Record breaking storms, uncontrollable fires, scorching sun, and of course, the Beast from the East. Climate change seems to becoming a reality we can no longer deny.
In response, global climate accords reoccur on a seemingly annual basis, setting audacious goals with alarming consequences if missed. Extinction Rebellion has successfully brought London to a standstill to raise awareness for the climate. And the father of all things environmental, David Attenborough, has just announced his most militant call to arms to wage international war on global warming.
It seems that signs of change are starting to show. So much so that even the American public, usually sceptics, are waking up to the threat posed to our climate.
Is it possible that we are witnessing first hand an environmental turning point? Will this be recorded in the geography books for schoolkids of years to come?
Recent research seems to suggest there is reason to believe we are…
There are no two ways about it, America is fundamental to climate change. Alone producing 15% of global emissions, it seems almost irrelevant for other countries to commit to climate controls without our friends across the pond.
Yet historically, many Americans have remained uninterested in the need for change. Donald Trump knows this, playing into the hands of many American voters. On the election trail in 2016, Trump threw his toys out of the pram, doing what he does best by denying any legitimacy to an opposing point of view.
Calling climate change a ‘hoax’, he stated that supporters and scientists have a political agenda which is underlined by a desire to see American businesses and workers suffer.
What makes his views all the more remarkable is that in a time of increasing division, climate change seems to be one of the few things that almost all leaders believe.
In a time when it is rare to get even a few international leaders to agree, the Paris climate change agreement gained the signatures of 194 states. By announcing to pull America out of this agreement, America will become the first country to leave what was unanimously agreed upon just one year before.
If America wants to continue to be the technological leader of the modern world, a land of hope and dreams, it might do well to start prioritizing green tech. After all, the solar industry already providestwice as many jobs as coal.
Climate change is no longer some distant threat studied in geography text books. Climate change is now real. It affects us on a daily basis.
Last year was one of the hottest on record, marked by scorching sun across the northern hemisphere. 11 of 12 months across the globe ranked among the five warmest for their respective months, giving way to the fourth warmest year on record. This means that the period 2015-2018 has already reached 1.0°C above pre-industrial averages.
This has led to a seeming increase in once-in-a-lifetime freak events.
Scorching temperatures has increased the stress on human civilizations, but we cannot forget about the consequences that increasing temperatures have on ecosystems in which we live. Even the most adapted animals are struggling to cope.
Rising temperatures has led to some of the deadliest forest fires breaking out across the globe. The attitudes of even the most resistant to climate change are struggling to ignore these warning signs as we are forced to witness the destruction of millions of hectares of land and property.
Last year the UK shared in this heatwave. It was the joint hottest on record. Whilst it cannot be fully attributed to climate change, scientists have shown that it was 30 times more likely as a result of it.
Yet climate change is also making extremes more likely. In contrast to the scorching sun, this winter saw temperatures across much of America plummet, the consequences of a record breaking polar vortex, reaching lows of -50°C.
Add to this, America has been devastated by record breaking hurricanes, Irma being the strongest ever outside of the Caribbean.
Global warming is now real. Sea levels have already risen in places up to 20cm over the past 2 decades, species are becoming extinct as they struggle to cope with change, and the most at risk are those least able to cope with change.
As a result, America has started waking up to the fact that climate change is real. The increasing majority can no longer stick their head in the sand and pretend that things aren’t starting to change.
New research shows that more Americans than ever before are concerned about global warming. For many, they now can see direct evidence that change is occurring, and the majority consider it a serious threat caused by human activity.
45% of Americans, the highest number ever, now say they worry “a great deal” about global warming, with an additional 21% reporting they worry “a fair amount”. This is up from a low of 25% in 2011.
American opinion has seesawed over the past two decades. These swings in public perception follow high profile public debates, raising attention and increasing concern for the problems at hand.
An example is following the Kyoto Protocol in 2000, where there was a debate between Republicans and Democrats on whether they should sign up to global emissions targets. Sadly, interest waned following the 9/11 attacks as attention was focused on the threat posed to American security.
