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Rio 2016
Image: Rodrigo Soldon

Climate change – all talk but little action

The urgent need to address climate change was in the news last week.  Global temperature records continue to fall, with 2016 shaping up to be the hottest year on record; with every chance of exceeding the 1.5°C upper limit agreed by world leaders in Paris less than a year ago.  But most obviously, the Rio Olympics opening ceremony put climate change at centre stage.  As Michael Holder at Business Green reports:

“Coordinated by Brazilian film director Fernando Meirelles, the ceremony featured graphics and videos depicting the world’s changing temperatures as a result of man-made climate change, including University of Reading professor Ed Hawkins’ animated spiral GIF showing how the planet has warmed since 1850, which went viral on the internet earlier this year.

“Videos shown just over an hour into the event also depicted the projected impact of changes in temperatures on sea levels, with cities such as Amsterdam, Dubai and Rio all shown being engulfed by rising water.”

However, in a worrying article for the climate change denying Competitive Enterprise Institute William Yeatman makes a point that should cause us all too sit up and take notice:

“Now let’s compare the cheap talk above to the difficulty of doing something… the waterways in and around Rio are an actual catastrophe.  Indeed, Rio’s promise to clean up the eleven rivers that flow into Guanabara Bay was a major reason it won the right to host the Olympics, and it was supposed to be legacy of these 2016 games.  But, again, it’s much more difficult to act than it is to run one’s mouth.  In the face of other priorities, budgets were slashed. Of eight treatment plants promised, only one ever got built.  As a result, the water remains filthy.  Olympians will be competing in water in which floating bodies—usually animals, but sometimes human—are a secondary concern to the pervasive raw sewage.

“To be sure, mitigating water pollution is not the same as eliminating the world’s carbon footprint. For starters, fighting water pollution on a global scale is a far less onerous endeavor than doing something about climate change.”

While Yeatman uses Rio’s failure to clean up its rivers as an argument for the futility of tackling climate change, his core of his proposition is solid.  Making even small changes to the way we are destroying our planet’s life support systems is extremely difficult and extremely expensive.  For the most part, we don’t want the inconvenience involved, and our political leaders are unprepared to implement the radical social and economic changes that are needed.

Our only “hope” at this point is that a complete economic collapse will lower our collective carbon footprint before a collapse in our life support systems does the job for us.  Because of one thing you can be certain – for all of the talk about addressing climate change, nobody is actually going to do it.

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