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Time to declare a climate emergency

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We need to take urgent steps to stop emitting carbon and to begin drawdown, says Sonia Randhawa.

I wasn’t particularly bothered by climate change. It was happening, sure, but we’d figure out a fix by the time things got bad, in a hundred years or so.

But then I had children, just as I joined a climate action group. And I realised that things are bad, that we are already living in an unsafe climate, and that we need urgent emergency action to take us out of this danger zone and back into an area of safety.

The case for climate catastrohpe is compelling. Even advertisers have been getting on board to use it to sell energy-efficient appliances.

But energy-efficient appliances are not going to save us. Neither will sorting out our recycling or even shifting to electric cars. No individual actions will make a dent in the problem.

What we need is political action to ensure that Malaysia both moves to carbon neutrality in the fastest possible time, and starts investigating what mitigation measures need to be taken to ensure that our population, our standard of living and our most vulnerable are protected.

Let’s start with the science. The case that climate change was caused by humans, that it was likely catastrophic, and that urgent action was needed was comprehensively documented, at least in the United States, by 1979.

Since then, industry-funded scientists – the same individuals who led the fight against regulation on matters as diverse as tobacco, acid rain or chlorofluorocarbons that destroy the ozone layer – have pretended that there was some doubt in the scientific community.

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The record, however, is clear: Those who specialise in climate science overwhelmingly (at least 97%) agree that climate change is happening, that it is caused by people, and that the sooner we move to a carbon-neutral economy, the cheaper change will be. And rapid change now is not just cheaper, it is safer.

But there is a huge problem with the science. Scientists are trained to make sure that they don’t overstate their case, so their predictions are worryingly sanitised, particularly in a process that requires consensus like the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change.

To give one example, the IPCC predicts sea level rises of less than a metre by the end of the century. Yet, that explicitly discounts what are possibly the major causes of sea level rise – the melting of land ice over Greenland and Antarctica.

The reason for this is good science: The amount that these ice sheets will melt over the next century hasn’t been quantified. Nobody knows how much they will contribute to sea level rise. So the figures are left out. Think about that. The effects that they cannot be absolutely sure will happen, those effects are just not in the report.

So, because scientists play it safe, as a planet, we are on a knife’s edge. The permafrost in Canada, just to take one indicator, is melting at 70 times the rate scientists predicted.

If the Greenland ice sheet melts 70 times faster than scientists are predicting, we’ve got a couple of decades at most before Butterworth, Teluk Intan, Klang, Melaka… most of the West Coast is under water. And at least one Harvard atmospheric chemist, James Anderson, says it is just five years before that happens. The clock is ticking…

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As I’ll continue exploring next month, we are in a climate emergency, and we need to take urgent steps to stop emitting carbon and to begin drawdown.

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