“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” – John Lennon
The Beatles were a huge part of my musical life as a teenager; my paper route earnings were immediately destined to the purchase of the group’s latest LP – records which I still have and play occasionally.
My favourite Beatle was always John Lennon, primarily because he was a witty, avant-garde rebel and an iconoclast who wasn’t afraid to put his political and religious views out in public. He also espoused peace over violence.
As an intelligent and multifaceted songwriter Lennon added a sexual undertone to the boy meets girl lyric and he wasn’t afraid to include autobiographical details in his songs.
When Lennon witnessed the student uprising in Paris in early 1968, the growing dissolution with the war in Vietnam, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., he put his feelings about political turmoil, protest and struggle into the song Revolution 1.
A self-professed hippy believing in the power of peace and love, Lennon began to feel more politicized, yet he was still unsure about the limits of revolution, whether he should go beyond non-violent actions as the New Left was advocating.
His ambivalence is notable when he sings the lyric “But when you talk about destruction
Still the chorus of the song is “Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright.”
It’s that particular lyric of the song that I am grappling with at this moment in time, mirroring Lennon’s battle 53 years ago. When it comes to climate change, I sometimes have my doubts whether everything is going to be alright.
“Get on your feet and into the street.” – John Lennon
If Lennon were alive today he would no doubt agree that a peaceful, non-violent revolution resulting in a complete transformation of our society is desperately needed.
On that point, he would find agreement among today’s rebels, authors, and scientists.
“The need for system change is no longer an opinion; it is a fact,” writes Greta Thunberg in her foreword to the book Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet by Swedish professor Johan Rockström and sustainability writer Owen Gaffney.
The book forms the basis of a new Netflix documentary featuring the commentary of David Attenborough which premiered on June 4th.
New Scientist reviewer Elle Hunt called the Netflix film “undeniably dismal” but concludes “the overall, and lasting impression is of urgency”.
“By the time talk turns to solutions, the viewer will be left reeling at the scale of the challenge – but convinced of the necessity to act,” she adds.
In 2009, Rockström identified nine natural processes upon which all life on Earth depends and the limits within each that cannot be exceeded without endangering humanity.
He details the impact of anthropogenic change on the nine processes and where we stand in relation to the “irreversible tipping point” for each. In the case of at least four – climate change, biodiversity, land-system change, and nitrogen and phosphorus imbalance – we are already operating in the high-risk zone, Rockström suggests.
“Either we leave our descendants an endowment of zero poverty, zero fossil-fuel use, and zero biodiversity loss, or we leave them facing a tax bill from Earth that could wipe them out.” – Johan Rockström
“The decade we have just stepped into – the roaring 2020s – will be decisive for humanity,” writes UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the introduction to Rockström’s book. “It is the moment to catalyze the most remarkable transition in history to become effective stewards of Earth.”
Let’s first consider these real facts which prove we have not been good stewards of the one and only planet hospitable to human life:
- About 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been entirely destroyed since 1970; an even larger area has been seriously degraded. Robert Walker, a research geographer at the University of Florida, believes the Amazon rainforest could be completely replaced by scrub savannah by 2064.
- 80 percent of untreated wastewateris currently discharged into our rivers and oceans.
- Each year over 4.7 million hectares of forests are lost.
- 90 percent of our remaining coral reefs will be goneby 2050 without significant action (we’ve already lost half of them).
- Canada’s Arctic has already warmed to more than 2 °C above the preindustrial level thawing the permafrost that underlies 40 percent of the country’s landmass. This rapid warming is about three times as fast as the rest of the world and is expected to double by midcentury.
- Permafrost holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and roughly 15 percent of that stored carbon is vulnerable to being released which when combined with the carbon released by unprecedented Arctic wildfires, “complicates the already difficult challenge of limiting global warming to 1.5° C or 2 °C.”
- Increased warming in the North has implications for the entire planet as it could create a vicious cycle known as the permafrost carbon feedback loop– the “more the climate warms, the more permafrost thaws and potentially emits more greenhouse gasses, which further warms the climate and thaws more permafrost.”
- New research published in Nature Communicationsshows that the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting considerably from below due to underground heat, friction and melt water. The second-largest ice sheet in the world, after the one that blankets Antarctica, is losing approximately 254 gigatons of ice each year, more than is replenished by annual snowfall. Researchers say the ice sheet has reached a point of rapid retreat that it couldn't recover from even if global temperatures stopped rising instantly. Since the beginning of the 2000s, the Greenland Ice Sheet has been one of the biggest sources of rising sea levels.
