Life Under Siege

Oct 27, 2023

Instead of pursuing war and the slaughter of thousands of people around the world we should be focused on the impact humans are having on the planet, writes Fr Sean McDonagh.

Each day on our television screens hundreds of millions of people from all parts of the world watch as bombs and artillery explode in Ukraine, Gaza and Israel tearing buildings asunder and killing men, women and, especially, children.

Instead of pursuing war and the slaughter thousands of people around the world we should be focused on the impact humans are having on planet earth at this time.

Recently, an international group of scientists published a report in the magazine BioScience saying that “the Earth’s ‘vital signs’ are the worst in any time in human history.”[1] This is an astonishing claim, especially, when a similar study in 2019 was endorsed by over 15,000 scientists.

Professor Willaim Ripple, who works at Oregon State University is one of the authors of the report. He says that “life on our planet is under siege.” For example, in 2023 right across the globe, climate records have been broken by enormous margins. July 2023 was the warmest month ever and this year was the hottest recorded on the planet in 100,000 years.

Today, warmer oceans are causing serious melting of the ice in western Antarctic. A new study has shown that, if the western Antarctic continues to melt that would increase the level of the oceans by 5 metres.[2]

If this happens within a century or two, millions of people who live in coastal cities like Cork, New York, Mumbai, London and Shanghai will have to find shelter elsewhere. Analysis of this data shows that the rate of melting of floating ice in western Antarctica is three times faster this century compared with the 20th century.[3]

The warming of the oceans is also causing the destruction of many species. The record loss of sea ice in Antarctica in 2022 caused a mass die-off of Emperor penguin chicks because the sea ice melted in mid-November forcing penguins to abandon the colony. If this continues, the world’s largest penguin will be become extinct.[4]

However, whether we will achieve the goal of addressing climate change is doubtful. This year, wildfires in Canada have pumped 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is greater than Canada’s total 2021 greenhouse gas emissions of 0.67 gigatons.[5]

If there is no serious effort to address the fact that humans are taking more from the earth than it can safely give, in climate change, biodiversity collapse and water use, we are heading for a potential collapse of natural and socioeconomic systems.

Professor Christopher Wolf, another author of the report, says that the world that we are creating will be marked by unbearable heat and shortages of food and water.[6] He believes that by the year 2100, three to six billion people may find themselves outside what is consider the Earth’s liveable regions.

As a result of these changes mortality rates in the human community will begin to rise, turning around a major gain which some humans achieved during the 20th century.

In Laudate Deum, Pope Francis points out that COP28 on climate change will take place in the United Arab Emirates in November and December 2023. He is aware that this country is a great exporter of fossil fuels.

And yet, he is hopeful for a favourable outcome. The Pope writes, “to say that there is nothing to hope for would be suicidal, for it would mean exposing all humanity, especially the poorest, to the worst impacts of climate change.” No (53).

“If there is a sincere interest in making COP28 a historic event that honours and ennobles us as human beings, then one can only hope for binding forms of energy transition that meet three conditions; that they are efficient, obligatory, and readily monitored. This, to achieve the beginning of a new process marked by three reequipments; that it be drastic, intense and count of the commitments of all.” (No. 59).

These important studies I have quoted here are sounding the alarms bells for us now. We need to expand our renewable energy sources much more quickly. Unless human live in a sustainable way across the globe, the future will be very dark for those who come after us.

[1] Damian Carrington, “Life on Earth ‘under siege’ as world’s vital signs in crisis, scientists warn,” The Guardian, October 25th, 2023, page 2.
[2] Damian Corrington, “Rapid ice met in west Antarctica is ‘inevitable’ – even with emissions cut,” The Guardian, October 24, 2023, page 2.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Alec Lujn, “Emperor penguin colonies loss of chick due to ice breakup,” NewScientist, September 3, 2023, page 18.
[5] Oregon State University, “Climate report: ‘Uncharted territory’ imperil life on Earth,” BioScience. October 24th 2023.
[6] Oregon State University, “Climate report: ‘Uncharted territory’ imperil life on Earth,” Bioscience. October 24th, 2023.

Columban missionary Fr Sean McDonagh is President of An Taisce. Ordained in 1969, he worked in Mindanao in the Philippines among the T’boli indigenous people near Lake Sebu where he witnessed first-hand the destruction of the local forests. His most recent publication is ‘Robots, Ethics and the Future of Jobs’ published by Messenger Publications:

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