Earth’s last call

Hany Ghoraba
Sunday 6 Nov 2022

For three decades now environmentalists around the world have been extremely vocal about the dangers of continuing on the path adopted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution more than two centuries ago.

 

Over three decades now some environmentalists have adopted extremist methods to propagate their cause, while others turned into eco-terrorists. But solutions to the problem of climate change and the declining conditions of the environment are necessary to a sustainable future for the human race.

It is no longer a matter of perception or opinion that extreme weather changes in the summer and winter are becoming the norm. Those who were born in the second half of the 20th century or even before it can attest to fact that the weather they experienced in their childhood was markedly different from the weather of the last two decades.

It is also a fact that the last decade (2010-2021) is the warmest globally on record, and the weather is not showing any signs cooling down. And the main reason for that is carbon emissions resulting in the greenhouse  effect due to the use of fossil fuels such as the coal and oil. According to the United Nations greenhouse gas emissions are higher than they’ve ever been in the last two million years.

At one time, tapping into alternative energy sources such as nuclear energy was shunned by environmentalists despite the fact that they produce no carbon emissions. Nuclear energy was demonised in the 1980s, especially after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, but that could have been avoided if the managers of the nuclear plant had followed basic standard security protocols. Along with solar, hydro and wind energy, nuclear energy minimises carbon emissions. It is also more efficient than any of the others.

Egypt itself has been a victim of climate change with extreme heat waves characterising its once milder summers and occasional extreme blizzards in the winter. The difference in summer and winter temperatures in certain parts of the country could be as much as 45 degrees C, while the erosion of coasts presents a challenge to protecting the fertile Nile Delta from being submerged underwater. Countries with even more obvious problems include the Netherlands where sea level has been rising dangerously high.

This coincides with one of the most challenging times since World War II. With the coronavirus pandemic and the Ukraine war, the global economy has faced difficulties that make it no easier to face the challenge. With the ongoing war in Europe many European countries found themselves tapping into one of the most polluting energy source imaginable, which had long been abandoned for that reason, coal, as a substitute for Russian natural gas.

At the moment, there is a growing coalition of countries committed to reaching zero emissions by 2050, but the 2030 goals may not be attainable. Climate change doesn’t mean simply higher temperatures but also droughts, water scarcity, floods, fires and catastrophic storms. More drastically, rising sea levels caused by polar ice melting may cause major coastal cities to sink below sea level in the next decades. Some smaller islands in the Pacific are already disappearing, with the Republic of Kiribati for example preparing to relocate its 112,000 population. The former president of Kiribati Anote Tong ordered the purchase of 5500 acres (22 square km) in the islands of Fiji some 2000 km away, so that the population will have a place to live if the islands disappear. The Kiribati people may become the world first climate change refugees in modern times.

What is needed are quick solutions that work rather than governmental decrees without tangible results. Switching to electric cars, for example, seems like a sound idea, but no one has yet answered the question of how to generate the extra electricity needed to operate them, or at what cost 1.43 billion vehicles might be replaced. More importantly, how will electrical grids across the world tolerate such extreme electric consumption given the current energy crisis and how many new power stations will be needed?

Real-life answers to these questions are more important than Go green slogans – or, indeed, Greta Thunberg exhortations – that do not tell governments or the public exactly how. They must transcend ideological and political divisions. This is a global issue arguably even more important than the human rights act, and there is no longer any room for apologist or uncommitted voiced.

The hope is that the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh in 6-18 November will bring about concrete results. Egypt, the cradle of civilisation, may be the ideal place to save civilisation.

*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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