Nothing is more dangerous than the illusion of action – which is all that the British government is offering, says Labour’s Ed Miliband
Future generations will look back on the climate events of 2021 and say: “That was the year they ran out of excuses.”
Heatwaves and flooding here in the UK, temperatures topping 50C in Pakistan, hundreds killed by a heatwave in British Columbia, deadly floods in Germany and China. All within a single month. Add to that the recentdire warningfrom the Met Office that the age of extreme weather has just begun.
The wake-up call that this offers is not just the obvious one: that climate breakdown is already here. It also illustrates that we, in this generation, are in a unique position in the history of this crisis. Climate breakdown can no longer be plausibly denied as a threat etched only in the future. And all too soon, avoiding it may be a luxury lost to the past. The window to avoid catastrophe is closing with every passing day. We’re in the decisive decade in this fight, and we must treat the climate crisis as an issue that stands alone in the combination of its urgency and the shadow it casts over future generations.
The actions we take defy the normal rhythm of political cycles. What we do in the next few years will have effects for hundreds of years to come. Unless the world cuts emissions in half in this decade, we will probably lose the chance to avoid warming of significantly more than the 1.5C set out in the 2015Paris accord. We have seen the catastrophic effects of a world warmed by just 1.2C. What happens if we get to 2.5 or 3C? By then, we’ll look back at recent summers as not the hottest we’ve ever had but, in all likelihood, the coolest we will ever have again.
The accompanying truth is that our biggest enemy is no longer climate denial but climate delay. The most dangerous opponents of change are no longer the shrinking minority who deny the need for action, but the supposed supporters of change who refuse to act at the pace the science demands. AsBill McKibben, environmentalist and climate scholar, says on climate: “Winning slowly is the same as losing.”
The UK government is a case in point. There is a chasm between the boosterish rhetoric of the Johnson government and the reality. We are way off meeting our climate targets, which are themselves insufficiently ambitious, graded “somewhere below”four out of 10for delivery by the Climate Change Committee. Nothing is more dangerous than the mirage of action shrouding the truth of inaction, because it breeds either false confidence that we will be OK or cynicism and despair about meaningless political promises.
But why are they failing? Above all, because of a dogged refusal to put government investment at scale behind a green recovery. The more government refuses to provide that proper plan and finance, the harder the decisions on boilers, cars and industrial transition become. A government that absents its responsibility for making these transitions is a government that will fail to make them happen.
This is not simply failing to protect us from the biggest long-term threat we face; it’s economically illiterate too.
The case for investing now is not just clear as a question of intergenerational equity, it’s also the only conclusion to draw from a hard-headed fiscal analysis of the costs and benefits. The Office for Budget Responsibility tells us that the costs of acting early aresurprisingly smallrelative to our national income – in the central scenario, an average annual investment in net terms of just 0.4% of GDP between now and 2050.
Meanwhile, we know that inaction is entirely unaffordable, leaving massive costs of climate damage racked up and left for future generations. The OBR also tells us that delay will significantly raise the cost of action, in part because we are baking high carbon into our infrastructure. We will have to make the transition at some point; failing to act now will betray our children and grandchildren and will just end up costing more.
We should act now not just because we must avoid future generations living in a disaster movie but because rewriting the script can produce a better world. Rapid decarbonisation is the imperative, but we can do so in a way that fixes the inequalities that exist in our current economic system. This is the promise of theGreen New Deal– that this transformative programme of investment can also generate good jobs, help existing industries transition and create new ones, ensure warmer homes, cleaner air, and a lasting shift in wealth and power across our country. This is the vision we must fight for.
Particularly, in this year of all years, what we do here at home has real impacts around the world. If other governments believe that a country that has led the way on climate is full of hot air, it simply undermines trust and lets the big polluters off the hook. In the less than100 days left to COP26, the prime minister must finally wake up to the fact that this is not a glorified international photo opportunity but a complex and fragile negotiation where he must deliver at home and engage in the hard yards of diplomacy.
Just over 50 years ago, Martin Luther King said of the fight for racial and economic justice: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In the unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” As the generation that stands astride the causes and consequences of this climate emergency, we must take heed of those words.
Ed Miliband is the Labour MP for Doncaster North and shadow business, energy and industry secretary
A team of prominent scientists warns that we’ve already passed several ecological tipping points and are approaching even more.
“POLICIES TO COMBAT THE CLIMATE CRISIS OR ANY OTHER SYMPTOMS SHOULD ADDRESS THEIR ROOT CAUSE: HUMAN OVEREXPLOITATION OF THE PLANET.”
Code Blue Dot
A team of scientists just took the planet’s vitals and delivered a grim prognosis: the damage that humanity is causing may be terminal.
In other words, the planetis in really, really bad shape— out of the 31 metrics of ecological health that a team of prominent scientists from a long list of universities around the worldlooked at, 18 are facing all-time poor results,they toldAgence France-Presse. The researchers behind the update are among the 14,000 experts who have nowsigned a statementsaying the planet is in a state of emergency. Thanks to a “business as usual” approach to managing our pale blue dot, they conclude in a report slated for publication in the journalBioScience, we as a global society are approaching many environmental tipping points — and have already blown past several others.
Atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide levels are at a record high. Arctic ice and glaciers are at an all-time low. Sea levels and oceanic temperatures are at their highest, as is the rate of deforestation in the Amazon.
