Photo of smoking chimney stacks in London, CanadaThe evidence is overwhelming that humans are the main cause of global warming and climate change. Human activities have altered the composition of the atmosphere, with major increases in the two key greenhouse gases. CO2 has risen by 40% while methane has doubled in the last 200 years. This has led to rising temperatures, melting ice caps, the acidification of the oceans, methane release as permafrost melts, changing weather patterns, hence climate change. In December, government representatives from more than 190 countries will gather in Paris to discuss a new global agreement on climate change. Will they make binding agreements to reduce CO2 emissions or will they only agree on vague, feel-good generalities, yet again?

Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war.

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, 2014

One of the main offending practices is burning coal, which releases CO2. Coal is fossilised carbon. It was formed millions of years ago when vast quantities of plant material, instead of decomposing, were gradually pressed into layers of a rock, e.g., lignite (brown coal) or anthracite (black coal). The plant growth that gave rise to coal occurred at a time when the climate was warmer and wetter, and the atmosphere contained higher levels of CO2.

For several centuries, both coal and another fossil fuel, petroleum, have been used for transport, industry and electricity generation. Both release CO2 and other pollutants when burnt.

If humans are to have any hope of holding the global temperature rise at about 2Co, greenhouse gas emissions must be drastically cut. But this is proving near impossible as most of the world is beholden to the capitalist/corporate model of growth economics. As Naomi Klein reveals in This Changes Everything, it is very difficult for national governments to pass effective legislation to curb emissions when global corporations operate untrammelled by national laws and regulations.

For most of our species’ existence, humans have lived sustainably by sourcing their needs locally. This all began to change markedly about 500 years ago with colonialism, techno-science development, global trading and now corporatism. These growth-driven activities have increasingly destroyed the ability of humans to live interdependently and sustainably within nature’s finite limits.

The Paris gathering could very well be the last tango for humans to collectively demonstrate their better side and return humanity to the path to sustainable living. This means converting to renewable energy sources, sourcing most food locally and buying fewer unneeded consumer goods.

At the end of November, concerned people across the world will be marching for real action on climate change. The Melbourne People’s Climate March will be on Friday 27 November 2015 at 5.30 pm, outside State Library, Swanston Street. Come and join us under the Humanist Society banner and bring your own posters.

Photo of Rosslyn Ives

Copyright © 2015 Rosslyn Ives

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