By Bob Scott

WHEN a loved one is dying, it is normal to grieve. We mourn our impending loss, think about good times spent together and reflect on what might have been. If the impact is unbearable, we may try to manage the distress. This can range from setting aside periods when grieving is permitted, through to a refusal to accept that the death is inevitable.

The intensity of the grief is determined by the circumstances surrounding the death and by how close the relationship has been. Feelings of anger, despair, guilt, denial and acceptance mingle. The similarities between those jumbled emotions and how we are responding to the climate emergency are uncanny.

Our beloved planet has a limited existence. In a few billion years from now it will be engulfed by an enlarging sun. However, long before that geological demise all life will have disappeared in the solar furnace. We may be vaguely aware of that outcome, but the timescale is so distant there has been no need to worry about it. Not any more. As a result of global warming, the stable condition of our world is being fatally compromised and its biological health entering a stage of terminal decline.

In 2019 the World Meteorological Organisation reported that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was the highest since measurements began and the global temperature 1.1℃ above pre-industrial values. Sea levels are at a record high. The Earth is warmer than human beings have ever known. Huge areas of Australia are on fire. It is quite likely that next year will be worse and the following year worse still, and so on. By 2030 a 1.5℃ increase, generally considered to be just about bearable, could be reached. However, that will not bring the climate emergency to a halt. On the contrary, the merciless temperature rise is expected to continue.

The last time the Earth was 1°C warmer than at present, sea levels were five metres higher. A rise of a fraction of that, one metre, will displace millions. Many coastal cities including Miami, Hong Kong and Shanghai will be inundated and largely abandoned. It is inconceivable that such monumental changes can occur without worldwide social upheaval. The impact on humankind of a rise of five metres cannot be computed.

It is tempting to scoff at such gloomy forecasts and wave them away as alarmism which exaggerates dangers and provokes needless concern. It is true that long-term climate predictions are notoriously uncertain. But that imprecision cuts both ways. Matters may not turn out to be as bad as is being suggested. Instead, they could be even worse. In fact, there is evidence that authoritative predictions and reporting of global warming have under-estimated the risks. Scientific caution has consistently erred on the side of prudence, yet frequently turned out to be wrong.

In 2020, Glasgow will host COP 26, the UN Convention on Climate Change. However, previous conferences have utterly failed to modify the temperature rise and there is scepticism that COP 26 will do any better. The outlook remains grim.

Set against the immense scale of the Universe, the tiny Earth is insignificant. Yet we love our little world. It brought us life, nurtured and enlightened us. We are the only species aware of the harm being done to our planet and the only one capable of stopping the terminal decline in its health. If we fail to act decisively, we shall surely come to regret its passing.

Bob Scott is a retired doctor and a Humanist