with an asteroid impact. The previous period of global warming at the end of the last Ice Age took centuries to warm as much as we have warmed the planet in mere decades.
And I say “we” both because it is now certain beyond any reasonable doubt that humans are solely responsible for the current climate trends (anyone who can show otherwise will win a Nobel Prize in Physics for overturning the theory of thermodynamics and other key pillars of that science) and because “we” includes specifically us – the people who are likely to be reading this article. We in the rich 10% of the world have contributed more than half of global emissions whilst the poorest 50% of the planet – who are most likely to be the hardest hit by climate change – have contributed just 10% of total emissions.
This is just the start of the catastrophe to come if we don’t stop emitting greenhouses gases with haste and then start repairing the damage we’ve caused. But it’s clear now that the consequences of that damage don’t lie in some future theoretical event but are happening now. Heatwaves that would have once been almost impossible are now happening regularly and summers that would have been “unseasonably hot” just within my lifetime are now “normal”. The UK’s “average” summer temperature is now roughly as hot as that 1997 heatwave.
And remember, this is with global temperatures merely 1.2oC above pre-industrial levels. Our global “target” via the Paris Accord is to limit temperature rise below 1.5oC at best and 2.0oC at worst. Our current political target, set at COP26 last year, is to limit global temperature rise to less than 2.4oC. If politicians fulfil their current promises, and we all know that’s a big “if”, then we’re heading for a world more like +3 or +4oC.
Anything above +2oC is almost as good as saying “the end of civilisation as we know it”. It’s simply not an option. Every fraction of a degree below that is another step away from catastrophe. This summer is telling us that we’re already too late to prevent climate change though. The climate is already changing. The need for a plan to prevent the worst of what’s to otherwise come has never been more urgent. And that plan, as I’ve said before in this newsletter, is not to be found in promises of “Net Zero by 20XX” – which is simply a promise to keep causing more climate change until that target date and then a promise to try to not cause more harm than that afterwards.
We need a comprehensive Green New Deal that halts the damage to the climate, halts other damage we’re causing to the ecosystem beyond climate (“Net Zero” would technically still allow us to choke the oceans with plastic and erode every last centimetre of topsoil from our fields so long as we “offset” the carbon by planting a few trees somewhere).
We recognised this need back in 2019 (about 100 Gigatonnes of global CO2 emissions ago) when we decided to do what no-one else in Scotland or, indeed, the world had done. To produce a fully costed, comprehensive blueprint for a national-scale Green New Deal. No other climate plan anywhere goes as far as we have. Not the Scottish Government’s, and certainly not the UK Government’s plan which was just deemed to be unlawfully weak. Our Common Home Plan shows how Scotland can become not just “Net Zero” but can actively start being part of the solution to the climate change problem and to become a carbon absorber. It involves not just allowing you to buy more “sustainable” goods at ever increasing rates but actively deconsumerising our economy while making sure that you have more access to better goods and services than you could wish for right now. It means not just replacing your gas boiler with a “renewable” electric heat pump while leaving your house too cold and too expensive to heat in winter or cool summer but retrofitting it to make sure you barely need to heat or cool it at all.
Scotland already has the solution to our contribution to the climate emergency sitting ready to be picked up by a Scottish Government bold enough to do so. Other countries could easily adapt it to fit their particular climates, geographies and populations. If you think that we need to get on with the job of fixing the problem rather than just promising to only keep making it worse for another twenty years or so then please tell your MSP that they need to start taking this challenge seriously and that they need to adopt our plan or build an even better one.
It’s that, or we’ll be telling our grandkids about when summers used to be as cool as they are today.