Global warning isn’t working – Climate change Armageddon?

It will take bodies in the streets before we see serious global action to stop catastrophic climate change

The Guardian – Comment is Free – 7 November 2006

Only 20,000 people joined Saturday’s London rally calling for urgent international action to halt global warming. Given the potential threat posed to life on earth by climate change, there should have been a million of us. But it seems that without dead bodies in the street and mass blackouts, most people cannot get agitated about impending economic and environmental meltdown.

The me-first, live-for-today, hedonistic, consumerist mentality foisted on much of the world by free market capit ali sm has blunted many peoples ability to feel concerned about next year, never mind the state of the planet two decades from now.

With good reason, millions of people marched against the Iraq war. I was one of them. But the human and ecological devastation of unchecked climate change is likely to be a thousand times worse than the horrors of Iraq – and global.

By 2080, England may no longer be a green and pleasant land. Instead, we’ll probably be living in a brown, sunburnt country more like Australia.

In between periods of prolonged scorching drought there will probably be unpredictable semi-tropical downpours and flash floods wrecking havoc over huge swathes of the country. Many of our major cities could be periodically waste-deep in storm water. Rising sea levels and tidal surges could turn streets into canals; with much of low-lying London becoming a British version of Venice , but without the bridges and gondoliers. The Thames Barrier will offer no protection. It, too, will be swamped.

This is what life might be like less than eight decades from now unless global warming is halted. And these devastating effects are just phase one of the consequences of global warming. Phase two – sometime in the twenty-second century – is likely to be even nastier, and more surprising: a Siberian-style ice age blanketing Britain and all of Europe for most of the year, with blizzards so strong and temperatures so low that food production will almost cease and our economies will be just a shadow of what they are today. In short, the world could become a Hobbesian nightmare, where life is nasty, brutish and short.

Already, we’ve had a foretaste of this dystopian future, with thousands of people dying in Europe during recent heat waves, and hundreds of thousands more being flooded out by flash storms.

Most climate scientists now predict a two to five degree increase in average global temperatures by 2100. This will accelerate the already discernable melting of snow fields, glaciers and the polar ice caps, precipitating a one to three metre rise in sea levels during the second half of this century (some scientists fear an eventual five metre rise in ocean levels).

The effects on the UK will be devastating. By around 2080, many low-lying coastal and river estuary regions are likely to disappear forever under the rising oceans. The size and shape of the UK landmass will shrink permanently. Other ‘surviving’ parts of the country will become prone to regular, large-scale flooding; either by tropical-style storms or massive tidal surges.

Researchers at the government’s Office of Science and Technology have calculated that changing weather patterns in Britain over the next two decades are likely to produce catastrophic mega floods every 10 years. In between, lower-level floods will become routine – causing around £20 billion damage annually. Even these lower-level floods will have a very significant impact on government finances and spending – and on the economy. But the mega floods that are predicted once every decade look set to cause a financial and economic impact equivalent to a major war.

Regular flooding could put two million houses and five to six million people at constant risk. These homes will become mostly uninsurable and unsellable; causing a cataclysmic melt-down in house prices in flood-affected parts of the UK and a corresponding astronomical rise in house prices in non-flood-prone areas as people scramble to buy into safe, secure property. Millions of refugees from these floods will have to leave their worthless homes behind them and search for new accommodation in drier areas – provoking a wartime-like housing crisis. The forced billeting of refugees may be the only way to cope with so many flood victims.

Cities situated on or near the coast and rivers – including London , Manchester and Liverpool – can expect to be frequently swamped by rising sea levels and tidal surges. This is will effect housing and businesses. Millions of people will not only have to move house, but also move jobs; causing huge economic dislocation and massive financial losses – to both employees and their companies. Many firms will be forced to relocate to other parts of the country to escape the regular ruination of flood waters.

Power generation could be hit. Several coastal nuclear reactors – at locations like Sellafield and Hinckley Point – will be at serious risk from rising sea levels, ocean storms and tidal surges.

Health dangers are likely to spiral, as drainage and sewage systems become unable to carry away the flood waters. Stagnant water will incubate epidemics like dysentery, cholera and typhus.

Much of Britain ‘s most productive agricultural land is in low-lying regions that will become permanently submerged or prone to frequent violent flooding. Farming these areas may become nigh on impossible; resulting in a big drop in food production. We will have to import more foodstuff, which will hit our balance of payments.

Unfortunately, this ‘waterworld’ is only one aspect of the potential doomsday scenario. Our weather patterns in the UK are likely to alternate between extreme floods and extreme droughts. During the summer months of prolonged soaring temperatures, many regions of the UK are likely to become drought-stricken and semi-arid, like Australia, Greece and North Africa; further reducing our food producing capability. A similar scenario of desertification will happen all over large swathes of Europe, Austr ali a and North America. Food production will plummet right across the world’s major grain belts. Importing food from Australia and the US won’t be an option. How will we feed ourselves? The threat of mass hunger in the UK is a real possibility.

