In cosmic time, it is one minute to midnight before the earth is irreversibly destroyed, its fragile atmosphere damaged beyond repair. And within this nano minute of grace, it rests in the hands of the human race which has brought the planet to the brink of Armageddon, the power to save it. It is still [...]


One minute to midnight, before the lights go out

Last chance to save the Earth and all who live in it

In cosmic time, it is one minute to midnight before the earth is irreversibly destroyed, its fragile atmosphere damaged beyond repair.

And within this nano minute of grace, it rests in the hands of the human race which has brought the planet to the brink of Armageddon, the power to save it. It is still within the reach of mankind to stay doomsday’s ticking clock and avert the extinction of all life on earth.

Centuries of industrial effluence, spewed indiscriminately to the atmosphere have precipitated the final hour, brought the world’s end closer. Coal powered plants have blasted the air with their soaring grime from lofty turrets, factories have poured their toxic waste to flowing rivers and the seas have become the dumping ground for humanity’s nuclear junk.

BURNING EARTH: The countdown has begun, the end of the world is nigh if temperatures rise by a few more degrees

Not that mankind was not aware of the greenhouse effect, of the adverse consequences that would naturally flow from unchecked carbon dioxide gas emissions. We were warned 125 years ago but chose to ignore it.

If English economist Malthus had raised the red flag in 1798 to warn the world that the human species faced extinction by starvation since food supplies increased arithmetically while population growth multiplied, then, nearly a century later, a Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius predicted that the industrial revolution, widely credited as having rescued mankind from the predicted Malthusian Catastrophe, would lead to rising temperatures, and, the ensuing greenhouse effect, make all life extinct.

In 1896, Svante Arrhenius had arrived before his time. His theory held that the increased burning of coal and other such fossil fuels would result in the planet getting insufferably hotter.

Exploring a concept first proposed in the 1820s by French scientist Fourier, Arrhenius found that the average temperature of the earth’s surface stood at 15° Celsius due to the infrared absorption of water vapour and carbon dioxide. His research to explain the cause of the Ice Age led him to hold that a doubling of carbon dioxide would lead to a 5° Celsius rise in temperature.

This seemed to confirm the work of Irish physicist, Tyndall, who had published a research paper in 1859 stating that increased carbon dioxide will have an impact on global temperature changes, a conceptual finding simultaneously arrived at through a simple experiment by another contemporary scientist Foote who had detailed it in her published work. But Arrhenius’ doomsday findings were dismissed out of hand as too farfetched an idea to consider seriously.

Climate change was furthest from western minds. Some may have even welcomed the prospect of warmer climes to replace the shivering cold of freezing winters. Even if Arrhenius’ theory was proved sound, the sceptics held it was beyond ‘puny humanity’s power to adversely affect ‘the vast climate cycles governed by a benign balance of nature.’

Thus in the warp and weft of impotent humanity, Man garbed himself to become demi-god on earth and arrogated unto his own self the divine right to ravage and ravish his natural environment and callously run it to seed.

In the 20th Century other fossil fuels entered the scene, each entrance hailed as a miraculous find to perpetuate man’s industrialised pampered existence. Beneath the sandy dunes of the Arabian desert, oil was discovered. From its vast wells, a reservoir of hope swelled that the energy needs of man was settled well into the future.

The fogs of toxic fumes it would spew in the years to come to gradually rend asunder earth’s virginal hymen, the delicate ozone layer that shields all life on earth by absorbing the ultraviolet radiation of the sun, did not demand the concern of scientists of the time, for they did not know of the terrible consequences and, blithely unaware, did not give a fig leaf as to any danger the Arrhenius theory held it posed.

But man’s destructive power had been heavily underestimated. That ‘puny’ Man could wreak destruction and blot out all life on earth, that man had the awesome power to annihilate the planet which would have taken an omnipotent force to create, seemed rather incredible to behold or deserve serious rational discussion.

This complacent attitude that the earth was safe no matter the havoc man wreaks on it spurred, without check, in the 20th century, the wanton exploitation of the earth’s largess. The burning of fossil fuels increased unabated and, together with new found uranium to power nuclear power plants, sufficed to dramatically alter the fragile balance of nature.

But if that wasn’t enough to plunge the world to the brink of the precipice the indiscriminate felling of trees and the decimation of its forest cover, which, perhaps, would have absorbed some of man’s carbon dioxide emissions, rapidly increased the earth’s surface temperatures, as Arrhenius had predicted.

In the 1930s an amateur scientist in England, Guy Steward Callendar had spent his time working in his home compiling data on carbon dioxide emissions and rising earth temperatures for the previous fifty years. He found that throughout the last half century, the levels of both had risen. Intrigued by his discovery, he conducted further research, published his “The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and its Influence on Temperature” in 1938, and warned greenhouse warming was on its way.

The scientific community, which had earlier dismissed a noticeable warming in the United States and the North Atlantic region during the previous fifty years as due to ‘just a phase of some mild natural cycle, with unknown causes, now stepped in to brand his findings of a co-relation between emission levels and temperature as ‘a
mere coincidence.’

But, despite the scepticism, his global warming theory somehow survived. His claims provoked new studies and it showed that, contrary to earlier crude estimates, carbon dioxide could indeed build up in the atmosphere and should bring warming.

