They say that patience is the mother of science and, in terms of climate change, the saying seems to be true. Dozens of researches ratified over and over again warn that we are already in the injury time to stop the consequences of global warming. According to the latest UN calculations, we have a decade left. Faced with the planetary emergency, scientists tirelessly continue with a task they undertook a long time ago, perhaps longer than we are resigned to admitting: to demonstrate that, if we do not act, the consequences will be irreversible.
United States, year to be determined. Farmers have long been unable to grow wheat and other cereals. Only the corn can resist, and who knows how long. A fine layer of powder covers almost everything. It forces the houses to be closed to the ground and floods the lungs of a humanity that has to start looking for solutions beyond the stratosphere if it wants to survive. Christopher Nolan in his laureate Interstellar, a film built on an entirely real problem: that of climate change. Although it is not named explicitly at any time, the viewer knows from the first minute that this is the reason why the human being decides to launch himself into space again.
Nolan's is by no means the first film to pose dystopian futures in which climate change has left the survival of the species up in the air. Since Tomorrow to Tomorrowland, going by 2012 or the animated Wall-e, the hypothetical planetary collapse has been a source of income at the office. But, with the passing of the years, the unrealistic approaches of the filmmakers are built more and more within the story of the possible: if the forecasts are fulfilled, We'll see reality outweigh the worst fiction before the popcorn goes cold.
The data is well known. The media report almost daily, now yes, of the urgency of stopping global warming, knowing that the headlines that warn that time is running out run like wildfire on the networks and are an almost certain guarantee of thousands of clicks : According to UN experts, if we continue at this rate, we have barely a decade left to limit the irreversible consequences of climate change. Eleven years, specifically. A temporary calculation that matches and puts a date on what scientists the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC) already left on the table in October 2018, almost a year ago: if we do not limit the increase in temperature of the planet to 1.5ºC –And not at the 2ºC set by the Paris Agreement–, its effects could be “long-lasting and irreversible”.
“Talking about climate change in the future is giving the wrong message. Is present. There are people who are already dying »(José ManuelMoreno, co-author of the latest IPCC report)
«Reaching that figure is just around the corner. We have already overcome the temperature increase by 1ºC and, at the current speed, in fifteen or twenty years we will have reached 1.5ºC. The pace is very high and, unless we stop emissions substantially - and there is nothing to suggest that this is going to happen any time soon - we are unfortunately on track to even exceed those forecasts, "he explains. Jose Manuel Moreno, Professor of Ecology at the University of Castilla-La Mancha and one of the Spanish scientists who has been part of the preparation of the latter report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Politicians –and representatives–, aware of the importance of alleviating long-term environmental consequences, seem to have finally ceased to be a white blackbird in a short-term reality. But it's not enough. While Europe sets the guidelines to follow to decarbonize the economy and China competes to be the leader in renewables, the Trump Administration takes measures that are far from the objectives set by Obama, which had made US emissions begin to decrease. This is not surprising: the president is a staunch denier who has even created a committee of experts to cast doubt on what science has been proving for decades.
«Already in the late eighties and early nineties there were reliable studies on the severity of the planet's temperature increase. Scientists warned, but to say that the wolf is coming then, at a time of enormous economic development in the western world, was not politically correct. Nobody wanted to be the bad guy in the movie », he analyzes Elisa berdalet, oceanographer and deputy director of the Institute of Marine Sciences. “What looked like catastrophic predictions at the time has been shown to be less so. Ramon Margalef–The first scientist to achieve a chair of Ecology in Spain– he already spoke about it in interviews and publications in the eighties. In those moments he said that he was an ecologist and not an ecologist, but he ended up becoming the latter over time: the problems that he predicted then have been getting worse and fulfilling, "he recalls.
"I wish we had not been correct in the forecasts by which they told us that we were too alarmist" (Pedro Jordano, 2018 National Research Prize)
That distorted picture that depicts scientists investigating the consequences of global warming as mere green activists has been used by deniers and skeptics to try to undermine warnings that have been shown to be unrealistic at all. “Ecologists don't do science, they only use available research. There has been a genuine obstructionist attitude on the part of some actors towards climate actionusing the usual techniques: opposing science, questioning the messenger and not the message, using false information or half-truths ... The only voice they have failed to silence is that of the United Nations panel, and the convention has not even received the latest report like the previous ones because their conclusions are bad. But they are going to be worse and worse, "warns Moreno. And ditch: «There has never been scaremongering in any environmental issue. All the warnings that science has put on the table have always been overshadowed by reality.
«The human being suffers from a Cassandra syndrome that makes us point out to fortune-tellers that we believe they have an apocalyptic vision, in this case, to scientists. It is not: it is realistic according to the data we have, also contrasted with other independent evidence. I wish we had not been correct in the forecasts by which they told us that we were too alarmist, "he agrees. Pedro Jordano, ecologist and Research Professor (CSIC) at the Doñana Biological Station, which last year received the National Research Award, the highest scientific recognition in Spain. “Awareness is on the right track, but we need it to be faster and faster. We succeeded in matters such as the fight against tobacco: we have modified our individual behaviors to protect everyone's health, and that shows that we are capable of making radical changes in a short time. We just need to do the same with environmental protection, "he explains.
