THE climate summit in Poland has reminded us in no uncertain terms that time is running out to turn around the CO2 emissions that will cause dramatic changes to our climate and sea levels for reasons that scientists have been warning us about for nigh on 40 years.
David Attenborough pulled no punches at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, where he said "Right now we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change. If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon."
Although CO2 is a minor component of our atmosphere and important to plant growth, the proportion is far more important than was appreciated for a long time. It has increased from 280 parts per million at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to 405ppm in 2017, a rise of 45 per cent! It shouldn't take much imagination to see that a change of this magnitude has the potential to cause major changes.
CO2 can be explained as like the glass in a house, a small percentage of the building, but a huge difference to the temperature within. Close a window in summer and it heats quite quickly. Unfortunately, we've missed the chance to "open the window" and instead have installed double glazing to keep more heat in our "house".
The political will to do something now to reverse our emissions is the highest it's ever been. The Government has taken positive steps by stopping further searching for fossil fuels, which would just add fuel to the fire we're trying to douse.
Government needs to do more, but we each need to take it on in our personal lives. We need to remind ourselves that every action can have a positive or negative effect on our future. So every time we buy something we are aware has a carbon (CO2) content, be it petrol, very high, or strawberries, low if grown locally but high if flown from Australia, for example. By consciously making these decisions we will do our bit to change our emissions, with little effect on our lives.
Not that many years ago, the climate change deniers and those who disbelieved the science were telling us we couldn't afford to make changes as "it was going to be too expensive".
It seems they are now realising that the expense of doing nothing is rising rapidly.
A climate change effect that is also becoming very noticeable is the rise of the sea level, as the warming accelerates the polar ice melts. The sea level has already risen 20cm since 1900, and at current rates of rise could be a metre above today's levels by 2100.
With storm surges, where wild weather and lower atmospheric pressure occur together, the flooding is exacerbated. So trying to protect areas that have flooded recently is not practical in the medium term and certainly not in the long term.
Managed retreat is really the only option. I can understand that those affected may feel more should be done to protect them, but the sea will only continue to rise, and retreat will be the only solution.
In the meantime, money and time will have been wasted that could have been spent on solutions for the next generation.
David Attenborough, at 92, is not just thinking of his own future; neither should we.
John Milnes is a Green Party member, trustee of Sustainable Whanganui and lover of this rare planet among the billions in our galaxy that has an amazing variety of life, at the moment.