- Our human need to grow has broken our relationship with nature. The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2020 states the population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have seen an alarming average drop of 68 percent since 1970. Our insatiable demand for more land and resources has driven non-human organisms from their habitats and food sources – the greatest contributing factor to plunging biodiversity. A new World Bank report estimates that the collapse of select ecosystem services provided by nature – such as wild pollination, provision of food from marine fisheries and timber from native forests – could result in a decline in global GDP of $2.7 trillion annually by 2030.
- And then there’s our stuff. Everything we build and make is now estimated to outweigh all living things on Earth, states J.B. MacKinnon in his book The Day the World Stops Shopping. “Spread evenly across the surface of the planet, our possessions would amount to a fifty-kilogram heap on every square metre,” he writes. Apparently many people have saved money during the pandemic lockdowns and are expected to go on a spending spree for more stuff soon.
- According to Climate Action Tracker, Canada’s stronger Paris Agreement target, announced at the US Leaders Summit on Climateon April 22 – to reduce emissions by 40-45 percent below 2005 by 2030 – is not sufficient to improve the country’s CAT rating of INSUFFICIENT. CAT says Canada needs to take further policy action.
- That heat dome that caused the thermometer in my backyard to reach 47 degrees Celsius on the last day of June “was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.” That’s the finding of scientists from the US, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Switzerland who collaborated to assess to what extent human-induced climate change made this heatwave hotter and more likely. The researchers added: “An event like this – currently estimated to occur only once every 1000 years, would occur roughly every 5 to 10 years” in a future world that includes 2°C of global warming.
“We are heading into uncharted terrain. We are creating a different climate than the Earth has ever seen.” – Jason Box, Professor of Glaciology, Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland
All of these sombre facts can lead to a climate of despair but lately encouraging facts are starting to indicate that real change is underway.
- The French Council of State (Conseil d’Etat) has ordered the country’s federal government to take accelerated action against climate change, threatening possible fines for noncompliance. The Council – which provides legal advice to the executive and acts as the Supreme Court for Administrative Justice – found the government failed to take stringent enough measures to reach its goal of 40 percent reduction by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. It thus ordered the government to “take all necessary measures to achieve the objective resulting from the Paris Agreement before March 31, 2022.”
- In a landmark March 24, 2021 judgment, the German constitutional court heldthat the German 2019 climate change law does not adequately regulate greenhouse gas emission reduction goals from 2030 onwards, and so violates the government’s obligation to protect the human rights of the young people who brought the case. Since the ruling, the government committed to reduce emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and reach net zero emissions by 2045. While these are more ambitious climate targets than the ones in the 2019 law, experts consider them to be insufficient to reach the “Paris Agreement goal” to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.
- The International Energy Agency has released an optimistic report outlining a path to global net-zero emissions by 2050 – a path it says is consistent with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The IEA said it is time to make clean energy investment in emerging and developing economies a top global priority. It also called for a halt to all new fossil fuel energy projects worldwide.
“There are no problems, only solutions.” – John Lennon
- New renewable energy capacity grew by 45 percent last year, more than half of it in the year’s last quarter. In Australia, solar energy now powers more than 20 percent of homes, up from 0.2 percent in 2007. Vietnam has grown its solar capacity a hundredfold in just two years, making it the world’s seventh-largest solar power generator.
- Honda and Volkswagen have said they’ll stop manufacturing gas-powered cars by 2040. GM and Audi have targeted 2035, Volvo 2030, and Jaguar 2025. Ford has unveiled its all-electric F-150 truck.
- The international consultancy McKinsey & Companyhas prepared three scenarios to decarbonize all sectors of the economy. It has identified five critical shifts and determined what it would take for them to occur. The McKinsey proposal calls for food and forestry reform, electrified transport and buildings, reshaping industrial operations to cut fugitive methane emissions and increase industrial efficiency, decarbonization of the power and fuel sectors, and capturing, using, and/or storing CO2 along with a rapid reforestation program.
“Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” – John Lennon
- The new Torvbråten primary school in Norway has just been completed – and has been awarded the Nordic Swan Eco-label. Environmental sustainability forms a key part of the school’s curriculum and daily routine for 470 students and 46 full-time staff. Designed by Link Arkitektur, the building adheres to Passivhaus principles, maximizing natural lighting, heating and cooling. It uses 800 solar panels and geothermal energy for heating, as well as cladding made from Kebony wood. Kebony wood is made by heating softwood with furfuryl alcohol – a by-product from the agricultural sector. This polymerizes the wood’s cell wall, hardening it to a level comparable to hardwood.
