As hurricane Irma ravages the Caribbean and North America, one thing is clear – the time for climate change denialism is over.
The sheer size of Hurricane Irma, said to be the largest storm recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, should serve as a ringing reminder that humans are not masters over nature, even if we have an influence over it.
That we as a species can have profound climate-altering impact on the planet is not actually all that remarkable.
Life systems on planet earth are entirely intertwined within the interactions of all living things. The oxygen we breathe is a by-product of plant photosynthesis – over hundreds of millions of years.
Life is inherently symbiotic – a system of mutual dependencies.
Everything in earth’s web of life is dependent on something that creates the conditions for its existence.
This symbiotic web of life, has over the past 200 years, been profoundly affected by human activity because of the amount of carbon dioxide our industries dump into the air.
The earth just does not have the mechanisms to absorb our excess carbon fast enough, that is why global temperatures are rising and causing massive storms and droughts all over the planet.
The issue here is not that the earth will die, it is simply that we are not prepared for the effects of our own impact on the web of life.
Our systems are just not ready because they are built for old weather patterns.
It is thus of utmost urgency that all countries invest in climate modelling and begin to make plans to adapt – and survive – the most extreme aspects of climate change. What is clear is that the United States, which is steeped in climate change denialism, will not be a leader in this regard even as the evidence batters it directly in the form of massive storms.
World leaders should not look to the US but rather worry about building climate change alliances with rational nations in order to formulate not just policies but to share adaptation science and technology.
The irony of the US climate change denialism is that it is promoted not only by “irrational right wingers” but it largely comes from well-educated politicians, slick corporate lobbyists and conservative think-tanks who portray climate denialism as scientific skepticism.
Climate denialists portray themselves as being more scientific than the scientists doing the actual climate research.
Just like the smoking lobby did for decades in denying the link between smoking and cancer, the climate denialists’ main objective is to obfuscate truth for the sake of the oil industry’s short-term profits.
I have engaged with climate change skeptics who believe the corporate spin in the name of scientific rationality.
Yet, the scientific consensus on climate change is no different than that which tells us vaccination works.
In her book Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, Sharon Beder details the rise of corporate activism in the United States that have methodically fought against regulation of carbon emissions and also attempted to displace the difficult truths of environmental activism with corporate eco-branding.
Corporate eco-branding has taken over the green language of environmentalism and caricatured real environmentalists by making them look like irrational, bunny hugging hippies.
Yet it is the caricatured “bunny hugger” who is working within the latest scientific evidence, it is the “bunny hugger” who employs scientific modelling more precisely, thus they feel a sense of urgency about how we ought to address the environmental crises we are in.
Ultimately, climate change brings us back to the science of evolution itself – only those who adapt survive.
In South Africa, our major adaptation battle will be maintaining a sustainable water supply to support our economy and population.
We had better listen to science and begin to invest in climate adaptation that takes into account the difficulties posed our massive inequality and poverty.