If I had the power to influence the decisions of readers, I would like nothing more than for this article to be read aloud within families. If the question of global warming were the subject of conversations between parents, children and grandchildren, some hope would spring up among us. News and reports published in recent days which inform us that the recently completed 2016 was the hottest year since measurements began should not leave us indifferent. If we manage to add global warming to our current concerns, then we will have already taken a step forward. The issue, it seems to me, is that despite being a constant subject of consideration in books, magazines and the media in general, it remains a problem of which certain key audiences are not aware despite being such a serious matter, it does not occupy the place that it should in public opinion. We do not feel it as an immediate threat. It’s something that we leave for others to do later and which we debate in a context of widely varying positions. For example, while Germany and the Netherlands are announcing legislative plans to outlaw petrol and diesel powered vehicles by 2030 and 2025 respectively, Trump has appointed a cabinet that favours oil over green alternatives produced during the course of the last decade.
The Republic of Maldives consists of almost 1200 islands, of which only a little more than 200 are inhabited, and is located in the heart of the Indian Ocean; it may seem very remote from most people’s lives. However, if global temperatures continue to rise, it will be erased from the maps and with it places where almost 400,000 people like us live. But if this were to happen, it would not be an isolated phenomenon.
Almost half of the world’s population, more than 3 billion people, lives on a coast or within 200 kilometres of one. If a part of the Arctic ice disappears, and the Greenland and West Antarctic ice caps break up, the resulting floods will change the profile of these coasts. At least one third of these people will have to move. Their lives will be radically affected. The same threat looms over south-eastern Florida, in the city of Miami specifically, to the extent that even sceptical conservatives have already agreed to discuss it.
The list of negative consequences of global warming is of the utmost gravity and new ones are added to it almost daily. I will limit myself here to recalling that wheat and maize harvests have declined by about 5% in the last three decades as a result of global warming and climate change. The projections for 2040 are truly alarming: harvests, affected by climatic variations, could decline to a level 20% of those made in 2014 and a kilo of pasta could end up costing four or five times what it does today.
This is a problem of deep complexity because it is directly related to our way of life. The totality of our lives depends directly on the consumption of energy. Moreover, the productive and economic growth of peoples, especially of those in the poorest countries, is inseparable from an increase in the amount of energy they consume. In other words, well-being and progress are inseparable from energy use. A study carried out in India in 2012 showed that poor households, once they bought a refrigerator and a television set, increased their energy consumption fivefold.
Experts often point out that the measures and proposals that countries commit themselves to at global climate summits are unrealistic. The changes we would have to make to stop global warming go beyond simple measures relating to the saving of and responsible use of energy, which is what about 15% of the world’s families do. Not only has this percentage to be rapidly increased, we also have to prepare ourselves for structural changes. The symptoms of the dangers that we ourselves are creating for our children and grandchildren are becoming ever more alarming.
The shift from a consumer society to one of frugality is at the heart of the debate about the future of our planet. My impression is that we are not even ready to answer the question about the sacrifices we would be willing to make. We are, it seems to me, at the stage where we must become aware of the gravity of what it means and how we will be affected by global warming, whether we want to be or not. That is why I believe that this is a subject we must talk about in our families.
Leopoldo Martínez tweets at @lecumberry