It was very unusual to have someone come to Mui Wo to give a talk on global warming (GW), especially as it was in Chinese. Lowell Lo is a former Cantonese pop star turned environmentalist, and he didn’t hold back on the picture of doom and gloom that he painted. Starting with a brief introduction to the science behind GW, he showed graphs of the rise in temperature that has taken place and then showed an array of pictures and satellite images of the shrinking ice mass of the Arctic, the retreating glaciers, the drying of lakes and rivers worldwide, the destruction of forests and so on. We were bombarded with figures and percentages, graphs and photos, (including some horror pictures of the effects of Agent Orange on children in Vietnam as he touched on the topic of toxic chemicals) that brought forth the occasional gasp from the audience, and even had Rosa, the translator, getting into difficulties because she couldn’t quite believe some of the figures that were mentioned.
On the one hand it was so good to hear someone telling the truth about global warming to the local Chinese, who get very little exposure to this kind of information, and certainly not in such a concentrated form. There is a desperate need for this kind of information to be disseminated to everyone so that maybe we’ll get off our arses and start to do something about it. However, the downside of the talk was that it was unremittingly bleak, with scarcely a glimmer of hope anywhere. The very real possibility of us frying ourselves out of existence was emphasised, with a nod towards James Lovelock, who indeed thinks we’re past the point of no return. There wasn’t much scientific data to justify some of these remarks, which might well have reduced people’s willingness to accept what was said, but what was really missing was the fact that there is a grey area of uncertainty about when feedbacks such as the release of methane from the northern tundra will kick in. Because of that we do have an opportunity to pull back from the precipice if we really make the effort. James Hansen’s latest paper outlines what needs to be done – reduce global CO2 emissions by 6% every year, undertake a massive reforestation programme worldwide, and switch our chemical farming systems to organic farming so as to sequester huge amounts of carbon in the soil in the form of organic matter. It’s a daunting task, but it’s something that everyone can get involved in, including us in Mui Wo. Unfortunately, Lowell Lo didn’t offer us any hope of getting out of the appalling mess we’ve got ourselves into. His pessimism may well be justified, but as long as there is the slightest chance of success then we must seize it with both hands. All power to his elbow for standing up and saying what nobody wants to hear, but there scarcely seems much point if you’re message is one of inescapable misery. We’re not dead and buried yet, so join a Transition group and start building a new future.