The spike from 2006 to 2007 was similarly linked to Al Gore’s ‘The Inconvenient Truth’. Google also saw a spike in searches for global warming around this time. Again, with the world economic crisis that followed 2007, interest in global warming fell away.
The increasing wild weather may explain the increase in public concern.
Gallup’s survey was conducted on the heels of the country’s second warmest February on record.
Donald Trump’s environmental stance could also factor in to American’s heightened concern this year. 57% of Americans say Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax”, willdo a poor job of protecting the environment.
62% of Americans now believe the effects of global warming has already started to happen. Another quarter think it will happen eventually.
68% of Americans now also believe that rising temperatures are the direct consequence of human activity, whereas just 29% attribute it to natural changes in the environment.
It is now hard to see global warming as some distant threat. This is proven by the increasing trend who believe it will pose a threat in their lifetime.
The result, Americans are finally waking up to the need for change - all happy news right?
Well, yes and no.
Trump still reigns supreme in America, and his resistance to climate action still holds firm. However he is under increasing pressure both internationally and domestically to change his stance.
The real issue is that most individuals around the globe feel unempowered. They feel that alone they have no impact and are unable to create change. This is the sad reality of climate change. The majority of us believe that our actions are meaningless.
And this isn’t all. Despite increasing attention, longer term trends show that American concern about climate change goes in peaks and troughs.
Whilst we are currently at an all time high, with 44% of Americans now worrying about climate change, this is not much higher than previous peaks in 2007 when 41% of them did, or 2000 when this figure reached 40%.
The fear is that should economic or foreign policy supersede climate issues again, we might see a decline in public sentiment towards climate change.
There seems to be a wave of officials setting audacious policy goals. Protesters are bringing our streets to a standstill. And we mustn’t forget that as more time passes, these freak events will only become more alarming.
Is it possible therefore that we are about to see a dramatic shift in our attitudes to climate change? Have we already added the last straw that will break the camel's back, persuading even the most ardent resisters?
We are already seeing amazing signs that our actions are impacting decision makers across the globe. Not only this, business are starting to realise that they must cater to the expectations of their customers, who are demanding ever increasing sustainable alternatives.
If pressure builds to such an extent where action is finally taken, then we may well set ourselves on course to avert climate catastrophe.
Politicians are finally being forced to reckon with the decision of inaction.
With extreme weather events posing a threat to human safety and helping to foster attention for the need to change, aGreen New Deal has been proposed by Democrats in America. This Green New Deal is garnering a lot of media attention by proposing to address both environmental malaise and economic inequality.
In the UK, Extinction Rebellion has brought London to a standstill. Whether you agree with their methods or not, they havesuccessfully attracted attention on a national stage, forcing leaders to engage in talks. Their social media presence is an example of their increased attention. Across social media they have witnessed a doubling of their following, from 4 million to 8 million in just 1 week on Instagram alone.
Leaders across the globe are being forced by their citizens to wake up to the need for change.Greta Thunberg is an example of how one determined individual can inspire change on a global scale. At just 16 years old, this Swedish school girl is an exemplar of how much impact one seemingly unknown individual can make when you are determined to make a stand for what you believe in.
Well, as with all things climate related it is a little more complex than we’d like it to be.
However, one thing is clear. People are focused on whatever scares the crap out of them the most. Climate change is no longer a problem that occurs in distant places. It is now on our doorstep.
Records setting fires, high water floods, freak weather, these are all just some of the things that will become increasingly common as we continue to change our environment. What has been predicted for decades is now starting to become a reality.
Whilst disturbing, climate change will be forced into people's conscience. And this might just be the only way these problems get through to the mass majority.
Sadly this reality is bittersweet. Evidence shows that many are being forced to come to terms with climate change as it starts to affect their lives. What more will it take until leaders and businesses are forced to take serious action.
We are no longer talking about an possibilities. Climate change is happening, and it's happening fast.
Will our attitudes shift fast enough to counter it?
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