Ocean levels are rising. The climate is changing. Species are becoming extinct. These are the clichés of global warming. Terms used so frequently and half-heartedly they have become staple phrases. Phrases that say nothing of the reality, nothing of the risk and nothing of the utter urgency surrounding global warming.
When National Geographic released Beyond The Flood three days ago, it initially seemed like much of the same. A feature-length documentary following UN Messenger of Peace and renowned actor Leonardo DiCaprio, well-shot, relevant and insightful but incapable of delivering a knockout blow to the forces preventing action on climate change.
The truth is different. Yes, Beyond The Flood is well-shot; yes, it most definitely is relevant; yes, it is shatteringly insightful. The difference is that this is not just another statement concerning climate change. This is an urgent call for action, on the crisis of all of our lives. Global warming is a huge issue that, despite the unprecedented damage it has done, can still be salvaged.
Rises in the sea level aren’t just vague and distant threats. Ice caps in the Arctic are melting faster than first anticipated which, combined with expanding water as ocean temperatures rise (known as thermal expansion), is causing the sea level to rise by 3.5mm each year.
This is staggering. All kinds of risks birth themselves when the sea level rises, from saltwater intrusion contaminating drinking water to high tides and storm surges which often put property and lives at risk.
With 40% of the world’s population living within 100km of the coast, these disastrous effects will be widespread. Over 60 million US citizens felt the effects of Hurricane Nova.
Drought is an increasingly imminent risk, with hot areas such as the Mediterranean and the Sahara expected to become inhospitably dry and withered within the next 40 years. As well as famine – also caused by increasing flash flooding – the effects of drought and intense global warming in these areas will cause migration to cooler areas, putting strain on the economies already there.
Species are becoming threatened with extinction ever-more rapidly. Ecosystems such as coral reefs – who microorganisms feed the fish depended on by over 1 billion people worldwide – are expected to die out before global warming increases by another 1 degree centigrade.
There are even balancing abilities of our planet that are being gradually eroded by the excessive consumption of fossil fuels. Whilst our oceans and rainforests are buffers for the CO2 we pump into the atmosphere, the level we currently emit (along with the mass deforestation still prevalent today – you only need to look at palm oil production) is damaging the earth’s capacity for healing itself in a critical way. Although it is possible to live sustainably and within our means on Earth, without destroying its beauty and our helpless fellow species, we are proving ourselves unable to do so.
Our cars, our houses and our economies (particularly in the industrialised west) are reliant on fossil fuels. Until we are able to make dramatic lifestyle, business and policy changes, or else adopt renewable sources of energy as a matter of urgency, the problem will remain. And with emerging economies such as India, Brazil and China exploiting increasing quantities of cheap fossil fuels to support continued economic growth, the scale of global warming could yet escalate further.
We have argued the evidence of global warming for too long, and with too little action. The good news is that we are making steady progress. The bad news is that such progress is still too slow.
In December 2015, the Paris Agreement marked the first time all UN countries had come together in a unified commitment to tackling global warming. The architecture for future green policies was laid out. However, a few foibles remained, such as the absence of a carbon tax (a tax which measurably punishes economies and firms for the amount they pollute – a key economic incentive against the use of fossil fuels) and the uncertainty about how sufficiently UN governments would act.
The latter is perhaps the biggest barrier faced in tackling climate change. Whilst Germany is heavily populated with field after field of solar panels and Denmark generates almost 100% of its energy from wind, there are many more economies that have invested only the minimum into renewable energy. The high initial cost of investment is no longer a good enough excuse. We have reached breaking point.
The US is an uncomfortably poignant example of this political inertia. In the States, where CO2 emissions per head are the highest in the world, a number of politicians are dominated by self-interest and the bribes of huge fossil fuel-reliant firms, from suppliers like Shell to giants like PepsiCo, Burger King, McDonalds and Koch Brothers. Similarly, the American press and institutions founded by big corporations – The Heartland Institute and Americans for Prosperity to name a fraction – have been ruthlessly influential in playing down the threat of global warming.
While levels of CO2 emissions and global warming are dangerously high, and while there are numerous obstacles in the way of limiting them, there is a remedy to this situation. In Sweden, an uprising through youth and environmental movements meant that the government eventually declared the country as carbon neutral. Politicians, in spite of corruption and manipulation and myopia, rely on one thing: the vote of the people. And when the masses speak out, politicians answer. Make small changes where you can, shop green and live greener, but most importantly, speak loudly.
Watch on and do nothing, or stop the exploitation of our planet. The choice is yours.
Before The Flood is available to view free on YouTube, or via the link below. Visit beforetheflood.com to find out how you can act.