This is hap­pen­ing, peo­ple

Tem­per­a­tures are ris­ing: The past three decades have been the hottest since 1850, ac­cord­ing to a UN panel.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion - star2@thes­tar.com.my Man­gai Balasegaram

I READ some grim news about the fu­ture lately. No, it wasn’t po­lit­i­cal, as dire as our predica­ment there may seem.

The news was that in decades to come, Malaysia might not have much of a fu­ture at all. Sounds like a dooms­day sce­nario? But, se­ri­ously, this alarm­ing new re­search on the threat to our cli­mate is sig­nif­i­cant.

Malaysia may be­come sim­ply un­live­able, with ex­treme, bak­ing-hot tem­per­a­tures, if we take no ac­tion against cli­mate change – the slow warm­ing of our planet from heat-trap­ping “green­house gases” re­leased by in­dus­try and agri­cul­ture.

The re­port, re­leased last month by the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank and the Pots­dam In­sti­tute for Cli­mate Im­pact Re­search, pre­dicts a 6°C rise in global av­er­age tem­per­a­tures by the cen­tury’s end if hu­mans do noth­ing about global warm­ing in a “busi­ness as usual” sce­nario.

This could cause “dras­tic changes” to the cli­mate, the re­port says, with 50% more rain­fall and more flood­ing, as well as more in­tense ty­phoons and trop­i­cal cy­clones. You can imag­ine the dev­as­ta­tion to our fish­eries and agri­cul­ture sec­tors.

Even with a 1.5°C tem­per­a­ture in­crease, 89% of co­ral reefs are ex­pected to suf­fer from se­ri­ous bleach­ing, the re­searchers point out.

We are al­ready see­ing changes in our cli­mate. Heat waves are on the rise, in­clud­ing the re­cent one in Europe in June. Heat waves in West­ern na­tions in re­cent years have led to tens of thou­sands of deaths.

In 2014, we had eight cy­clones here in Malaysia, ac­cord­ing to the Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal De­part­ment – and cy­clones are sup­posed to be rare here!

In 2016, tem­per­a­tures were su­per hot in the north­ern states. Tem­per­a­tures rose to more than 39°C in Chup­ing, Perlis, and Alor Se­tar last year. The heat got so bad peo­ple were ad­vised to limit out­doors ac­tiv­i­ties. There were also wa­ter short­ages with dams filled at 50% less than ca­pac­ity.

Sure, cities do feel hot be­cause of the “ur­ban heat is­land ef­fect” from the loss of trees and the many build­ings, but even tak­ing that into ac­count, tem­per­a­tures are ris­ing. Data from the past cen­tury show a rise of about 1°C.

The past three decades have also been the hottest since 1850, ac­cord­ing to the panel es­tab­lished by the United Na­tions.

Last month, a mas­sive ice­berg – roughly the size of Bali – re­port­edly broke away from the Antarc­tica ice shelf. It’s hap­pen­ing peo­ple. Cli­mate change is real. Although the melt­ing ice at the poles is a com­mon im­age of cli­mate change, it’s the trop­ics that are go­ing to get hit first, stud­ies show. This is be­cause we have such a small range of cli­mate vari­abil­ity, with rel­a­tively con­sis­tent tem­per­a­tures. Species phys­i­o­log­i­cally de­signed to live in the trop­ics might not be able to cope with cli­mate change. Con­sider, even the hu­man body only func­tions at a nar­row range around 37°C. Heat waves that can raise body tem­per­a­tures can thus be ex­tremely dan­ger­ous to health. Heat-re­lated deaths in the re­gion among the elderly are set to rise (to about 50,000 by 2050, says the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion), and more peo­ple may die of dis­eases spread by mos­qui­toes, such as malaria and dengue. In 2015 in Paris, 195 coun­tries agreed to try to con­tain the tem­per­a­ture rise to be­low 2°C (above in­dus­trial lev­els), and to “pur­sue ef­forts” to limit the rise to 1.5°C. Two de­grees is ac­tu­ally a huge rise for the planet – con­sider how one de­gree has dis­rupted us. Yet try­ing to reach this goal is a very tough call, not just be­cause of the threats from US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to break away from the ac­cord. The United States is the world’s sec­ond-largest emit­ter of green­house gases.

We’re sim­ply not do­ing enough. Con­sider, one of the key driv­ers of global warm­ing is con­sump­tion of meat, par­tic­u­larly beef. The live­stock in­dus­try pro­duces more green­house gases than trans­port. Yet are coun­tries re­ally tak­ing this is­sue on? Not at all.

Some coun­tries are do­ing bet­ter on re­new­able en­ergy – which is now very af­ford­able – than oth­ers. Why so? What’s hold­ing us back? And how do we im­prove our en­ergy ef­fi­ciency? We waste far too much en­ergy.

Or­ganic foods are still very min­i­mal here, com­pared with other coun­tries. Not only are these foods bet­ter for our health and the planet, it means that we can avoid us­ing fer­tilis­ers, which re­lease ni­trous ox­ide, a par­tic­u­larly po­tent green­house gas.

There isn’t much hope, and very lit­tle time left. We need to act. Fast.

Man­gai Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into any­thing on be­ing hu­man. She has worked with in­ter­na­tional pub­lic health bodies and has a Masters in pub­lic health.

There isn’t much hope, and very lit­tle time left. We need to act. Fast.

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