But though evidence mounted in the last four decades of the last century to confirm the co-relation, no significant action had been initiated to stem the decline to destruction. It had still not arrived on the people’s doorstep to instigate them to take preventive action. It came with the dawn of the new millennium. The world awoke to reason and to fear.

Prodded by the alarm bells rung by scientists the terrible catastrophe the world faced if no preventive action was taken now, world governments established, under the UN Environment Programme, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988.

In its first report released in 1990, they announced they were certain that emissions resulting from human activities were increasing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere causing an additional rise in the surface temperatures of the earth and blamed carbon dioxide as the main culprit of enhanced global warming.

Thanks to the derided findings of Arrhenius and Calendar, followed, nevertheless, by many more enlightened scientists later, the scientific body had mapped out the global warming gene code and knew all they needed to know on the subject. All that was missing was how the climate would actually change this century and that depended on the policies mankind adopted to, at least, forestall the planet’s imminent doom.

With the horrors of global warming becoming visible as an inexplicable spate of heat waves, floods and drought struck in many regions, world governments were forced to take stock and adopt a legally binding international treaty on climate change at the landmark summit meeting of 196 countries held in Paris in December 2015.

Its goal was exemplary: First, to limit global warming to below 2° Celsius, preferably to 1.5° C, compared to pre-industrial levels. And secondly, to achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century. It was, no doubt, a milestone event. For the first time, a binding agreement was reached to bring all countries together, unified in one common cause to save the earth.

The Paris Agreement stipulated that at the next summit, countries should submit their plans for climate action, their nationally determined contributions. They will spell out the action they will take to reduce global warming.

Six years later with the world limping back to a new normalcy after experiencing a virulent COVID pandemic, the UN’s Climate Change Conference began last Friday in Glasgow, Scotland, and is scheduled to end on Friday.

After Trump had served notice to quit the Paris Accord in June 2017, which took legal effect only on November 4 last year, it was welcome news to see the return of America to the fold with his successor Biden reversing
the decision and personally gracing the occasion.

But if America’s return was a boost then the Chinese decision to merely issue a written statement and Russia’s decision to boycott the event was, no doubt, a major blow, since these two countries were two of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases.  China heads the list followed by America while the EU holds third place with India placed fourth and Russia placed fifth in the list of the world’s biggest polluters.

The climate conference kicked off with the host nation’s Prime Minister, Britain’s Boris Jonson delivering his twelve-minute speech in which he warned: ’The doomsday device is real. And the clock is ticking. Quilting the earth in an invisible and suffocating blanket of CO2, raising the temperature of the planet with a speed and an abruptness that is entirely man-made.’’

He further warned of the frightening tally of disasters waiting to take its toll. He said: “Two degrees more, and we jeopardise the food supply for hundreds of millions of people as crops wither, locusts swarm. Three degrees and you can add more wildfires and cyclones, twice as many, five times as many droughts, and 36 times as many heat waves. Four degrees, and we say goodbye to whole cities. Miami, Alexandria, Shanghai, all lost beneath the waves. If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow.”

Next it was the turn of the UN’ Secretary General, António Guterres who declared: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink. We face a stark choice: Either we stop it — or it stops us. We are digging our own graves,”

The only crumb of good news that filtered through the smog of bad tidings was when India’s Modi pledged to get 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 but failed to promise net zero carbon emissions by the target year 2050, stating it could do so only in 2070. China had earlier announced 2060 as its target year for carbon neutrality while America and the EU have both said they target 2050.

It seems world governments are still dragging their feet, with their eyes more fixed on economic gain and less on the peril all life on earth faces. India may even be thinking of making a quick buck from its promises by taking advantage of the Paris Agreement clause which reaffirmed that developed countries should take the lead in providing financial assistance to countries less endowed and more vulnerable.

According to a BBC report quoting Arunabha Ghosh, Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a leading climate think tank, India had “clearly put the ball in the court of the developed world” by announcing 500 gigawatts of non-fossil electricity capacity and a reduction of emissions by one billion tonnes. Now India demands $1tn in climate finance as soon as possible and will monitor not just climate action but also climate finance.”

Thirty years is a long, long way off to meet carbon neutrality targets and the sincerity of governments cannot be taken at face value. As far as the climate crisis is concerned the rhetoric is there but not the resolve; the concern is there but not the action; the talk exists but the walk is missing. Developing nations blame the developed world for demanding it stops its growth plans after having first grown rich exploiting the colonies’ resources. But the time for such squabbles is now past; it is not a question of who is right or wrong. It’s a question of common survival.

The time will soon arrive when peoples of the world will have to take matters into their own hands and boycott goods produced by major countries now playing truant to force them to reform and comply, and seek how best each country can achieve the goals set to prevent doomsday’s dawn.

The fifty ninth minute of the eleventh hour ticks on. Soon it will be High Noon. And the wages of mankind’s sins for burning fossil fuels to fire the industries of economic growth, pursued pell-mell in the name of development, have to be settled now.  All are in this together or all die. There will not be one single survivor in the uninhabitable planet once temperatures cross the Rubicon.

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