- Interface is a U.S.-based carpet and flooring manufacturer that first recognized the need to make a positive contribution to the planet back in 1994. Now through its Climate Take Back program the company has committed to helping reverse global warming, restore our planet and leave a positive impact. More brands must emulate Interface as the recent Sustainable Brands ’21 conference in Madrid found only 13 percent of companies can accurately deem themselves “sustainable.”
“Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.” – John Lennon
- The Earth’s climate emergency requires the completion of a zero-emissions economy much sooner than the generally discussed target year of 2050. To date, 11 countries have reached or exceeded 100 percent renewable electricity; 12 countries have passed laws to reach 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030; 49 countries have passed laws to reach 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050; 14 U.S. states and territories have passed laws or executive orders to reach up to 100 percent renewable electricity by between 2030 and 2050; over 300 cities worldwide have passed laws to reach 100 percent renewable electricity by no later than 2050; and over 280 international businesses have committed to 100 percent renewables across their global operations. However, only Denmark has passed laws to reach 100 percent renewable energy across all sectors by 2050.
- Locally, the Villages of Silverton, New Denver, and Slocan, and the Regional District of Central Kootenay are committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy no later than 2050. The Villages of Fruitvale, Kaslo, and Warfield, City of Castlegar, City of Rossland, and the City of Nelson have made this commitment and have taken the next step and adopted the West Kootenay 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 plan.
- In 2020, wind and solar power provided just over 50 percent of Danish electricity for the second year in a row. In ten years, the share of wind and solar power in Danish electricity consumption has doubled. In 2030, the production of electricity based on renewables will be enough to cover all of Denmark’s electricity consumption.
- In Copenhagen, Denmark, half of all trips to work and schools are done by bike. If your city aspires to encourage more bicycle usage, check out the city’s five Danish solutions for bicycle loving cities.
“The science is clear and has been communicated for the past 30 years and still we’re not moving in the right direction. I don’t get depressed, I get angry.” – Johan Rockström
Even Johan Rockström has devised a way out of our dilemma. His roadmap for rapid decarbonization, driven by a simple rule of thumb or "carbon law" of halving emissions every decade, could catalyze disruptive innovation. Such a "carbon law," based on Moore's Law in the computer industry, applies to cities, nations and industrial sectors.
The researchers say halving emissions every decade should be complemented by equally ambitious, exponential roll-out of renewables. For example: doubling renewables in the energy sector every 5 to 7 years, ramping up technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and rapidly reducing emissions from agriculture and deforestation.
Rockström and his co-authors pinpoint the end of coal in 2030-2035 and oil at about 2040 to 2045 according to their "carbon law." They propose that to remain on this trajectory all sectors of the economy need decadal carbon roadmaps that follow this rule of thumb, modeled on Moore's Law.
“The real power belongs to the people.” – Greta Thunberg
We take too many things for granted. We think things will stay the same but life is always changing. One day we may wake up to find what we had is gone – and we didn't take advantage of the opportunities before us.
As citizens and consumers we are overwhelmed by the continuous slogans sent us to save the planet: consume local and seasonal products, become vegetarian, meatless Mondays, offset your emissions, reduce your air travel, use public transport, buy electric or hybrid cars, and so on.
When it comes to solving the climate crisis, short-term commitments are much more important than long-term pledges.
Climate change is a topic we need to talk about with relatives, friends, neighbours, and politicians of every stripe. If we don’t talk about it, we’ll never get to the solutions stage.
John Lennon would say we need to think of action on climate change as something like soap or soft drinks – we need to sell it. He would also say “If you wanna change the world, you’ve got to change yourself.”
“Love is all you need.” – John Lennon
We can do something about it if we want it. Advertise yourself that you’re for action on climate change if you believe in it. First you have to imagine it is possible.
There can be no more delay.
Go to the Columbia Basin Climate Source website and you’ll discover many ways to become involved. Talk about them, share them, act on them.
In an eerie sort of way, the Castlegar fire has given us a wake-up call that we must respond to.
Yes, it’s all too easy to kick the can down the road, to minimize the scale of the risk we face, and to believe that even urgent warning signs can be ignored.
After all, temperatures in B.C. are not supposed to climb to 49.6 degrees Celsius and a village like Lytton is not supposed to be destroyed by fire, right?
“What we’ve got to do is keep hope alive. Because without it we’ll sink.” – John Lennon
Michael Jessen was born at 310.1 parts per million carbon dioxide and wrote this column at 417.21 ppm CO2. He began writing about the changing climate in 2007 and has written for TheNelsonDaily.com since 2012. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org