Here are the answers to a few questions I was asked on climate change. I’m going to give you the data from NASA on these and their shocking facts. And I think everybody should be well aware of them.
How do the current socio-political, economic challenges affect climate change? There are a couple of crucial things which come to mind. First of all, we get done what we’re focused on.
What are we focused on at the moment? A lot of attention, particularly public attention, is focused on the war in Ukraine. That means that the same public attention is not focused on making sure politicians’ feet are kept to the fire. That’s a key problem, okay? Governments move when the world gets its attention as it did during COP26 to a particular issue. When governments think they’re not being watched, they tend not to move. That’s the first thing.
In terms of economics, an increase in global debt national debt that governments have means that they’ve got less money to spend on other things.
So what happens? Well, it means that those investments that are needed to shift to more renewable fuels, that money might, because of future promises, get shifted elsewhere perhaps into defense seems an obvious thing.
However, there is one slight positive, which is this. The conflict with Russia, certainly for the Western governments, if you consider which are the most polluting; China, EU, US.
For Western governments that move away from relying on Russian oil, the EU, UK, and the US will be less reliant on hydrocarbons oil. UK has very little reliance on Russian oil and gas, and similarly for the US, very little reliance. But it’s surely for the EU; it might lead to a shift in the EU more towards climate benefiting sources of fuel, right?
Where We Went Wrong?
Second question. Where and when do you think the human species went wrong in assessing climate change and its adverse impact? I think there was an area where we went wrong, and there’s an area when even though we could have gone right, we continued choosing to go wrong.
First of all, to some extent, you can’t blame us if we don’t have the data. When I look at the data on the NASA website, and I like going to the NASA website, okay? Basically, the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide had never been above the 1950s level for millennia. And we know this because we can dig up old fossils, and you can tell the carbon content of the air at that time when those fossils were fossilized, so from thousands of years ago.
After the 1950s, it went through the roof. Now, this was partly due to obviously what happened in the 1800s and the industrial revolution. I don’t want to blame the British; I’m Indian. They get blamed enough for everything, but we didn’t have the data. We didn’t know that would be the impact. So to some extent, I can’t blame us. And then, of course, when we realized the problem became climate denial, which is why I’m referring to data from NASA.
I think you have got to be pretty off your face if you believe NASA data is somehow just manufactured artificial political unless you’re a flat earth supporter. In which case, you definitely don’t think so in NASA’s data. So that’s the basis where I go, where did we go wrong? Well, we have the denies, which still exist. And thankfully, they have a weaker force in government.
And secondly, when we did discover the problem, we just didn’t take enough notice. Now, why didn’t we take enough notice? We’re a world of national governments, and each has self-interests. So everybody wants to keep doing what’s best for their own country. That hasn’t changed. Unless you can get collusion amongst governments so that everybody is on the same page and doesn’t feel that somebody else is free riding and getting away with it, it doesn’t work. So we needed to create a cartel.
Governments are notoriously bad at colluding and creating cartels as the numbers grow bigger. You could probably create a formula and say, “The more governments are involved, the less law likely that collusion will hold.” OPEC is, ironically enough, one of the best-known cartels in the world, and even they get people cheating, as it were. Simple so, what’s the problem? Self-interest is. As I said, we don’t have a united government of the world. We have nation-states.
So again, do I blame humans? No, we’re created as a species of self-interest. The fault is in the maker.
How can the UK-India partnership help in working towards handling climate change? At COP26, at the very last minute, India railed back on how quickly it will slow down on coal with China. Interestingly enough, at COP26, the Chinese stood up and said in Mandarin in a very short sentence, “The Indians would like to say something.”
The Indians stood up and took it for; I think the Brazilians, Indians, and Chinese were on the last-minute signing of COP26 and said, “We’ll make best endeavors instead of setting a specific goal.” So how can UK-India work together?
Well, both have an interest in the climate. They’re both pretty much on the same page, despite what happened in the last minutes of COP26, which I think had more to do with mismanagement than mal intent on the Indian side. I think they just got played by the Chinese who threw the Indians under the bus, and the Indians were more than happy to be thrown under the bus for some reason by the Chinese on this issue.
What will happen going forward between UK-India is, of course, that shared knowledge on the technologies that we need. India has a problem: it doesn’t make enough solar panels domestically of sufficiently high quality. Britain can help with that. Britain has a problem with carbon extraction technology, which India’s rather good at. We’ve brought companies like carbon clean solutions from India over to the UK using their intellectual property, and they’ve been phenomenal. So I think that partnership of knowledge sharing will be tremendously valuable, plus India needs plenty of capital, and the UK financial markets are very good at raising capital.
India needs a lot of capital, just simply because of the size of the country. And it doesn’t have enough domestic capital alone, so it needs to borrow money from other parts of the world. And I think Britain can help, whether it’s green bonds or just raising capital for its companies in the conventional sense through the London markets. And as I said, the UK is very good at that.
