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What Future?.


From the Daily Herald evidence mounts of the multiple risks climate change poses to people and wildlife, 2017 is predicted to be another record hot year. And one of Scotland’s leading climate experts is warning that the world is facing the catastrophe of “runaway” climate change because of the impact of pollution and the damage it is doing to nature. One of the biggest fears facing scientists is that climate change has become impossible to control. Scientists say this would lead to more floods, droughts and heatwaves threatening millions around the planet.

Experts are predicting that 2017 will end up being one of the world’s hottest. “Though we only have global observations to June, it is likely that 2017 will be globally one of the warmest three years since 1850,” said Simon Tett, professor of earth system dynamics at the University of Edinburgh. According to NASA, 2016 was the world’s hottest year since records started, with the next two hottest being 2015 and 2014. Scotland’s hottest year so far was 2014, and last winter was the fourth warmest on record. Globally 2017 looks like being even hotter than 2016, and so could be the fourth year in a row to be the hottest ever,” said Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland. “Our weather is becoming more extreme and more unpredictable, all of which is bad news for people trying to get on with their lives and brings major challenges for Scotland’s wildlife.” Dr Sam Gardner, acting director of WWF Scotland, pointed out that extreme weather events had been breaking climate records around the globe. “Climate change is already having real and serious impacts on people, places and nature, both in Scotland and around the world,” he said.

The true extent of the threat posed to Scotland by climate change, according to the latest government assessments is that major parts of Scotland’s vital infrastructure are under threat from coastal erosion and flooding. Thousands of homes and businesses and long stretches of roads and railway lines are also at risk. So are power stations, wind farms, sewers, bridges, and farmland, as well as many other crucial facilities and even golf courses. Seabirds, fish and plants are endangered, as well as butterflies, food crops and peat bogs. Scotland can expect more rain, more droughts, more storms, more wild fires, more landslides, more pests and more diseases – and snow is disappearing from the mountains.

The study for the Scottish Government warned that the rate of coastal erosion around Scotland has doubled since the 1970s. Researchers identified 30,000 buildings, 1,300 kilometres of roads and 100 kilometres of railway lines “close to potentially erodible coasts”. According to the government conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, more than 20 coastal golf courses have already acknowledged erosion problems. These include golf links in the Western Isles, Highland, Dumfries and Galloway – and Donald Trumps resort in the sand dunes at Menie in Aberdeenshire.

Another report from the UK Committee on Climate Change highlighted the threats posed by climate change to infrastructure, farming and wildlife in Scotland. An estimated 180,000 residential properties are currently at risk of flooding, with the number predicted to rise as the climate deteriorates. The report warned of a 50 per cent increase in sewer flooding over the next few decades as the system is inundated by heavy rain. It flagged up risks to electricity generation, transport and other key networks. About 150,000 hectares of arable farmland were said to be at high risk of river flooding, and an estimated seven per cent of Scotland’s prime agricultural land was within flood risk areas.

Along with flooding and coastal erosion, climate change will also bring higher temperatures - meaning that up to half of Scotland’s prime agricultural land will be at moderate to severe risk of drought by the 2050s, particularly in Tayside and Fife, the report said, and water use is likely to be restricted. Higher temperatures could boost the spread of livestock diseases, including foot and mouth, bluetongue and liver fluke. “Serious epidemics predicted to become the norm by the 2020s, especially in the north and west of the country,” warned the report. It forecast a big increase in forest fires, as well as major impacts on migratory birds, fish and mountain plants. There was a “significant risk” for iconic species such as ptarmigan and mountain hares and “the possibility of no snow cover below 900 metres by the 2080s.” The report predicted that mean summertime temperatures in Scotland would rise by up to 4.5 degrees centigrade by the 2050s, while winter rain could increase by up to 30 per cent. The sea level around Edinburgh is expected to rise by between 20 and 40 centimetres by 2090.

 Professor James Curran, a renowned climate scientist and the former chief executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency thinks that nature is losing its ability to store carbon and slow global warming. He has studied data from the world’s best record of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. He looked at the annual drop in CO2 concentrations every spring and summer in the northern hemisphere to estimate how effectively trees and plants were capturing carbon. Leaves absorb CO2 as they grow and feed carbon compounds into the soil, a vital natural process that helps store pollutants that would otherwise disrupt the climate. It had been thought that additional growth triggered by carbon emissions might help reduce climate change. According to Curran, this happened until 2006 but since then natural carbon capture has been in decline. “Excessive heat, droughts, wildfires, pests and diseases, wind storms and floods can damage natural vegetation and crops to such an extent that their ability to absorb carbon begins to decline,” he said. Curran said these early warnings were "very serious and concerning", adding: "This is what may, ultimately, create runaway or uncontrollable climate change.” He concludes that the declining ability of natural vegetation to absorb carbon is responsible for 30 per cent of global emissions. He pointed out that carbon dioxide levels were rising faster than ever, despite man-made emissions flat-lining for the past three years. “It's because nature is damaged and can no longer absorb as much as it used to,” he told the Sunday Herald. “Ecosystems across the world are failing and are no longer so capable of sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. Climate change will begin to accelerate, despite our best efforts to reduce emissions, unless we urgently rebuild and reinvigorate our natural systems.”

A recent analysis by the conservation group, WWF, concluded that there had been a 58 per cent decline in world populations of fish, birds, mammals and other animals between 1970 and 2012. Another study showed that 700 species of endangered mammals and birds had already been negatively impacted by climate change.

While the strategy of the environmentalists lobbying for legislation may achieve limited success against government policies, at the end of the day they will never be able to combat the motive of profit which is the root cause of the problems they wish to ameliorate and are destined to struggle endlessly against the tide of capitalism. Before anything constructive can be done, capitalism must go and, with it, the artificial division of the world into separate, competing states. The Earth and all its natural and industrial resources must become the common heritage of all humanity. A democratic structure for making decisions at world-level as well as at local levels must come into being. Then what scientists already know should be done can be done, and humanity can begin to organise its relationship with the rest of nature in a genuinely sustainable way.

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