Image of northwestern Africa showing the curvature of the Earth and its atmosphere. Credit NASA/JPL/UCSD/JSC
The land, water and atmosphere on the surface of the Earth that sustains us is very thin compared to the diameter of the Earth, yet large and complex enough that it takes time for changes to filter through to all parts of the system. As Dr. Michael Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, said on The Big Picture in November 2015...
So, what that tells us is that we have already committed to a certain amount of additional and potentially dangerous changes in climate. We are going to need to adapt to those changes that are already locked in. There's a certain amount that's baked in, there's a certain amount of additional climate change that's baked in, that we are going to need to deal with, that we're going to need to find ways to adapt to the negative impacts of those climate changes that are already locked in. But we can still avoid the vast majority of climate change if we act now, the most dangerous and potentially irreversible changes in climate if we act now.
There are some tipping points which, if we pass them, will lead to irreversible climate change, and we will not know that we have passed them until too late. But at least in 2015 there were positive signs that many of us realise that we are speeding towards a waterfall, and have started to steer our earthship around.
The first of these was the COP21 climate agreement in Paris. It remains to be seen how much concrete action will result, but at least 187 countries submitted climate pledges, and they account for around 97 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Cities, states, investors and corporations also joined in. Many people around the world are taking climate change seriously. Business is beginning to see the threat and opportunity in climate change. Some billion-dollar companies have begun to profit from sustainability. For the first time, climate change ranked as No. 1 on annual survey of global leaders by the World Economic Forum. China announced a cap and trade system, and it will suspend the approval of new mines starting in 2016.
The divestment from fossil fuels movement has grown to over 500 institutions involving over $3.4 trillion in assets.
Millennials want to transition to clean energy, which could put Paris climate goals within reach. A record $329bn was invested in renewable energy worldwide in 2015, with record amounts of new capacity, despite falling oil and gas prices.
Global CO2 emissions fell in 2015 (though that does not mean that they will continue to do so without more work).
President Obama vetoed the Keystone XL oil pipeline. TransCanada has sued for $15 Billion under NAFTA. It will be essential to block the new trade treaties, TPP and TIPP, if efforts to fight climate change are not to be blocked by big business using the Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process.
As described in the video Restoration, we are learning how to work with nature, using biomimicry and to solve some of the problems that face us, and to undo some of the damage that we have done to the natural processes of the Earth which sustained us for millennia. As Leo DiCaprio said, "unlocking nature's secrets will help us solve the climate crisis. Working alongside nature will create a civilization that will be infinitely sustainable. The time has come to build this world now."
So, we need to keep our hand firmly on the tiller, and keep steering firmly until we are back in safe waters.