What’s it like working in international settings where climate change feels nearly as immediate as Covid? We hear from speakers on the reality of working with climate change at UN level. I realise yet again that some Cadence sessions need to be three times as long and command much bigger audiences than our Saturday morning slot can hope for now that Covid restrictions are easing. As those of us who can start to stretch for something like a post-Covid normality of restaurants and coffee shops, this session considered the ‘new normal’ of a global poverty picture that has been so dramatically worsened by the pandemic that extreme poverty has risen for the first time in 22 years.
Many of us are used to seeing Covid as something of a dry run for serious environmental destabilisation but of course with uneven rises in global temperature, in many areas climate change and Covid are happening together. In places like the Sahel the UNHCR reports that human needs have reached ‘unprecedented levels’. Covid is yet another threat multiplier fuelling perfect storms in many countries. The difficulty of speedily and meaningfully responding to such storms is so difficult that the UN has urged the G7 to establish a permanent disaster fund for future pandemics. This would be a climate crisis and natural disasters fund – an inherent acknowledgment that current systems of relief just wont cut it.
The join-ups that are scattered through the content of this session make for a frightening array of human experiences. Climate change, hunger, serious conflict are linked and alongside damage to health services they threaten to wipe out two decades of progress on diseases like HIV, TB and malaria.
With this as the scene-set, we were then taken forensically through the current state of climate and human population modelling. We cover what we can and can’t be confident about. If things can be this bad when the global increase in temperature is a little over 1 oC, then the Paris 1.5 goal only really works as anything like a safe and comforting target if you’re sitting in the bit of the world that’s looking forward abundant food as part of a post-Covid life.
For me one of the most interesting elements of this session and one that I hadn’t come across before was that of a hyperobject. A term originally coined by Timothy Morton and used to describe something that is so large in time and space that it can’t be pinned down to a location. A hyperobject may not be sensed or felt, we might only be aware of its impacts as they unfold. Viewing climate change in this way may give us some insight into not only the enormity of the issue but also why it seems so difficult for human populations to grasp its significance and act. It’s perhaps a useful shorthand for international aid efforts to indicate that it isn’t just another big problem in places where there are already plenty.
These experts give their time not because they have too much of it (they don’t) but because climate is too large a part of their everyday work to pass up the chance to speak to others. It’s oddly heartening to meet with those who are alive to how serious things already are, who want to look more closely and consider what needs to be done.
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