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The world is burning – and action is needed now

This opinion piece is almost 6 years old

Caroline Rance says simultaneous environmental disasters are a dire warning sign

As the heatwave finally begins to break in the UK, people are glimpsing the impacts of climate change.

There is no doubt that the prolonged extreme temperatures and floods we are witnessing around the world right now are a result of climate change. The temperature records being broken across the UK and globally are exactly as climate science has long warned, and with devastating consequences.

Prolonged periods of hotter temperatures risk the vulnerable members of our society who may be elderly or already suffering ill health.

Westminster’s Environmental Audit Committee recently issued a stark warning: heat-related deaths will treble by 2050 as a result of a warming climate. This means 7,000 people will die in the UK each year by mid-century from the impacts of heat unless government acts.

Caroline Rance

Caroline Rance

The report also highlights the disruption and negative economic impacts that climate change is already bringing to the UK, from buckling railway lines and melting roads to reduced water supplies and loss of staff days at work due to high temperatures.

This heatwave has seen farmers reporting cops wilting in fields to water warnings issued in some places, and in Moray private water supplies had run completely dry.

The committee’s focus on adaptation in its recommendations – improved building regulations and hospital management, green spaces in cities, road resurfacing, updated heatwave advice and response preparedness – reflects the grim reality that global warming is not some distant threat.

But we’ve also watched simultaneous climate disasters unfolding around the world.

Recent news has been truly terrifying – wildfires raging in Greece have killed at least 90 people, hundreds are dead or missing after flash floods in Laos caused a dam to collapse, while Japan has declared its heatwave a natural disaster after 65 deaths in a week.

Forest fires continue to burn in Sweden, inside the Arctic Circle, and record breaking temperatures have been recorded across the world over the last month, including Canada, California, Algeria, Georgia, Japan and Australia.

What we are witnessing now is the impact of a mere 1 °C warming. The impacts of 1.5 °C, 2 °C or more will be far, far worse, with widespread disruption to food production, famine, new diseases, mass species extinction, sea level rise, the destruction of livelihoods and even entire countries. And of course these impacts will bring increased political instability, violent conflict and a rise in climate refugees.

But if we act now we can avert the worst consequences of climate change, and build a fairer and more equal Scotland in doing so.

Both these headline-grabbing events and the slow motion disasters show that we have no time to waste in cutting climate emissions. We cannot afford to delay or pretend that business as usual is still an option, decisions must be made today to significantly cut our emissions within the next decade.

The Scottish Government’s recent proposals for a new climate law do almost nothing to increase action within the next ten years, despite this being the most crucial time for climate action. MSPs from across the parliament must strengthen the new law, and take action now for a rapid and just transition to a zero carbon economy.

Caroline Rance is a climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland.



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Lok Yue
almost 6 years ago
A few years ago i was giving a talk to the University of the Third age about the work of the Seabird Centre. I closed with a photo of a tree in the Maldives, a stunted thing to be sure but surviving at the high tide mark. The picture was about 15 years old and had been taken by Australian enviro-scientists as a’before’ picture, the intention being they would record its gradual death through the inevitable rise of the indian Ocean in accordance with climate change predictions.but it didnt12 years later, it was thrivingSo the scientists, unwilling to have their theory destroyed , returned and uprooted it. A lifetime of trying to suppress natures systems leads to nature fighting back. We build on flood plains and are then horrified when they get flooded. We actively prevent forest fires and are shocked that when they eventually, inevitably ignite with pent up ferocity. The inevitable cry then rises about we having brought the disaster upon ourselves by climate change when the more prosaic response is that we have built in the wrong place and not listened to real expertsOne truth is that forests need fire. In the US they have done a very good job at suppressing fires for over 50 years and therefore allowed the fuel levels to build up so that when a fire does start it can be much larger than if there had been multiple smaller fires over the years/decades.Certain tree species require fire. Pine cones of some species do not release their seeds until after a fire. Fire also controls species composition. Thin barked trees often do not survive a fire but thick barked species do and need the fire to reduce the competition. There is also the concept of a cool fire vs. a hot fire. "Cool" fires burn slowly along the ground removing leaf litter, brush and other debris. Hot fires burn the trees themselves.Climate change has always taken place, long before mankind evolved and it will continue to do so. Whilst it makes sound sense to reduce pollution whenever possible let us try to take a considered view. After all, Mr. Gore's 'an Inconvenient Truth ' had to have some of its more extreme statements banned by the courts.
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