Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire on the Greek island of Evia on Aug. 10. Wildfires across southern Europe have destroyed thousands of homes and displaced thousands of people in recent weeks. (Photo: AFP
The human race is facing an existential crisis due to extreme weather and climate change impacts. And it can only blame itself for such a terrible tragedy.
We watch on TV the horrific images of burning forests, the raging floods destroying lands and villages, massive landslides burying homes and people, and these reaffirm the ugly truth that our ecological sins are causing our doom day by day.
The latest UN report on the climate crises by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change signed by 159 nations once again warns us that we human beings are responsible for this terrible disaster.
We have brought disasters upon ourselves by tolerating and allowing through corrupt politicians the coal, oil and gas energy companies to promote their extraction and inexorable burning of fossil fuel. We are complicit in the crime as we back those politicians during election campaigns who cozy up with those diabolic companies for financial support and they return the favor by ensuring government subsidies to those entities to allow and continue to burn coal, oil and gas that cause havoc to our planet.
In the United States, fossil fuel subsidies to the energy industry are huge while funding for renewable energy is pitiful. It is a similar situation worldwide. As much as US$447 billion in taxpayers’ money has been paid out in subsidies to billion-dollar companies in the coal, oil and gas industries since 2014 whereas support for renewable energy sources development is a mere $128 billion.
A report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) showed that this horrendous imbalance continues. “Yet the continued imbalance remains staggering. In 2017, the costs of unpriced externalities and the direct subsidies for fossil fuels ($3.1 trillion) exceeded subsidies for renewable energy by a factor of 19,” IRENA reported last year.
Over a million animals and reptiles were killed in Australian fires last year alone. How many more will die this year in the US, EU and Russia?
The global warming seen in unequaled temperatures that has engulfed the world is due to one reason: burning fossil fuels. Coal, oil and gas extraction and burning have been essential for economic growth and development for more than a century. But now it must stop. Carbon dioxide and methane gases are trapping the heat of the sun like a blanket around the globe and we are slowly cooking ourselves. Our irresponsible acts are plunging all living creatures and plants into the dead row. Over a million animals and reptiles were killed in Australian fires last year alone. How many more will die this year in the US, EU and Russia?
Renewable carbon-neutral sources of energy have to be speedily expanded: geothermal, wind turbines, solar panels, wave and tide power. These will generate electricity to drive industry, heat and cool homes and power electric vehicles without damaging the planet. But will it succeed in time to save the planet? That’s the burning question of the hour.
Scientists, environmentalists and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have categorically warned us about the terrible truth that if the global average temperature climbs by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, there will be even worse climate change-induced disasters. More droughts, fires, deadlier floods, and crop failures are just lurking on us.
The future is terribly bleak. Nations will be embroiled in war and violence over water, food and arable land that will leave millions displaced. Such a terrible turn of events will force millions of hungry, desperate people to migrate to greener pastures (countries) for food and for survival.
We have reached the tipping point when the Arctic icebergs and mountain glaciers are melting constantly, extremely endangering lives of millions of poor people in coastal towns, villages and low-lying Pacific islands and atolls. They will have to evacuate and migrate to stay alive. Many have already started relocating. We don’t know if the melted polar icebergs will freeze up effectively again. Studies suggest that in a changed climate scenario, the freezing process might take hundreds of years.
These millions of poor victims did nothing to cause global warming but they are becoming the collateral damage of others who for long inflicted irreparable wounds on our planet. The financial cost of environmental pollution is jaw-dropping indeed. The health cost of pollution globally since 2017 is a whopping $2,263 billion, according to IRENA.
The invader Chinese military that stole and occupied Philippines islands will have to evacuate too as those islands and atolls will be inundated in a few more years. China is one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases, CO2 and methane in the world with thousands of coal-fired power plants, followed by the United States. The Philippines has its share of coal-fired power plants when it could have geothermal and solar power plants.
The saddening fact is that despite such terrible climate tragedies, funding for renewable energy is still very low. IRENA has estimated supply-side support to renewables was about $166 billion in 2017. Total support to renewable power generation was around $128 billion in 2017, and transport sector support added a further $38 billion for biofuels.
It noted that the European Union is the most enthusiastic in investing in renewable energy subsidies.
However, there are media reports on how big oil and fuel companies have been exploiting their clout to keep their business of fossil fuel burning.
It seems there is a global conspiracy in denying climate change and in playing down the call for immediate and urgent actions to deal with global warming
Big oil corporations Shell, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Total and their lobbying groups have reportedly attempted to influence EU law in their favor by watering down laws that would curb the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. These petro giants have in their DNA corporate culture and goals that cannot condone or support renewable energy.
They are ferocious influencers. A report in the Guardian newspaper shows that they spent €253 million ($351 million) in lobbying and influencing politicians and EU institutions between 2010 and 2018, according to a report by Corporate Europe Observatory, Food & Water Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace.
That spending is just the tip of a massive iceberg of additional spending which has not been officially reported and kept secret. Let me quote the impact they have had in expanding the climate crises on the world.
“The report comes after the Guardian’s Polluters series, which revealed that 20 oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Total, can be directly linked to a third of greenhouse gas emissions since 1965. The companies, which include multinationals and state-owned firms, are continuing to expand their operations and driving the climate emergency despite having been aware for decades of their industry’s devastating impact on the planet,” the Guardian reported.
It seems there is a global conspiracy in denying climate change and in playing down the call for immediate and urgent actions to deal with global warming and climate change impacts. The corporates are hungry to make billions at the expense of our ailing planet when millions of people are struggling for survival.
We must rise up and do whatever we can to influence political system to ensure crucial decisions are adopted and implemented that can stop pollution, save our planet and sustain our existence.
Father Shay Cullen is an Irish missionary priest of the Missionary Society of St. Columban who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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