The fossil-fuel lobby is threatened by public concern over the climate crisis. So it’s buying influence to get the results it wants
The tragedy of our times is that the gathering collapse of our life support systems has coincided with the age of public disservice. Just as we need to rise above self-interest and short-termism, governments around the world now represent the meanest and dirtiest of special interests. In the United Kingdom, the US, Brazil, Australia and many other nations, pollutocrats rule.
The Earth’s systems are breaking down at astonishing speed. Wildfires roar across Siberia and Alaska – biting, in many places, deep into peat soils, releasing plumes of carbon dioxide and methane that cause more global heating. In July alone, Arctic wildfires are reckoned to have released as much carbon into the atmosphere as Austria does in a year: already the vicious twister of climate feedbacks has begun to turn.
Torrents of meltwater pour from the Greenland ice cap, sweltering under a 15C temperature anomaly. Daily ice losses on this scale are 50 years ahead of schedule: they were forecast in the climate models for 2070. A paper in Geophysical Research Letters reveals that the thawing of permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic now exceeds the depths of melting projected by scientists for 2090.
While record temperatures in Europe last month caused discomfort and disruption, in south-west Asia they are starting to reach the point at which the human body hits its thermal limits. Ever wider tracts of the world will come to rely on air conditioning, not only for basic comfort but also for human survival: another feedback spiral, as air conditioning requires massive energy use. Those who cannot afford it will either move or die. Already, climate breakdown is driving more people from their homes than either poverty or conflict, while contributing to both these other factors.