Is 2018 the tipping point for our planet regarding climate change?

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2018 has been a significant year for me, I completed my 50th year on planet Earth and celebrated with a public retrospective of my paintings and a new book about my life and work.

Many of those paintings celebrate the natural world, sustainable food harvests, plants and ethnobotanical subjects, so it has been fitting, but with some dismay, that my celebration year and exhibition seem to have coincided with a significant year regarding climate change and man’s impact on our environment.

It seems that one of the first published warnings about climate change appeared in 1912. A “Science News and Notes” column printed exactly 106 years ago in New Zealand, titled “Coal Consumption Affecting Climate,” was re-discovered and shows us that for 106 years we have been ignoring the consequences of our actions. Its author notes that approximately 2 billion tons of coal were burnt each year back in the early 20th century and that those emissions combine with oxygen to add 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere. “This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature,” the article reports. Global warming as we know it.

We have had repeated warnings ever since and they are now a daily news item, but are not warnings anymore, the news is now all about the consequences of our actions.

So why is 2018 a potential tipping point? We will only be able to tell in years to come and any tipping point, if it comes, will probably span many years, however 2018 has seen many extreme weather and climate events that look very much like the Earth is entering a new state by lurching towards a new norm. The New York Times dedicated an entire edition of their magazine to climate change this year ‘Losing Earth’ and pinpointed a time between 1979 and 1989 that we could have made serious and meaningful decisions to stop climate change and the situation we now find ourselves in.

As a species, our numbers have ballooned over the last 50 years and have doubled in my lifetime to around 7.5 billion people. The majority of these will be online by the end of 2018 creating fantastic opportunities to work together if we harness the technology. Even though our numbers are huge we are still only 0.01% of all life on the planet but have managed to destroy 83% of all wild mammals.

It is never too late to take action in my opinion, our actions may well have to be evasive actions and planning for mass population migrations, abandoning cities as sea levels rise, looking closely at architecture so it can generate power, save water, withstand cold, heat, wind, floods and maybe even fire, but we can take a positive and creative road forward. It is the same with biodiversity, yes we have lost many species and the vast majority of mammals (over 60%) on the Earth are now farmed animals but we have the tenacity, knowledge and brilliance to turn this ship around if we wish to, need to, want to and love our planet enough. We need to develop passion in our children, a passion to change the way things are and to action it. It is simply no good suddenly finding 50,000,000 pigs living in your country, as the Spanish have this year, as the consequences of that industry are terrible for the climate. Livestock farming produces as many climate-damaging emissions as all the transport in the world but we rarely hear about that. We should encourage a more plant-based diet for all where possible, and we should start that in the schools.

So, we need to start solving some big problems quickly to avoid the climate running away from us if it’s not too late. The Gaia theory suggested by scientist James Lovelock that the earth acts and reacts as a single organism could well be true, his original timing might be a bit out, and perhaps 2018 is the first sign of that with melting ice, weak ocean currents, locked jet stream flows, global record-breaking temperatures, fires, floods, drought, failing harvests, diseases spreading to new areas and a sudden decline in wildlife, that we are in dangerous territory.

These are just a few of the press articles that have been interesting to read this year and I hope you will read them too to get your mind thinking.

Siberian blast makes southern England colder than the Arctic
Gulf Stream current at its weakest in 1,600 years
Arctic’s strongest sea ice breaks up for the first time on record
Why wildfires are breaking out in the ‘wrong’ countries
Severe flooding
Ocean acidification to hit levels not seen in 14 million years
Was the 2018 global heatwave the one that finally ended climate denial?
Huge iceberg threatens tiny Greenland village
Locked weather systems and a disrupted jet stream
Farmers battle their worst drought in 100 years
‘Catastrophe’ as France’s bird population collapses due to pesticides
RSPB boss: Britain has one last chance to save endangered species
Climate change is melting the French Alps, say mountaineers
Humanity to face ‘Hothouse Earth’ climate change apocalypse tipping point within decades, scientists warn
Stephen Hawking believes we have 100 years left on Earth

So, what do we do? We need to make sure we prepare our children for the change, enable them to solve many problems, one at a time, with creativity and passion and to modify their behaviour. My generation has failed to do this for ourselves but it is our duty to enable the hearts and minds of the young to tackle all this in a positive, creative, scientific and meaningful way as soon as we can.

They need to connect to the Earth and care, they must have a bond – then they will seek out change.

I hope that ‘Last Chance to Paint’ might help to engage a few of these young and brilliant minds.

John Dyer.