11th Hour – or 12th?

First, there was Al Gore and his ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, the hugely successful documentary film which managed to bring climate science to the masses. That film turned a washed up politician into a movie star.

Now a bona fide movie star is joining in. Next month sees the launch of ‘The 11th Hour’, a new documentary film produced and narrated by a Hollywood A Lister, Leonardo DiCaprio. It is in many respects the natural heir to Gore’s scary but optimistic film.

The tone of The 11th Hour is close to apocalyptic. “During this critical period of human history, healing the damage of industrial civilisation is the task of our generation. Our response depends on the conscious evolution of our species and this response could very well save this unique blue planet for future generations, says DiCaprio.A panoply of experts feature in the documentary, including Stephen Hawking, Cambridge professor of Mathematics, theoretical physicist, and world famous author. His prognosis on the risks posed by carbon-driven runaway global warming are sobering:”We don’t know where the global warming will stop, but the worst case scenario is that earth would become like its sister planet, Venus, with a temperature of 250 centigrade, and raining sulphuric acid. The human race could not survive in those conditions.” Nor, he might have added, could much else.

In his book, ‘The Weather Makers‘, renowned scientist Tim Flannery argues that human-driven climate change is moving the earth to the end of what will have been the shortest geological Period on record. It will not, he suggests, be a soft landing.

The last such adjustment on the scale currently unfolding came with the sudden end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. Every living thing weighing more than 35 kg was eliminated, including, most famously, the dinosaurs. On that occasion, the driver for sudden, disastrous climate shift was almost certainly a massive asteroid impact.

Back to The 11th Hour. One of the film’s makers, Leila Conners Petersen said: “When we started the project, we wanted to take a ‘big picture’ look at how humans have related to the Earth and take stock of the state of the planet. We ourselves wanted to understand why humans were on a crash course with nature, and what we had to do to change course.

“It seems so obvious now but I was surprised to find out that humans are facing an extinction crisis along with all other life; that we are not excluded from catastrophic events; that, in fact, we are the most vulnerable even though we have technology. We learned that the Earth is going to be fine. It’s us, human beings, that are in trouble.”

The odd thing is that it probably doesn’t have to end like this. Off-the-shelf technology is readily available which could cut worldwide carbon emissions by 90%, if the public and political will existed to effect radical, immediate change.

The combination of technology, a motivated public and strong political leadership could yet save the day. But not if we leave it another 5 or 10 years before waking from our collective slumber. The clock is ticking; the 12th hour approaches.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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