In headlines this week was news of tightening water usage restrictions in Southern California. The US state is facing its third year of severe drought and, understandably, water reserves are drying out.
Why is this happening? Climate change. California has already had a temperature increase of about 3° Fahrenheit. “We are experiencing climate change whiplash in real time, with extreme swings between wet and dry conditions,” Karla Nemeth, from the California Department of Water Resources, wrote in a statement.
Accordingly, the US state is looking at ways to increase water catchment, including possibly building more dams so more rainwater can be collected.
But the problem with adapting to the new climate is that the new climate isn’t here yet.
Remember, climate change is increasing as we continue to use fossil fuels at an increasing clip. There has been lots of talk of renewable and sustainable resources for power like wind and solar but as of today that usage globally provides only a tiny part of our electricity. Despite all our talk, despite all our knowledge about what climate change is doing to our planet and to our lives, coal and oil still account for the vast majority of human energy generation.
This sounds stupid to say but climate change is still changing the climate. And any attempt to adapt to a new climate will probably be short-lived as the climate just keeps on getting warmer and warmer and warmer.
At COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) there was talk of keeping climate change to 1.5°C by 2100. But the World Meteorological Organisation stated early last month that the world has a 50% chance of reaching the ominous 1.5°C warming mark in five years, by 2026. And will likely hit a 3.2°C global temperature increase by 2100. Which is frankly, a disaster.
Also remember that 1.5°C doesn’t seem like much because we think of it in local terms. Is it really that different if the temperature is 28°C or 29.5°C? Not really. But what is really happening when scientists talk about a 1.5°C global temperature increase, is that the entire world’s temperature will change. Which means some regions increase in temperature a lot more than others.
YaleClimateConnections.org states that the average temperature in California could increase by 5°C. Already a smaller rise in temperature has caused a multiyear drought so what would a larger temperature rise bring? Decades-long drought conditions? No one knows. All we do know is a hotter climate will bring about more drought, more fire, more disasters.
I’ve written this before and I’ll write it again here. The world we used to know is gone. That’s not hyperbole. All our climate records – that could give us some indications of what to expect for temperature and rainfall in the coming years – are useless. The conditions that created those climate records are gone. The climate on our planet is new and ever-changing and it’s going to be a real challenge to adapt to a global climate that changes so quickly.
Especially when we don’t have any political or public will to make the changes that are necessary. Every year for the past 20 years has produced damning studies of our global systems and how they’re leading us to environmental disaster. This is an existential crisis. And yet we do nothing. Still.
At our best, humans are innovative, imaginative and empathetic. At worst, humans are just so caught up living in our bubbles that we no longer understand how our actions affect anyone outside of our immediate circle.
Let’s go back to Southern California and their multiyear drought: While many Los Angelenos are adhering to water restrictions and doing their best to limit their water usage, some are reportedly just open to paying the US$600 (RM2,640) fine that comes with using more water. In an article on Yahoo.com, a landscaper reported that many of their clients would rather just continue watering their lawns and pay the fine because “they’re paying so much for landscaping”.
It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Or so constant.
There is a better than average chance future generations, what’s left of us, will look back at this time and marvel at how humans saw the damage they were causing to the Earth but continued watering their lawns, driving their cars, and using disposable everything because it was convenient for us.
It won’t be quite so convenient for our children.
Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.