Extinction Rebellion Vancouver (Part 1): Global warming and mass starvation

In the first of a three-part series, one of the organizers of 14 days of climate action talks about the magnitude of the crisis

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      This weekend, some media outlets reported on Extinction Rebellion Vancouver's plans for 14 days of climate action in Vancouver from October 16 to 29.

      The ad hoc group of peaceful civil-disobedience advocates will make two attempts to block the Cambie Bridge on October 22 and 23. They also plan to shut down Vancouver International Airport on October 25, and shut down road access to UBC's Point Grey campus on October 26.

      The Straight was the only local media outlet to attend Extinction Rebellion Vancouver's October 9 news conference at St. Philip's Anglican Church in Dunbar.

      In a three-part series, we will report on what each of the three speakers said. The first installment below focuses on the comments of Badger, a man in his late 20s who explained the scope of the climate crisis.

      The second part will report on comments by Lauren Emberson about what Extinction Rebellion Vancouver is seeking through these 14 days of climate action. And the third part will feature another organizer, Zain Haq, speaking about how the upcoming protests will roll out.

      Emberson emphasized in her presentation that demonstrators will get out of the way immediately to let emergency responders, including ambulance drivers, pass through blocked streets.

      Badger's story

      One of Extinction Rebellion Vancouver's central demands is that governments and media start telling the truth about the climate crisis.

      Badger wasn't keen to reveal his given name. He began by saying he works for a nonprofit organization in Vancouver, as well as being an organizer with Extinction Rebellion Vancouver.

      He noted that when the first Conference of the Parties international climate meeting, a.k.a. COP, was held in 1995, he was just two years old.

      "That is how long we’ve been talking about this," Badger said. "I am tired of how long we have been talking about this. I am tired of how long we’ve been talking about how long they've been talking this."

      He said that "nothing" has happened to address the climate crisis since the Paris Agreement was reached in 2015 and since Canada declared a climate emergency in 2019.

      "In 1995, the CO2 in the atmosphere was 361 parts per million," Badger said.

      He pointed out that as the world approaches the 26th COP climate conference in Glasgow, there are now 413 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

      "So, they have been talking and agreed that climate change is a problem since 1995," Badger noted. "We’ve had 25 of these meetings to say we should do something and we’re going to do something about it. And we come to today."

      The average global temperature has risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial levels. Badger offered a reminder that the past summer included a deadly heat dome, wildfires, and the burning down of the B.C. community of Lytton in a day.

      "Does this feel comfortable?" Badger asked. "Do we feel comfortable at 1.1 degrees?

      Then he pivoted to discuss how the world is on track to go way beyond the 1.5 and two-degree Celsius temperature targets in the Paris Agreement. Badger explained why the thermometer will rise, on average, by four degrees Celsius by the end of this century under a business-as-usual scenario.

      And that doesn't include the effect of climate feedback loops, such as the melting of ice in the Arctic and on Greenland and melting permafrost. 

      Part of the reason is the "carbon lag", he said.

      "When carbon goes into the atmosphere, it still takes a little time to start heating the planet—around 20 to 30 years," Badger stated. "So even if we turn the pipes off magically right now, we have 20 to 30 years of the last emissions, which have been the greatest ever in the history of our planet coming down the pipes warming things."

      According to Badger, this will lock the Earth into another 0.7 degrees Celsius of warming. That lifts the increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution to 1.8 degrees Celsius.

      But then, he added, there's another 0.7 degrees Celsius of warming that would result if there was "global dimming".

      "If we turned off these pipes—all these pollutants that we put in the air—they would settle down," Badger said. "They are blocking the sun's rays. We would get additional heat coming through from the sun. That is another 0.7 degrees Celsius of warming: 1.8 plus 0.7, and we're now at 2.5.

      "We are way past the Paris Agreement, even if those measurements are a little bit out."

      Video: Climate scientist Johan Rockström speaks about "Hothouse Earth" scenario, where feedback loops ensure that humans have no control over the climate.

      But then he added a kicker. He pointed out that the temperature increase is far higher in the middle of continents as a result of climate change.

      "And so, at two degrees of warming on a global scale," Badger said, "that equals four degrees of warming in the middle of continents."

      Then he pulled some grain out of a bag and let it fall to the table.

      "What happens at four degrees?" Badger asked. "Grain farming becomes unsustainable. It isn't possible to farm grain at those temperatures that are sustained over a long period of time."

      Next, he asked what that leads to.

      "Mass starvation," Badger said in response to his own question. "I'll say that again: at two degrees of global warming, we will see mass starvation."

      Emissions of greenhouse gases are continuing to rise, he said, "and they are increasing at the rate which they go up".

      "So we are actually on track for four degrees of warming by 2100," Badger declared. 

      Then he noted that children born today will potentially be alive in that year. And if there's a four-degree increase on a global scale, that means an increase, on average, of eight degrees in the middle of continents.

      Then he pulled out a head of iceberg lettuce and cucumber and placed it on the table.

      "At eight degrees, all commercial industrial farming becomes unsustainable," Badger said. "If you have temperatures above 30 degrees [Celsius] for more than three months of the year, that equals a famine. Even greater mass starvation on a global scale."

      According to Badger, when this has happened in the past, it's led to societal collapse.

      "It leads to war," Badger said. "It's going to lead to poverty, mass displacement, and death of millions of people around the globe. And that is the path that we are accelerating ourselves towards."

      He rejected any notion that this will come slowly. That's because temperature-increasing global feedback loops will kick in, accelerating the pace of change.

      "Scientific estimates are always conservative," Badger said. "And every time the new report is out, the answer is 'Oh, it’s happening quicker than we thought. It’s happening sooner than we think.' "

      In 2017, researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, said that there is a one in 20 chance of the human species going extinct by 2100 due to climate change triggered by rising greenhouse-gas emissions.

      "Would you get on a plane that had a one in 20 chance of falling out of the sky?" Badger asked. "So that is the situation. And that is why we must act right now. But currently, we are not acting. We are funding our own destruction.”

      At that point, he turned the floor over to Emberson, whose remarks will be the subject of Part 2 of this series.