For a long time scientists have been telling us that so long as we kept average rise in global temperature below 2C, which might happen if carbon in the atmosphere rose to 450 parts per million, then there would be little danger of runaway global warming, but to be on the safe side we needed to keep ppm to 400. Even as late as 2010 it was reasonable to think that this could be achieved without difficulty. According to the Hubbert Curve, oil production would peak between 2008 and 2014. As oil became scarcer and dearer, market forces, judiciously tweaked by governments, would bring renewables into their own. The magic of the market would solve all.
In the last five years the situation has changed dramatically. The Hubbert Curve has turned out to be completely wrong. As drilling techniques have improved, a staggering, mind-blowing amount of oil has been discovered in the last five years, hence the present glut of it. More oil has been discovered in the Permian Basin in Texas alone than is left in the whole of Saudi Arabia. In 2012 scientists calculated that we could afford to burn another 565 gigatonnes of carbon before we reached the danger zone. As the world is currently burning about 30 gigatonnes a year, that gives us about twenty years to save the planet. But in that year the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a group of accountants in London which exists not to spread environmental awareness but to advise business on future trends, also calculated that the oil firms already had at least 2,750 gigatonnes in proven reserves. Even worse, much of that oil has already been sold on the futures markets. To leave it in the ground would cause financial losses that would make 2008 look like a good day on the stock exchange.
Added to that we now have fracking. I know of only three serious scientific studies of fracking, one done at Cornell in 2009, another at Harvard in 2012 and one done by the Tyndall Centre. All three concluded that fracked gas is the worst of all greenhouse gases, even worse than coal, because of the high level of methane emissions. Methane disperses from the atmosphere much faster than C02, but over twenty years it is seventy two times as lethal, just about the time we have left to take evading action. Far from steering clear of fracking, most governments, including our own, are encouraging it as much as possible.
During these last few years another important change has occurred too. Up to 2010 it was not totally irrational to say that the scientists were divided, although even then dissenters were few. But now the consensus is almost total. Just about every national scientific body in the world, a hundred and ninety seven of them, has signed up to the proposition that global warming is man-made and a serious threat to human and most other forms of life on the planet. Every scientific body in America, even the Association of Petroleum Scientists, and just about everywhere else, agrees with the I.P.C.C. consensus. A survey done by Cook et al. in 2011 for The Skeptical Scientist found that 97% of individual scientists were also in agreement. In 2007 the I.P.C.C. forecast a temperature rise during this century of between 1.5 and 6 degrees, largely depending on what humanity did about it. But since then our use of oil has been so profligate, many fear we are heading for the high end of between 4 and 6. It will almost certainly mean extreme floods, droughts and hurricanes, hundreds of millions homeless and lacking food and water, especially in Africa and South-east Asia, and most probably vicious resource wars that might well go nuclear. Every person on the planet will be affected. Environmental biologists fear that half the species that exist, millions of beautiful creatures that took millions of years to evolve, will have disappeared by the end of the century.
You would have thought that people would have been beside themselves with anxiety over the future of their children, but not a bit of it. Amazingly, the public is blissfully unaware in any real sense of this fearful, unimagineably terrible danger, which even now, if we took drastic and urgent action, we could still avoid. Climate change hardly registers in any of the political parties’ election manifestoes. Nobody is prepared to confront the public in no uncertain terms with the true state of affairs, even the Green Party, which is full of people who say ‘ooh don’t stress apocalyptic scenarios too much. The public don’t like it’. I don’t expect they do. They didn’t like it when Churchill warned them about Hitler in the nineteen thirties, but just in time they listened. So they would now, unpalatable as the message is, because people aren’t entirely irrational nor are they uncaring about their children. Somebody needs to give decisive leadership, but nobody will. The Green Party will say it is very concerned about climate, of course, but the message will not drown out all its other policies and will have no punch. There is no Churchill in the Green Party. This is a party chronically lacking in anxiety. If even the Green Party won’t grasp the nettle, what hope do we have? I am in despair.