If temperatures keep rising, say goodbye to your way of life

I read some grim news about the future lately. No, it wasn’t political, as dire as our predicament there may seem.

The news was that in decades to come, Malaysia might not have much of a future at all. Sounds like a doomsday scenario? But, seriously, this alarming new research on the threat to our climate is significant.

Malaysia may become simply unliveable, with extreme, baking-hot temperatures, if we take no action against climate change – the slow warming of our planet from heat-trapping “greenhouse gases” released by industry and agriculture.

The report, released last month by the Asian Development Bank and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, predicts a 6°C rise in global average temperatures by the century’s end if humans do nothing about global warming in a “business as usual” scenario.

This could cause “drastic changes” to the climate, the report says, with 50% more rainfall and more flooding, as well as more intense typhoons and tropical cyclones. You can imagine the devastation to our fisheries and agriculture sectors.

Even with a 1.5°C temperature increase, 89% of coral reefs are expected to suffer from serious bleaching, the researchers point out.

We are already seeing changes in our climate. Heat waves are on the rise, including the recent one in Europe in June. Heat waves in Western nations in recent years have led to tens of thousands of deaths.

In 2014, we had eight cyclones here in Malaysia, according to the Meteorological Department – and cyclones are supposed to be rare here!

In 2016, temperatures were super hot in the northern states. Temperatures rose to more than 39°C in Chuping, Perlis, and Alor Setar last year. The heat got so bad people were advised to limit outdoors activities. There were also water shortages with dams filled at 50% less than capacity.

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Sure, cities do feel hot because of the “urban heat island effect” from the loss of trees and the many buildings, but even taking that into account, temperatures are rising. Data from the past century show a rise of about 1°C.

The past three decades have also been the hottest since 1850, according to the panel established by the United Nations.

Last month, a massive iceberg – roughly the size of Bali – reportedly broke away from the Antarctica ice shelf. It’s happening people. Climate change is real.

Although the melting ice at the poles is a common image of climate change, it’s the tropics that are going to get hit first, studies show. This is because we have such a small range of climate variability, with relatively consistent temperatures. Species physiologically designed to live in the tropics might not be able to cope with climate change.

Consider, even the human body only functions at a narrow range around 37°C. Heat waves that can raise body temperatures can thus be extremely dangerous to health. Heat-related deaths in the region among the elderly are set to rise (to about 50,000 by 2050, says the World Health Organization), and more people may die of diseases spread by mosquitoes, such as malaria and dengue.

In 2015 in Paris, 195 countries agreed to try to contain the temperature rise to below 2°C (above industrial levels), and to “pursue efforts” to limit the rise to 1.5°C. Two degrees is actually a huge rise for the planet – consider how one degree has disrupted us.

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Yet trying to reach this goal is a very tough call, not just because of the threats from US President Donald Trump to break away from the accord. The United States is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

We’re simply not doing enough. Consider, one of the key drivers of global warming is consumption of meat, particularly beef. The livestock industry produces more greenhouse gases than transport. Yet are countries really taking this issue on? Not at all.

Some countries are doing better on renewable energy – which is now very affordable – than others. Why so? What’s holding us back? And how do we improve our energy efficiency? We waste far too much energy.

Organic foods are still very minimal here, compared with other countries. Not only are these foods better for our health and the planet, it means that we can avoid using fertilisers, which release nitrous oxide, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

There isn’t much hope, and very little time left. We need to act. Fast.

Mangai Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into anything on being human. She has worked with international public health bodies and has a Masters in public health.