The effects in poorer countries will be far worse. Nearly 1,000 million people live in the river deltas of India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and China. These are the rice bowls of whole nations; being some of the most food productive regions of the world. Many of these deltas will probably vanish under rising sea waters, causing a catastrophic drop in food production and forcing hundreds of millions of people to move inland to higher ground. Where will they settle in already overcrowded countries? Where will the food come from? Who will feed them?

These huge mass migrations of hungry, homeless refugees – within nations and across national boundaries – could dislocate whole economies and fracture entire state structures.

Large parts of the world may well descend into chaos and anarchy, as individuals, communities and whole nations fight to grab their share of declining resources. Wars over dwindling food and fresh water stocks will be matched by conflicts over diminishing supplies of accessible energy and raw materials.

Fearful of being overwhelmed by great tides of refugees, countries, cities and even villages may turn themselves into fortresses to fend off the millions of people fleeing these devastating natural disasters.

Sometime in the late twenty-first century or early 2100s, climate change is likely to reach a new critical mass. As forests die from drought, and as plankton are killed off by rising sea temperatures, these two important ‘carbon sinks’ will no longer be able to absorb carbon dioxide emissions. Increased sea temperatures will also release the vast amounts of methane trapped in the world’s oceans.

These two effects will rapidly escalate the global warming process; sending temperatures soaring higher than ever and causing the almost complete melting of the polar ice caps. This will not only raise sea levels by at least five metres (disappearing vast areas of the earth’s land mass). It will also pour immense volumes of freezing glacial water into the world’s oceans, killing off warm water fish species (destroying a major source of food) and, most dramatically, turning the warming of the earth into reverse.

This will trigger truly apocalyptic climate change: phase two of the effects of global warming. The warm currents of the Gulf Stream, which act as a giant oceanic radiator, heating Britain and the continent, will become freezing cold will glacial and polar ice-melt; plunging Europe into an all-year-round Siberian-style winter.

In this frozen wasteland, the remaining pockets of agriculture will be impossible to sustain. Transport systems will grind to a halt. Large parts of Europe may become almost impassable. Many sectors of the economy will collapse. Mass hunger and joblessness could engulf the continent. Welfare systems will be unable to cope; provoking desperate people to resort to looting to survive. Law and order will break down.

Faced with mass chaos and disorder, many governments are likely to introduce draconian authoritarian counter-measures; restricting people’s movements and liberties in the name of de ali ng with the crisis. The emergence of new fascist-style fortress states is not out of the question.

With most of the UK and the continent becoming an ice-age wasteland, scores of millions of starving, unemployed Britons and other Europeans will be forced to seek refuge in equatorial developing countries – the only places on earth spared the full effects of the Big Freeze. Then we, too, will know what is like to be a refugee.

Across the globe, tens of millions of people may starve to death. Hundreds of millions more could end up living a hungry, destitute existence. A nightmarish future, indeed.

I can, of course, already predict the responses of the usual suspects: “But Mr Tatchell you don’t understand modern need to worry, the market will find a technical solution with green fuels.this is just another scare-mongering doomsday scenario like the millennium computer bug…” and so on.

I wish, more than anyone, that these scenarios were just the fanciful pessimism of a handful of know-nothing depressives and misanthropes. Alas, too many eminent scientists say the dangers of climate change are real and huge. Are they all mistaken and misguided? Was the damning report last week by senior Treasury economist, Sir Nicholas Stern, part of some elaborate government hoax? I doubt it.

As Sir Nicholas’s report made clear, Armageddon-style climate change is not inevitable. It can be prevented. But only by urgent, concerted global action.

This means all of us switching to greener lifestyles and spending patterns, and pressuring our government’s to shift to sustainable, environmentally friendly economies.

What can we do in our everyday lives?

• Save energy (and reduce your household bills): use low-energy, long-life light bulbs, turn down the central heating by 2 degrees; install double glazing; fit draft excluders to doors and windows; triple insulate your roof and hot water tank; and switch off the lights, TV standby and the computer when you are not using them.

  • Leave the car at home or change to a more energy-efficient vehicle; and also opt for more walking, cycling, public transport and (when essential) taxis.
  • Travel by train rather than air wherever possible, and eat more fresh, locally-produced food. This will cut the carbon emissions involved in long distance transportation.

What can we do politically?

  • Write to your MP, urging him or her to lobby the government to ensure that by 2030 energy-efficiency and energy-saving programmes cut our energy needs by 30 percent; and that by 2050 at least 50 percent of Britain’s energy is from safe, renewable sources, such as wind, wave, solar, biomass and geothermal.
  • Write to your local councillors, calling on them to plant more trees to soak up carbon dioxide emissions, and to convert their municipal vehicles to run on liquid gas, hydrogen and batteries.
  • Join the Green Party, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace or the World Wide Fund for Nature, and get involved in their campaigns for a more eco-friendly world.

If everyone did their bit to conserve energy, we could shut down 30 per cent of Britain ‘s fossil fuel stations and make a big cut in the greenhouses gases that create global warming. Don’t leave it to others. They may be leaving it to you. Go green for a safe, secure, sustainable future.

Further info:

Green Party –

Friends of the Earth –

Greenpeace –

World Wide Fund for Nature –