The limits of nature
Thanks to science, the deniers - that endangered species - find it increasingly difficult to convince the world that global warming is not so dangerous or anomalous. For a long time, researchers and experts no longer speak only of climate change, but of global change to warn of the consequences that the increase in temperature will have for all ecosystems and the living beings that form it: loss of forests and biodiversity, deforestation, greater virulence and frequency of natural phenomena, thawing, climatic migrations ...
“If there is a significant increase in temperature on the planet, many species will have to migrate or evolve to adapt to the new conditions. Studies show that it is already occurring in the high mountains: there are belts of vegetation that have moved hundreds of meters higher than what was known just a few decades ago, ”Jordano warns. The first report on the state of biodiversity around the planet, prepared by more than a hundred scientists from the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), sponsored by the United Nations - something like the equivalent of the IPCC in biodiversity issues - has highlighted that the situation is even worse than feared: more than a million species could disappear from the face of the Earth in the next few years. In some groups of species, the percentages are, as the ecologist asserts, "truly worrying", and the figures of 40% in amphibians or up to 30% in large mammals underline.
"Scientists have been warning for a long time, but in times of economic development, nobody wanted to be the bad guy" (Elisa Berdalet, deputy director of the Institute of Marine Sciences)
Leopoldo Garcia Sancho, Professor of Botany at the Complutense University and Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation (2002) as a member of the Antarctic Scientific Committee, also points in that direction. «When these orographic barriers do not exist, species will move.And there are already examples. I work in areas far north of Canada, north of Victoria Island, and last year I was able to photograph several grizzliesThe Eskimos are getting used to seeing them. That is, brown bears in the territory of polar bears because temperatures allow it. In the middle of the arctic tundra! ”He explains.
Although you don't have to go that far. «Spain is home to one of the biodiversity hotspots on a global scale.Our fauna and flora are considered the richest in the entire continent, among other things, due to their endemisms: there are species that are only found here. In a scenario in which climatic conditions are going to change, they are endangered: there are many that are at the southern limit of distribution of the entire continent and who have here an unparalleled gene pool. If they disappear, we will not only lose species and populations, but also genetic varieties that can evolve with new adaptations in the face of climate change ”, warns Jordano.
More science, more politics, more citizenship
With some evidence that does not call for optimism, the clearest conclusion is that the planet put the ball in our court decades ago and that we do not have to aim very far to imagine what will happen if we do not stop our destructive hand. “Rather than focusing on predictions of when the consequences will come, we should focus on how we can reduce emissions. Technology will help us, it is evident, but we are the ones who have to act and we need guidelines for this, because we are not fully aware of our impact. And when we are, we don't always like to hear it. How do they tell us that we should travel less because airplanes pollute, now that airlines low cost allow us something previously unattainable? How do we assume our impact on the ocean, now that we can all go to the beach? ”, Berdalet asks.
Although technologies such as the possibility of building large machines that absorb CO₂ from the atmosphere may be allies in the distant future, the urgency of the climate issue requires immediate measures that cannot wait. “The prudent thing to do is to reduce emissions, not to try to capture the huge amount we produce. And we have natural allies for this: plants. CO₂ is not a pollutant but the basis of life, but we have to reforest and help them do their job. By increasing the surface of plants that last decades or hundreds of years, we help them to stably accumulate the carbon they absorb from the atmosphere. And we are doing the opposite: It is estimated that 18% of all CO₂ is due to the massive destruction of forests, almost all tropical. We do not need to resort to science fiction engineering, but to re-plant trees ”, claims García Sancho.
"We do not need to resort to science fiction engineering to absorb CO₂, but to plant trees again" (Leopoldo García Sancho, professor of Botany at the UCM)
'The underlying issue is that we recognize the importance of research. Addressing the issues of climate change by saying that scientists are wrong is worrying, especially when it is something that is tested over and over again with different scenarios and models and all point in the same direction. That left options: either our politicians are misinformed or they are irresponsible», Jordano adds. A wake-up call that Moreno also shares: «I don't know what else has to happen for him to react with greater force. If when there is a catastrophe it is said that it is not so bad or how the climate influences it is denied, anything can have a place. We have advanced scientifically as never before in history, but there are governments that are putting research aside, which is paradoxical: we do science to know reality and so that we can all live better, not to ignore it. And he concludes: «Talking about future climate change is giving the wrong message. There are people who are already dying.
«The most serious problem is humanity. Clear. And I'm not kidding. Many times, the problems of mistreating nature come from us mistreating each other. If we treated our brothers better, we would treat nature better, 'argued Professor Margalef decades ago. Faced with the climate problem, far from hiding in the sadly true I told you to shake off responsibility, science has chosen to mobilize to find a solution. The youngest have stopped going to class on Fridays to demand that politicians listen to it once. But, if the predictions come true, they will not be the first to inhabit a different planet. It will be us. And we are not going to like that movie.
Article Guadalupe Bécares
Illustrations, Carla Lucena