Last year was the hottest on record. The year before had been the hottest on record too – and the one before that as well. This year looks set to be, if not yet another record breaker, at least one of the top two.
This is climate change and we are now living with the effects of those rising temperatures. The devastation caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma was made worse by seas that were hotter because of climate change. Global warming made the 2014 floods in southern England more likely too. The same goes for storms, heatwaves and droughts the world over.
Now that billions of people are suffering the reality of climate change, will the world finally deal with the problem?
The good news is the world has indeed started doing something about it. For the first time in the modern age, global emissions have stopped increasing, not because of a recession but because of decisions to cut pollution.
But it’s not good enough that global emissions have stopped increasing – they need to fall fast. In fact, to avoid climate change getting much worse than it is already, the world must eliminate emissions entirely within a generation. If I was in a car racing towards the edge of a cliff I would be glad if the driver stopped accelerating, but I would still be desperate for them to step on the brake.
So far the world has stopped emissions from rising without having to do anything too difficult. Most people are happy about changes that also clean up their polluted air, like closing coal power stations, or rules that make their fridges and washing machines more efficient.
But pressing the brake will be harder. Soon we will have to confront the polluting lifestyles that most people don’t want to give up, particularly flying and eating meat. Emissions from those are growing at a time when the world should be cleaning up.
Unless we deal with flying and meat eating the world’s inhabitants will be condemned to much worse climate change than we face today. Yet it would be a brave politician who suggested that voters should cut back on the things they enjoy. So the world keeps racing towards the cliff edge.
This will only change if politicians believe the public are ready to make sacrifices to stop extreme climate change. But at the moment, most people aren’t. Millions of people in the UK, in fact, the majority of people, recognise that climate change is an immense problem – but they don’t think about it much. They want the threat to be dealt with, but they don’t see it as an issue that affects them or one they need to change their lives to address.
There is a way to fix this. The answer lies with the people who realise what extreme climate change would be like, and are ready to cut their own emissions. For now those people are in a minority, but if they persuaded their friends and family that it’s worth making the effort to stop climate change getting even worse, the balance would swing.
Those of us who are worried about global warming have both scientific evidence and the power of stories on our side. Neither facts nor emotion alone are enough – we need to get better at using both if we are to change the minds of the millions who are apathetic about climate change. Until we do, we will just be fiddling while the world burns.
The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism by Leo Barasi is published by New Internationalist on 21 September