Diversity and Inclusion
How can diversity and inclusion promote an accelerated approach for deriving solutions for climate change? Well, I used to be on the UK-India Roundtable. I was appointed to that back in 1999 by the then UK prime minister to device and closer ties between UK and India. And the Indian side at one point said, “You guys had mad cow’s disease in the UK, and you went running around the Western world looking for a solution. And nobody thought to ask the Indians who have been managing diseases relating to cows for decades.”
And I think that’s the problem. When you don’t have diversity of thought, the problem becomes that you try and use the same old or incremental solutions when you might need revolutionary solutions. And I think diversity inclusion can give rise to more diversity of thought, which could give rise to revolutionary ideas, as opposed to what I said just incremental ones.
What would you recommend our readers should read to learn more about climate emergencies? I think the United Nations and NASA are two very good sources, and those would be the two main places. There’s obviously Al Gore’s work an inconvenient truth. I think Ted Talks on this subject are phenomenal. They’re very, very good. So NASA, United Nations, Al Gore, and inconvenient truth and Ted Talks on this.
Contribution From Asian Community
How can the Asian community contribute towards building a better or more sustainable future amid solving the climate crisis? Because a lot of the Asian community, I think you mean British nation. By that, we usually mean from the Indian Subcontinent. And a significant number of those will share the same faith as me, Hinduism.
If you’re from the same faith, the environment is a core part of your faith, looking after the world. The idea is that God exists in all things and inanimate. I think that’s an integral part of our faith to remember and not just to remember, but to use that in our daily actions, whether recycling and not wasting. There used to be the old joke that an Indian goes to the fridge opens up a tub of what looks like ice cream, and inside they find, I don’t know, something completely different, which they didn’t want to eat.
Why? Because we have the habit of recycling containers, particularly as Gujaratis as my Punjabi in-laws keep mentioning. Now, they’re not laughing. They’re saying, “Hey, this is a good idea. We’re supposed to do this, not just throw things out.” So I think going back to that old attitude that our parents had when they first came to this country and when money was so tight, that you didn’t just throw away clothes, you didn’t just keep buying new ones, you didn’t have fast fashion. You did recycle and reuse and relabel and repurpose.
And I think going back to that attitude and using faith to communicate to people, not necessarily mentioning your faith and shoving it down to people’s throats. But, using that as part of living your faith, by taking those actions, communicating with them peacefully whenever you have an opportunity to push this agenda with anybody.
If we get one letter, we’ll act on it because we assume there are a thousand people who haven’t written to us. So writing even one letter on it makes a difference; it makes a difference, okay?
Planet Earth 50 years on
What would it be like if we were to describe how the earth would look 50 years later? Well, let me tell you some scary facts. The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about two degrees since the late 19th century, a change driven primarily by increased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and other human activities. Most of the warming occurred in the past 40 years, with the seven most recent years being the warmest.
The year 2016 and 2020 are tied for the warmest year on record. So guess what? It’s going to get hotter, and the oceans will start rising. The ocean has absorbed much of the increased heat, with the top 100 meters of ocean showing warming of more than not 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. Earth stores 90% of the extra energy in the oceans; the oceans take that heat and get bigger.
Think of that then impacting shrinking ice sheets. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s gravity recovered in climate experiment show Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2019, while Antarctica lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year. What does that mean? Well, places also start retreating. Places are retreating almost everywhere worldwide, including the Alps, Himalayas, and these Rockies, Alaska, and Africa decrease snow cover.
Satellite observations revealed that the amount of spring snow cover in the northern hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades, and snow is melting earlier. This means floods, natural disasters, and habitat loss for other species, but sea levels are rising. Global sea level rose about eight inches, 20 centimeters in the last century. The rate in the last two decades is nearly double that of the last century and accelerating slightly every year.
Is this goodbye to the Maldives? Nobody cares about the Maldives other than the Maldivians and people who holiday there, but they will care when it’s everywhere else around the world. The coastal towns and cities and the disasters in their tax bills go up because somebody’s got to pay for all that. And let’s not forget in Britain, we live on an island.
Extreme events. Declining Arctic sea ice, both the extent and thickness of Arctic ice have declined rapidly over the last several decades. The number of record high-temperature events in the United States has been increasing. All the number of record low temperatures events have been decreasing since 1950.
To give one example, the US has also witnessed increasing numbers of extreme rainfall events. You’re going to get rain in areas you’re not supposed to, more of it than is helpful for agriculture and could be damaging and less rain in places where you actually need it. I won’t go on; there’s a lot more. So how does it look 50 years from now? Pretty bleak, I’m afraid. Pretty bleak.
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Alpesh Patel OBE