Wednesday, May 12

What will it take to wake us all up?


THE Swedish words ‘enbrutto 144 ar’, translated into 144 years, are awakening calls to all of us. We face an atmospheric and environmental crisis in terms of inherited and present amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into our air through our follies of yesteryears and present. Do we ever learn from relatively recent history?

Slowly, and I stress slowly, many nations of our world are taking note of the very fact that climate change has been triggered by us in our geological epoch of the Anthropocene. Rest assured that many of us, as individuals, are trying to stop further CO2 emissions into the greenhouse gas complexity. Why? The simple answer is that we want our children and their offspring to breathe fresher air than that we have breathed and are still breathing, from economic greed and the so-called route to development of nations.

Rest assured we are getting there, thanks largely, in the present century, to the high profile of a 17-year-old Swede, Greta Thunberg. Her condemnations of some developed nations have embarrassed the President of the USA and, indirectly, China. To be fair, on one hand, China has made very serious attempts to cut down on its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions but, on the other hand, has plans for the establishment of very many coal-fired electricity generating stations in the next few years. The USA and the European Union reduced coal-fired power by 14 per cent in 2019. China currently produces 50 per cent of the world’s coal, used internally, but aspires to level off coal production by 2023.

The global energy watchdog reports that there will be an increase in coal-fired power in Southern and Southeast Asian countries in the next five years. The findings of the International Energy Agency (IEA) are best shown in tabular form displaying the total coal consumption by power hungry nations in 2018 and the percentage change from 2017.

Eunice Newton Foote (1819-1888)

Eunice was born in one New England state in Connecticut, USA and died, aged 69, in the nearby state of Massachusetts. In 1856, at the age of 47, her paper on ‘The circumstances affecting the heat of the sun’s rays’, was delivered, by Professor Henry of the Smithsonian Institute, at the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In those Victorian times women were not allowed to present such papers at this, then male-dominated, assembly of American scientists!

At high school and later at a Science college, she learned chemistry and biology, which were later put to excellent effect in her experiments on the reaction of different gases to the sun’s rays. She concluded that CO2 trapped the most heat at a temperature of 52 degrees Celsius. From this discovery she postulated that, “An atmosphere of that gas would give our Earth a high temperature; and if, as some suppose, at one period in its history, the air had mixed with it a larger proportion than at present, an increased temperature from its own action, as well as from increased weight, must have necessarily resulted.”

This fantastic discovery remained a hush paper in the USA, only to be rediscovered by a retired petroleum geologist in 2011. To be fair to Professor Henry in his 1856 presentation to the AAAS began by saying, “Science was of no country and of no sex. The sphere of a woman embraces not only the beautiful and the useful but the truth.” This very paper was the first connecting CO2 to climate change. I hope that you, like me, am amazed that it has taken so long to rediscover the truth embedded in that scientist’s discovery and even today, despite the advice of our world’s top atmospheric scientists, deaf ears remain in political circles. A wake up call has been long awaited!


Thunberg gives a press conference during a meeting with climate activists and experts from Africa on Jan 31. – AFP photo

Greta Thunberg

Thunberg has been the 21st century herald and most prominent activist on the subject of climate change. In early January this year she celebrated her 17th birthday. One and a half years before she began her passive protest demonstrations for a more positive attitude and action on global warning to be taken by governments. She protested in school hours outside the Swedish Parliament holding up a poster, which is self- explanatory, ‘Skolstrejk For Klimatet’. Her action has been echoed worldwide by school student protest marches from Alaska to Australia.

Many national leaders have condemned the students’ school strikes in harsh words such as, “They should be in school learning!” The fact is that these very students are educated in 21st century sciences and we should be proud of their efforts to bring the greatest ever crisis facing mankind to the attention of their national leaders.

In 2018, Thunberg, won an essay competition in the Swedish newspaper, ‘Svenska Dagbladet’, with her contribution entitled, ‘I want to be safe. How can I feel safe when I know that we are in the greatest crisis in human history?’ Her cri de coeur reminded politicians who signed the Paris Agreement pledges to reduce their CO2 emissions to stick to their word to prevent global warming reaching the dreaded 2 degrees Celsius increase. In only the last five years, greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 4 per cent!

Direct and very frank in the speeches she has delivered in conferences worldwide, including the December 2019 COP25 of the United Nations Climate Meeting in Madrid, this lady has certainly taken up the cudgel through her logical and scientifically proven rhetoric. Her blunt truths must be lodged in the consciences of global national leaders. Newspapers have referred to her as the ‘Guru of the Apocalypse’ and the ‘Saint of Environmentalism’. Greta’s climate action speeches were published, in May 2019, in her short book entitled, ‘No one is too small to make a difference’.

As a seventy-plus educationalist, I enjoyed reading her thoughts and why? They reminded me of a subsidiary senior students’ course I devised as a teacher some 50 years ago, entitled ‘Environment, Ecology and Conservation’. In this course, I spoke about the emissions from steel works and coal powered electricity generating stations in northeast England. This pollution was swept aloft on prevailing south-westerly winds to fall as acid rain which was killing the Boreal forests of Norway and Sweden.

Thunberg has set the alarm bells ringing and she was declared in ‘Time’ magazine of December 2019 as ‘Person of the Year’. I pray that, as a nominee for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, she will be duly rewarded with such a prestigious honour.

Climate change has been with us since Eunice Foote’s discovery in the 19th century and has been awakened by Greta Thunberg’s calls for global political actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this century. We can see glaciers and ice-sheets melting, sea-levels rising, intense rainfall causing flooding in some areas of the world, whilst in other regions drought and forest fires all leading to the gradual destruction of our natural environment with not only destruction to ourselves but, equally important, our only planet’s wildlife.

Thunberg’s clarion call will, I hope, alert politicians worldwide to extract their proverbially buried, ostrich-like necks from the sand and listen to and take action based on very sound scientific evidence. The so-called ‘developed nations’ must counteract with financial and scientific help those ‘developing nations’, whose only source of wealth lies in exploiting their natural resources to increase their Gross National Product (GNP). Sadly, in the 21st century we still live in a world of haves and have-nots.