Media outlets have been running headlines claiming the Paris climate talks are humanity's last chance to save the planet -- a bold claim that sounds absurdly hyperbolic if it weren't basically a scientific fact.
Overwhelming data conclusively shows that humanity is on the brink of an environmental catastrophe that would essentially make much of the planet uninhabitable for human life. This isn't opinion, it is an almost universally agreed upon fact. Man made climate change is heating the planet up at an alarming rate, and the consequences are nothing short of horrifying. As the World Wildlife Fund states:
Global warming is likely to be the greatest cause of species extinctions this century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says a 1.5°C average rise may put 20-30% of species at risk. If the planet warms by more than 3°C, most ecosystems will struggle....
Climate change is having serious and unpredictable impacts on the world’s water systems through more flooding and droughts.
It’s impacting on rivers and lakes - which supply drinking water for people and animals - and are a vital resource for farming and industry. And it threatens food chains in our oceans and seas, which sustain a large proportion of life on Earth.
If global temperatures rise by 2°C -- the threshold the Paris talks are aiming to prevent -- we face a crisis of unimaginable proportions. Here's how the Guardian described a world 2°C hotter:
The heatwaves seen in Europe during 2003, which killed tens of thousands of people, will come back every year with a 2C global average temperature rise. Southern England will regularly see temperatures around 40C in summer. The Amazon turns into desert and grasslands, while increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere make the world's oceans too acidic for remaining coral reefs and thousands of other marine lifeforms. More than 60 million people, mainly in Africa, would be exposed to higher rates of malaria. Agricultural yields around the world will drop and half a billion people will be at greater risk of starvation. The West Antarctic ice sheet collapses, the Greenland ice sheet melts and the world's sea level begins to rise by seven metres over the next few hundred years. Glaciers all over the world will recede, reducing the fresh water supply for major cities including Los Angeles. Coastal flooding affects more than 10 million extra people. A third of the world's species will become extinct as the 2C rise changes their habitats too quickly for them to adapt.
If we hit 3°C -- a number entirely likely given the current trajectory -- we are basically screwed:
After a 3C global temperature rise, global warming may run out of control and efforts to mitigate it may be in vain. Millions of square kilometres of Amazon rainforest could burn down, releasing carbon from the wood, leaves and soil and thus making the warming even worse, perhaps by another 1.5C. In southern Africa, Australia and the western US, deserts take over. Billions of people are forced to move from their traditional agricultural lands, in search of scarcer food and water. Around 30-50% less water is available in Africa and around the Mediterranean. In the UK, summers of droughts are followed by winter floods. Sea levels rise to engulf small islands and low-lying areas such as Florida, New York and London. The Gulf Stream, which warms the UK all year round, will decline and changes in weather patterns will lead to higher sea levels at the Atlantic coasts.
In other words, the United Nations climate talks in Paris have to succeed, or we probably won't get another chance. We are on the brink," said Pope Francis recently. "We are on the brink of a suicide, to use a strong word, and I am sure that most of those at the COP have this conscience, and want to do something."
With this in mind, it is important to note that the Republicans are reacting to this unprecedented challenge facing humanity by denying the existence of climate change and doing their best to sabotage President Obama's efforts to make a lasting, substantive deal. Before the talks began, Republicans made clear that they would go to any lengths necessary to block funding Obama has promised poor nations in order to fight climate change. Obama is already hamstrung by the Republican led Senate that will not accept any international, legally binding treaties on carbon emissions, forcing the President to resort to legalese and political maneuvering to circumvent Republican obstructionism.
This of course makes negotiations with other nations far, far more complex and contentious. If agreements are not legally binding, it paves the way for countries to renege on whatever deal is agree at a later date and undo any momentum gained towards preventing catastrophic climate change.
The United States has been the biggest C02 emitter in the history of humanity, and has continually abdicated its responsibilities in reducing its impact on global warming by refusing to sign legally binding treaties. As the earth's ecosystems teeter on the brink of collapse, one would have thought that a political consensus could be reached to do something serious about it. But no, leading Republicans have decided there are bigger problems to contend with.
“We are not going to destroy our economy, make America a harder place to create jobs, in order to pursue a policy that will do nothing, nothing to change our climate, to change our weather," said presidential candidate Marco Rubio recently, basing his evidence on absolutely nothing.
“If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there’s been zero recorded warming," said Ted Cruz. "The satellite says it ain’t happening.”
Except of course, it is.
And when the most pro science candidate, Jeb Bush, says “I don’t think it’s [climate change] the highest priority," we can safely say that the Republican party has absolutely no interest in doing anything about saving our planet from disaster. Or in other words, they are actively trying to destroy it.