As the now famous young Ms Greta Thunberg from Sweden said in Katowice, Poland, -“You’re never too small to make a difference!”
Science is establishing facts through investigations and research. It aims to advance our understanding of causes and effects and the nature of reality. So, let’s start with what we know.
Fact 1: 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are due to human activities.
Fact 2: 2018 was a year full of floods, heatwaves and wildfires that are related with the on-going global warming. The argument that you can’t link climate change to a particular extreme weather event is dead. More than 75 papers have been published in the past three years, which find positive links between particular events and climate change. It’s called attribution, and it surfaced in many scientific briefings at COP24.
Fact 3: A few weeks before the COP24, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that there are only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. The IPCC requested urgent and unprecedented changes to reach this target, which they say is affordable and feasible.
Despite all the scientific evidence, at the recent COP24 in Poland, a group of countries refused to "welcome" the IPCC study, and two big countries organised an event to promote the use of coal. In the most powerful country of the world, the US, Climate Skepticism has become official policy, aiming to block or seriously delay the global efforts to tackle Climate Change.
The situation is alarming
There is an ongoing concerted, organised effort to ignore, devaluate and undermine 100 years of scientific progress in understanding climate change and anthropogenic contributions. The purpose is to deny climate science and resist or delay acting to cut carbon emissions.
The fossil fuel and the extraction industries have a profound business interest to continue the business as usual. They do have the power and the money to impose their own agenda. According to The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts, some politicians are acting as “the hired guns of the industries working against the Paris accord and other international agreements... An extraction-first approach may bring economic benefits in the short term… but the profits are concentrated while the environmental stress is shared.” What if this is true?
The opinions of some of the largest and most powerful countries on the planet cannot change the reality of global warming. But they can block or postpone, or even cancel, the required global response to the most important threat of our time. The academics and professionals involved in waste management must not simply watch the on-going downplay of global warming, they must work actively together and defend science against the powerful but biased or ignorant opinion makers. Neutrality or apathy is not an option for the waste management community anymore!
Circular Economy against Climate Change
We have a lot of strong and important arguments.
Firstly, climate change is one of the most important drivers for the shift to circular economy. Ignoring climate change means continuing the linear model as much as the dominant business cases are profitable despite the on-going environmental degradation.
Secondly, denying or downplaying climate change means undermining one of the most important drivers for improving waste management, one of the key-arguments to stimulate the closure of the biggest dumpsites and the development of integrated sustainable waste management systems.
Thirdly, global warming is directly linked with the urgently required shift to renewable energy resources, in which waste to energy options have a crucial role to play. Denying climate change science results in prolonging the use fossil fuels and delaying the advances of renewable energy resources.
Fourth, denying the science and the scientific evidence about global warming stimulates further the on-going so-called “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all. All of us have heard about a new magic “technology” that transforms waste into 100% useful products and it’s always offered for free.
This is the year we defend science on climate change
In 2019 ISWA will stand up and defend science on climate change. We will defend not only the scientific knowledge but also the way to acquire it. We must explain that science cannot be denied because it is inconvenient, or because one dislikes the policy implications. We must say loudly that science, based on such a strong foundation of evidence and analytical rigor (as the science on climate change or the science on waste management), can’t be ignored because it creates problems in the dominant business models. You can’t negotiate with thermodynamics and it’s impossible to strike a deal with atmospheric physics.
To be fair, defending science and the scientific method does not mean that we deny the scientific mistakes, or that we ignore phenomena like the scientific manipulation and the paid-for-propaganda research. The problem is that we need to be afraid of the people that ignore or deny the scientific evidence based on their intuition or personal experience, or on their business interest and the funders of their electoral campaigns.
ISWA, in cooperation with other major international players like CCAC and UNEP, will continue to work hard to establish the connections between Climate Change and Waste Management and document scientifically that the advances in waste management and the shift to circular economy provide substantial reduction of carbon emissions. ISWA is already progressing its global project #CLOSEDUMPSITES that, besides the environmental and health aspects, is identifying the best ways to reduce the huge uncontrolled methane emissions from dumpsites. And we will further advance our work to “Prevent Marine Litter” by advancing waste management because we know that the enormous and rapidly increasing amounts of plastic litter, besides polluting our oceans and food chains, also reduce and prevent the essential exchange of oxygen between the oceans and the atmosphere.
When it was announced that USA will quit the Paris Accord, I made a widely circulated statement in which I mentioned that “the road towards the implementation of the Paris Accord will be a continuous fight against long-term established interests that still try to dominate our future”. ISWA and the waste management community need to participate at this continuous fight to defend science, the greatest tool for human advancement mankind has ever known. We need to stand up and speak, right here, right now.