Leading British scientist warns of “perilous, all-pervasive, climate breakdown”

Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

With Earth experiencing a rash of extreme heatwaves, wildfires and floods across its length and breadth,  a leading UK scientist has warned that it is no longer possible to avoid “perilous, all-pervasive, climate breakdown.”

Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College, London, says in his book “Hothouse Earth”, “The book takes as its starting premise, then, the notion that practically, there is now no chance of dodging a grim future of perilous, all-pervasive climate breakdown. It is no longer a matter of what we can do to avoid it, but of what we should expect in the decades to come, how we can adapt to a hothouse world with more extreme weather and what we can do to stop a bleak situation deteriorating even further.”

The publication of the book at this juncture is particularly opportune with Europe being baked by unprecedented heatwaves and the rest of the world, including India and the United States experiencing all the terrible consequences of an epic climate disaster.

The term “hothouse” is used when global temperatures are so high that the two poles become ice-free. “A hothouse state, however, is not required for hothouse conditions, which are already becoming commonplace, and fast becoming the trademark of our broken climate,” McGuire writes.

However, he clarifies that by hothouse he does not mean an ice-free Earth but “a world in which lethal heatwaves and temperatures in excess of 50 degrees C (122 F) in the tropics are nothing to write home about.” He also speaks of dwindling world winters even while pointing out that the oceans “heated beyond the point of no return and the mercury climbing to 30 C+ (86 F+) within the Arctic Circle is no big deal.”

These dire prognostications come notwithstanding the fact that countries around the globe are trying in their own ways to ensure that the average global temperature rise is kept below 1.5 degrees C. That goal seems elusive if the book is any indication. “To have even the tiniest chance of keeping the global average temperature rise below 1.5 C, we need to see emissions down 45 percent by 2030. In theory it might be possible but in the real world—barring some unforeseen miracle—it isn’t going to happen. Instead, we are on course to a 14 percent rise by this date that will almost certainly see us shatter the 1.5 C guardrail in less than a decade,” McGuire says.

His deeply pessimistic picture is very similar to what United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had painted in last month.

In the midst of the unfolding climate crisis across the planet, Guterres reminded the world that in the eight months COP26 or the twenty-sixth conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change failed to set the target of keeping global heating below 1.5°C, the world is “on life support.” Not just that, he even said, “Since then, its pulse has weakened further.  Greenhouse‑gas concentrations, sea‑level rise and ocean heat have broken new records.  Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires.”

“No nation is immune.  Yet, we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction.  What troubles me most is that, in facing this global crisis, we are failing to work together as a multilateral community.  Nations continue to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility for our collective future. We cannot continue this way.  We must rebuild trust and come together — to keep 1.5°C alive and to build climate-resilient communities.  Promises made must be promises kept.  We need to move forward together on all fronts — mitigation, adaptation, finance, [and] loss and damage,” he said.

America, which is often justifiably blamed for hogging global resources far out of proportions to its population’s needs and in the process causing a significant part of this climate breakdown, has taken some important steps in the past couple of days. An unexpected deal among Senate Democrats on July 28 has ensured the passage of a potentially pathbreaking piece of legislation under which nearly $370 billion will be spent over 10 years on electric vehicles, renewable energy, including solar and wind power, as well as develop alternative energy sources like hydrogen.

President Joe Biden has called the deal “historic”, saying, “We will improve our energy security and tackle the climate crisis — by providing tax credits and investments for energy projects.” He has also said the bill “will create thousands of new jobs and help lower energy costs in the future. ″

However, if McGuire’s projections come to pass global emissions will have to be cut “to the bone”. That seems impossible considering that some five billion people, including over half that in India and China, are still developing their economies to lift billions out of dire poverty.