The recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report titled ‘Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’ warned that if emissions are not cut rapidly, heat and humidity will create conditions beyond human tolerance and its economic impact could also be devastating. “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health,” the report concludes. As the IPCC report asserts that almost half of humanity lives in the danger zone where climate change is already causing widespread disruption to nature and posing the greatest threat to the health and livelihoods of those who can least cope with it, it reminds us of British documentary film director Franny Armstrong’s 2009 drama-documentary-animation hybrid The Age of Stupid. The film is a reflection from 2055 when the world has been ravaged by catastrophic climate change—London is flooded, Sydney is burning, Las Vegas has been swallowed up by the desert, the Amazon rainforest has burnt up, snow has vanished from the Alps and nuclear war has laid waste to India.
An unnamed archivist—the last guy alive in a post-apocalyptic, climate-fried world—is entrusted with the safekeeping of humanity’s surviving store of art and knowledge in a vast repository off the coast of the largely ice-free Arctic. He watched a video archive of news clips and interviews filmed way back around 2008 and mused sorrowfully on how humankind could have been so stupid: “Why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?” The Times asserted that the power of this shameless campaigning film is that “it gives dates and deadlines. It explores options and ideas. It names culprits...”
Admittedly, we need ‘net zero’, which refers to a state in which the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere. But, we are living in the ‘Age of Stupid’, which, according to the best-selling author Phelim McAleer, should have been called the ‘Age of Hypocrisy’.
The timing of the documentary was important. A revolution in people’s consciousness was instigated in 2007 when Al Gore and IPCC jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for “informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change”. The annual Conference of the Parties (COP), however, had been taking place since its first session in 1995 in Berlin, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A near-disaster of climate couldn’t be resisted though.
The IPCC report may be assessed along with the much-hyped COP26 in Glasgow in November. The COP21 in Paris in 2015 was very special. The Paris Agreement—a legally binding international treaty on climate change—was adopted by 196 parties. Its goal was to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, around 1.5, compared to pre-industrial levels. Countries aimed to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.
Drafting a fancy plan is easy, but implementation needs science-driven economic and social transformation. Countries were supposed to report an outline of their planning within 2020. Thus, the Glasgow meeting became extremely important. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, of course, thinks that we are “seemingly light-years away from reaching our targets”.
Global consciousness intensified during these six years. There has been the ‘Greta effect’, as described by The Guardian. Swedish youth Greta Thunberg got utterly afraid of the climate catastrophe and wished to disseminate that fear through the world. Greta started her protest by sitting outside Riksdag—the Swedish parliament—every day for three weeks during school hours with the sign Skolstrejk för klimatet (School strike for climate). At 16, she could thunder at world leaders, “How dare you?”, at the 2019 UN Climate Summit for ignoring the science behind the climate crisis. And, by withdrawing America from the Paris Accord, Donald Trump also must have generated a huge consciousness for climate among the common people.
Well, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, two of the world’s most powerful leaders, didn’t even bother to attend COP26. China emits the maximum carbon dioxide in the world. While there’s a global desire to reduce the use of fossil fuel, China, which already has more than 1,000 coal power plants, has planned to set up another 43. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently reiterated coal power stations should ‘run as long as they possibly can’. Back in 2017, then-Treasurer Morrison brought a fat lump of coal into Parliament during a debate, attempting to ridicule the commitment to renewable energy. Joe Biden’s America is backing the Oil Sands Pipeline Project of the Trump-era that would carry Canadian oil across Minnesota and Wisconsin. Yes, Donald Trump has shown the world how vulnerable the international agreements and commitments are.
The latest IPCC report is a sobering reminder that the window to securing a livable future is closing rapidly. It’s Volume II of the Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change. Volume I looked at the physical and scientific basis of global warming, and this Volume II examines its effects on human society and the natural world. An important third volume, about how to stop climate change, is due this spring.
Yes, we still assume that climate change is a solvable problem. In order to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, humanity must begin to significantly reduce carbon emissions during its brief and rapidly closing window, the recent IPCC report warns. The doomsday clock is ticking. This age of stupid (or age of hypocrisy) is humanity’s careless journey towards doom’s doorstep.
Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata