I am in India encouraging governments and tourism business to take responsibility and make tourism better. I was at Amity University in Uttar Pradesh last week lecturing to their tourism and hospitality students. The state government had just announced that summer was coming early this year, the air-conditioning could be turned on from early March, a month earlier than usual. Over the last week or so temperatures have been 5-11 °C higher than normal across much of northern and western India, the students were blissfully unaware of the early onset of summer and surprisingly unaware and therefore unconcerned about the consequences of climate change for their lives.
I no longer lecture without talking about climate change and the fact that we are not taking action quickly enough to avoid its worst consequences.
This graphic by Adam Symington maps out carbon emissions around the world, using 2018 data from the European Commission that tracks tonnes of CO₂ per 0.1 degree grid (roughly 11 square kilometers). This visualization allows us to clearly see not just population centres, but flight paths, shipping lanes, and high production areas.
We have known about the greenhouse gas effect since the nineteenth-century. As early as 1856, the American scientist Eunice Newton Foote had demonstrated that water vapour and carbon dioxide absorb heat from solar radiation. In 1859 the Irish physicist John Tyndall, demonstrated that “when … heat is absorbed by the planet, it is so changed in quality that the rays emanating from the planet cannot get with the same freedom back into space. Thus the atmosphere admits of the entrance of solar heat; but checks its exit, and the result is a tendency to accumulate heat at the surface of the planet.” The greenhouse effect had been discovered, we knew the consequences of our pollution of our atmosphere but failed to take necessary action stop this form of pollution. We are still failing to act quickly enough.
This month the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Chatham House in the UK published 1.5°C – Dead or Alive?
By delaying action to reduce emissions the “vast changes needed to limit global heating and restore nature must be achieved in ever shorter periods of time.” Meanwhile, investment in fossil fuel extraction continues creating “more vested interests who oppose change.” We now face an ever more urgent need to reduce emissions AND the need to deal with the consequences of climate change, wildfires, drought, flooding. Reducing emissions and dealing with the damage caused by them costs more each year. Delay increases the cost in money and lives. Sanderson and O’Neil in a paper published in 2020 calculated that “peak costs are greater and reached sooner with a later start to mitigation … Further mitigation delay costs a best estimate of an additional 0.5(5) trillion dollars per year. … Discounted damages due to delayed mitigation action rise by 0.6 trillion US dollars per year in 2020.”
The IPPR & Chatham House report draws attention to the “doom loop”: the consequences of the climate crisis and the failure to address the causes “draw focus and resources from tackling its causes, leading to higher temperatures and ecological loss, which then create more severe consequences, diverting even more attention and resources, and so on.”
Climate policy is still predominantly focused on delivering incremental sector-by-sector change, which has proven inadequate. Vested interests and power imbalances are holding back action.The IPPR & Chatham House
The challenges of achieving large scale transformation, the argue, can be exploited by vested interests to argue for technologies that are “underdeveloped, unproven and potentially dangerous to sustain the status quo. Meanwhile, proven and deliverable changes such as large-scale demand management, which also have vast co-benefits for health and the wider environment, are marginalised or ignored.”
This is the doom loop which is making our planet habitable for all of us.