Climate Change: The Facts, Sony BBC Earth's documentary, is another timely reminder of us taking the world for granted
Sony BBC Earth’s Climate Change: The Facts is a bold, straightforward narrative of the science, causes, effects of, and desired response to climate change.
Sony BBC Earth’s one-hour documentary Climate Change: The Facts, is a bold, straightforward narrative about the science, causes, effects of, and desired responses to, climate change.
Preventing further climate change and a further increase in temperature means action on both levels: individual, and collective, by industries and governments.
The most important action on an individual level remains to continuously push for the societal, cultural and political change we need.
A bat has fallen to the forest floor, its baby still clinging to its corpse. It is one of many who struggled to survive in November last year in Australia, as they faced extreme temperature from a recent heat wave. While animal rescuers unwound that baby, and saved 350 more bats, over 11,000 died. With one or maybe two more such events, the species will be extinct.
A father and son drive through a raging wildfire, angry flames flying all around them. A tree trunk on fire is lying on the road, obstructing their passage out. They face the idea they might die there but eventually find a way out.
With these and other searing visuals, and presented by David Attenborough, Sony BBC Earth’s one-hour documentary Climate Change: The Facts, is a bold, straightforward narrative about the science, causes, effects of, and desired responses to, climate change.
93-year-old Attenborough’s normally whispering, sprightly voice has an urgency, a subtle rage, as he reminds us climate change is the greatest man-made disaster, playing out on a global scale, the planet has ever faced; that the science is clear; that immediate, dramatic action is required; and that there is still hope.
The basics of the science of climate change are straightforward.
Since the industrial revolution, the using and burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal has been releasing greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide as waste products into the atmosphere. Before coal was burnt, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million. Now, it is over 400 parts per million.
These gases work like a blanket, trapping heat in the atmosphere – and bringing about global warming. Consequently, 20 of the warmest years on record, informs the documentary, have been recorded in the last 22 years. If we continue at this rate, we are on course to reach 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels by between 2040 and 2050.
The effects of global warming are circular, leading, in turn, to more warming. These include more frequent and more intense heat waves, drying soil, worse droughts, and record-breaking wildfires. And with these changes, questions arise about how agriculture will be maintained and food will be produced to feed the human population; and about sources of safe, clean drinking water.
Also, as a result of increased heat, more moisture evaporates into the air, leading to higher rainfall, storms, and flooding. The heat is causing the earth’s ice, which was frozen for millennia, to melt, in turn increasing sea-levels. This places the population of coastal cities across the world, close to 600 million people, at risk of displacement as climate refugees. As water levels rise, the documentary shows how the US state Louisiana is losing land at about the rate of a football field every 45 minutes, and how families in Kerala wade in thigh-deep water on the streets.
As warming increases, beside the threat to human life, eight per cent of species are at threat of extinction solely owing to climate change. A third of the world’s coral has bleached and died. Human activity is destabilising, and risking collapse of, the world’s ecosystems, the very networks that support all life on earth.
Added to the chilling consequences scientists predict are the things about the future that cannot be predicted, brought about by tipping points. Tipping points are parts of the climate system where, with just a little more warming, it will be nudged into a different state, getting on the course of irreversible change. Like a rainforest turning into a savannah. It spells irreversible change and more warming. One such instance the documentary shows is the gas bubbles trapped in the earth's ice, which when melted, releases methane – 21 times more harmful than CO2 – into the atmosphere.
While every natural disaster cannot unequivocally be traced back to this man-made climate change, scientists have shown, assures the documentary, climate change makes these already disastrous events more likely and more deadly.
Preventing further climate change means taking action on both levels: individual and collective, by industries and governments.
The documentary informs that among the biggest reasons that deliberate, large-scale action to curb climate change has not been taken in the past three decades is the strong public relations offensives launched by the fossil fuel industry, using the same tactics as the tobacco industry.
Questioning the validity of climate change, casting doubt on the science, creating a sense of confusion around the environmental message, arguing about the seriousness of climate change, and sowing a seed of doubt about the shift to a clean-energy economy have all been the achievements of the fossil fuel industry campaigns.
And most of those that buy into this cycle of denial do so because it is convenient. A shift to clean energy would mean rethinking our entire way of life, from electricity to transport and food to education.
The documentary, after presenting 40 minutes worth of blow after blow, takes a turn into a 'tthere is still hope' land, with an aim to hit net zero emissions by 2050 – this means we only emit as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as is possible for the planet to then reabsorb, thereby maintaining a state of balance.
The good news is as technology advances, renewable energy is becoming more affordable, and the shift from fossil fuels more accessible. Solar power and wind captured by offshore wind turbines offer enough electricity to power large cities. Through electric, battery-operated, and hydrogen-powered automobiles, the transport industry is buying itself time to find an answer to aviation.
As industries slowly shift, the documentary lays down simple individual acts to limit climate change: being aware of the carbon footprint of each purchase; buying less physical products, of better quality, making them last, and avoiding food wastage.
However, as Greta Thunberg and millions of young people across the globe continue to stress upon, the most important action on the individual level remains to continuously push for the societal, cultural, and political change we need.
Climate Change: The Facts premieres in India on Saturday, 7 March at 9 pm on Sony BBC Earth.
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