The day Congress decided to begin an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, cable news network MSNBC ran a documentary on world-wide protests by millions of young people. It featured the real life impacts of climate change almost everywhere in the world – from Paris where a prolonged heatwave had killed dozens, to Kabul, where determined women marched (with men guarding them), and most pitifully, in little Guatemala.
There, the network’s reporter told viewers that people were dying from starvation because high temperatures and lack of water had killed off coffee crops and local crops, like watermelons. So logically, the same US administration which placed migrant children in cages, decided it would cut aid funding to Guatemala.
And just as logically Guatemalans joined other central Americans in their exodus north to the United States.
The documentary ran in the midst of dramatic news of the official impeachment. But compared with climate change which is not just killing people, but perhaps the Earth, it suddenly seemed like piffle. Presidents come and go but as the protesters reminded, us there is no Planet B, not for them, not for us.
Political leaders might be asleep at the helm but the world’s climate change protesters knew exactly what was happening to the planet and they wanted more urgent action. Right here in New Zealand we saw mass protests by youth throughout the country.
For them the message remains – the world is on the edge of another extinction.. (Earth has had five mass extinctions in its history according to the website Population Matters.org – the fifth was when the dinosaurs were wiped out). The website estimated that species are becoming extinct 100 times faster than they would without human impacts, and went on to say:
- Populations of wild animals have more than halved since 1970, while the human population has doubled.
- Only five times before in our planet’s history have so many species and so much biodiversity been lost so quickly. That is why scientists and conservationists call what is happening now the ‘sixth mass extinction’. Some have even described the loss of biodiversity today as ‘biological annihilation’.
- Because of industry, agriculture and fossil fuel use, carbon dioxide in the air is at its highest level for millions of years. At the same time, disruption of other chemical cycles is turning seas and rivers into dead zones.
- Climate change is already affecting the world around us. Global warming is causing glaciers to melt, sea levels to rise, species to go extinct and severe weather events such as floods, droughts, and hurricanes to increase.
According to the website, 200 years ago, there were less than a billion people on Earth. ‘Today, there are 7.6bn and our population is still growing’.
Other reports now indicate that the signs and impacts of of global warming are speeding up. Data compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), says the five-year period from 2014 to 2019 is the warmest on record.
But there is still time and large scale action is being taken though it’s hardly headline material probably because this solution seems so obvious: It involves tree-planting.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) director-general, Qu Dongyu, says the initial plan is to increase the amount of green space in 90 cities in 30 African and Asian countries – a total of up to 500,000 hectares of new urban forests. It claims the benefits of its plan could include a reduction in air temperature of up to eight degrees Celsius, and an improvement in air quality by filtering out dust and pollutants.
And so, a ‘Great Green Wall of Trees’’ is being built across central Africa.
Fifteen percent of its planned length of 7,775 kilometres has already been completed with 11.5 million trees planted in Senegal alone.
Adding to this welcome greenery, Pakistan hit its target of planting a billion trees to combat the effects of climate change in August 2017 – way ahead of schedule. India is following by planting 66 million and in Myanmar, there are now drones planting trees.
The drone flies over the area where it wants to plant trees, picks the best location to plant and then fires a pod filled with seeds into the ground. According to Worldview Impact – an organisation involved in the drone planting – two people working with 10 drones can theoretically plant an impressive 400,000 trees a day.
Earth can be saved says the IPCC report:
‘The formula is well worn at this stage – deep, rapid cuts in carbon emissions in line with our report last year that required 45% reductions by 2030.
‘Some of the scientists involved in the report believe that public pressure on politicians is a crucial part of increasing ambition’.
“…the demonstrations of young people last week are the best chance for us,” said Dr Jean-Pierre Gattuso, a co-ordinating lead author of the report.
“They are dynamic, they are active. I am hopeful they will continue their actions and they will make society change.”