By Payal Parekh, Programme Director of campaign group 350.org
This summer, the world is experiencing devastating climate change impacts: record heat in Pakistan and India have caused 4,000 deaths, flooding in the Philippines due to torrential downpour has caused 54,000 people to evacuate from their homes.
And it is no longer just poor countries who have been experiencing the worst of climate change. In Japan and South Korea, the heatwave has killed 200 people. In Europe, record-breaking temperatures have destroyed farmers’ crops while the wildfires in Greece killed 92 people. Scientists have already said that climate change made this heatwave twice as likely.
Media reports about a recent scientific study painted a doomsday scenario for the planet, saying we are close to the tipping point of a “Hothouse Earth”, a point of no return where climate change will be uncontrollable.
I started working on climate change over 20 years ago and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt helpless about the impacts.
But this year I’ve seen and experienced firsthand the impacts of climate change in a wealthy country, rather than in India, my birthplace. While cycling through the countryside I have met farmers who worry that they will lose their whole crop for the year. In Bern, where I live, the Aare River recorded its highest temperature ever, 23.8C, which is dangerously close to the upper limit that many freshwater fish species can handle. On a mountaineering tour, we did not need our crampons because the glacier had receded so much.
What sealed my concern was a large article in the newspaper on the frontpage about farmers not being prepared to deal with climate change. Switzerland, despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world and priding itself on always being prepared, has been caught off guard by climate change. Can you imagine farmers in poorer countries? What about farmers in India, about 60,000 of who have already killed themselves because of crop-damaging temperature increase in the country?
Fossil fuel companies like Exxon and Shell have known about the dangers of climate change brought about by their products as far back as forty years ago.
However, these companies have continued with business as usual and even seeded doubts on climate science through the media.
The climate change impacts we are experiencing today are a result of the fossil fuel industry’s neglect to act when they needed to and their willful deception, using climate deniers and the media to mask what the science said. This reckless drive for profits at any cost has made fossil fuel companies the most profitable and powerful corporations in history. Their influence over our political processes keeps governments from constraining their climate-destroying operations.
Where governments fail, ordinary people are rising up to the challenge. Local communities have been leading the rapid transformation of our entire energy system to renewable energy from the bottom-up, taking control over their own energy. All over the world, people take action to stop fossil fuel projects in their tracks.
And people everywhere organise locally to remove the public acceptance and funding of the fossil fuel industry, to weaken their political influence. This grassroots movement has already led over 900 institutions including major cities, universities, faith and medical groups, and the heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune to pull their investments out of fossil fuels.
While the majority of media coverage about the ‘hothouse’ report made it seem like we are on a hopeless and inevitable path to a dystopian catastrophe, the study itself clearly states that it is one possibility.
The scientists emphasise that it is within our power to stop this from happening and call for what the climate movement has long been advocating for: get out of fossil fuels as fast as possible and transition to 100% renewable energy.
This is exactly what the Fossil Free campaign is pushing for and what tens of thousands of people will demand at hundreds of actions around the world on 8 September. The ‘Rise for climate’ day of action will see people all over the globe take action in their local communities for a fossil-free world that puts people and justice before profits.
The effects of climate change we are already witnessing and the dire scenarios for our future can make me feel despair. But it’s also a motivation to fight and set us on a different path. Knowing that I am a part of a global movement of people who are prepared to do just that is what gives me hope that not all is lost.
Image: Spencer Thomas/Flickr CC BY 2.0