The list of standout ecological horrors continues — and University of Exeter Global Systems Institute director Tim Lenton warnedAFPthat the damage is already making the climate “behave in shocking, unexpected ways.”
Tugging the Thread
The problem, the experts say, is that focusing too much on any single issue might become a wild goose chase. They say that the overall problem, more than any single factor or hazard, is humanity’s winner-take-all approach to planetary stewardship.
“We need to stop treating the climate emergency as a stand-alone issue — global heating is not the sole symptom of our stressed Earth system,” Oregon State University ecologist William Ripple toldAFP. “Policies to combat the climate crisis or any other symptoms should address their root cause: human overexploitation of the planet.”
We need global action to tame the climate crisis or else we will face apocalyptic consequences, says Noam Chomsky.
Activists from the climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion take part in a protest march in St. Ives, Cornwall, on June 11, 2021, on the first day of the three-day G7 summit being held from June 11-13.BEN STANSALL / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
By C.J. Polychroniou
Global warming is accelerating, bringing the world close to the edge of the precipice. Heat waves, floods and deaths are major news, and asTruthouthasreported, “this summer’s record-breaking temperatures caused by a climate catastrophe that, until recently, even the most pessimistic climatologists thought was still two or three decades out.” Yet, as Noam Chomsky points out in the interview below, corporate media devotedalmost as much coveragein one day to a space cowboy than it did the entire year of 2020 to the biggest crisis facing humanity.
Is the world losing the war against climate change? Why is there still climate crisis denial and inactivism? The choice is clear: We need global action to tame global warming or face apocalyptic consequences, says Chomsky, a globally renowned public intellectual who is Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and is the author of more than 150 books on topics such as linguistics, international affairs, U.S. foreign policy, political economy and mass media.
C.J. Polychroniou: Climate emergency facts are piling up almost on a daily basis — extreme heat waves in various parts of the U.S. and Canada, with temperatures rising even above 49 degrees Celsius (over 120 degrees Fahrenheit); deadly floods in western Europe, with close to 200 dead and hundreds remaining unaccounted for in the flooding; and Moscow experienced itssecond-hottest June. In fact, the extreme weather conditions even have climate scientists surprised, and they are now wondering about the accuracy of prediction models. What are your thoughts on these matters? It appears that the world is losing the war against global warming.
Noam Chomsky:You probably remember that three years ago, Oxford physicist Raymond Pierrehumbert, a lead author of the just-released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, wrote that “it’s time to panic…. We are in deep trouble.”
What has been learned since only intensifies that warning. An IPCC draft report leaked toAgence France-Pressein June 2021 listed irreversible tipping points that are ominously close,warningof “progressively serious, centuries-long and, in some cases, irreversible consequences.”
Last November 3 was a narrow escape from what might well have been indescribable disaster. Another four years of Trump’s passionate racing to the abyss might have reached those tipping points. And if the denialist party returns to power, it may be too late to panic. We are indeed in deep trouble.
The leaked IPCC draft was from before the extreme weather events of summer 2021, which shocked climate scientists. Heating of the planet “is pretty much in line with climate model predictions from decades ago,”climate scientist Michael Mann observed, but “the rise in extreme weather is exceeding the predictions.” The reason seems to be an effect of heating of the atmosphere that had not been considered in climate studies: wobbling of the jet stream, which is causing the extreme events that have plagued much of the world in the past few weeks.
The frightening news has a good side. It may awaken global leaders to recognition of the horrors that they are creating. It’s conceivable that seeing what’s happening before their eyes might induce even the GOP and itsFox Newsecho chamber to indulge in a glimpse of reality.
We have seen signs of that in the COVID crisis. After years of immersion in their world of “alternative facts,” some Republican governors who have been mocking precautions are taking notice, now that the plague is striking their own states because of lack of preventive measures and vaccine refusal. As Florida took the lead nationwide in cases and deaths, Gov. Ron DeSantis backed way (only partially) from his ridicule — eliciting charges ofselling outto the enemy from party stalwarts and perhaps endangering his presidential aspirations. A shift which might, however, be too late to influence the loyal party base that has been subjected to a stream of disinformation.
Possibly the sight of cities drowning and burning up may also dent GOP-Foxloyalty to the slogan “Death to intelligence, Viva death,” borrowed from the annals of fascism.
The denialism of environmental destruction naturally has an impact on public opinion. According to themost recent polls, for 58 percent of Republicans, climate change is “not an important concern.” A little over 40 percent deny that humans make a significant contribution to this impending catastrophe. And 44 percent think that “climate scientists have too much influence on climate policy debates.”
If there ever is a historical reckoning of this critical moment in history — possibly by some alien intelligence after humans have wrecked this planet — and if a Museum of Evil is established in memory of the crime, the GOP-Foxdyad will have a special room in their honor.
Responsibility is far broader, however. There is no space to review the dismal record, but one small item gives the general picture. The indispensable media analysis organizationFAIRreports a studycomparing coverage on morning TV of the climate crisis with Jeff Bezos’s space launch: 267 minutes in all of 2020 on the most important issue in human history, 212 minutes on a single day for Bezos’s silly PR exercise.
Returning to your question, humanity is quite clearly losing the war, but it is far from over. A better world is possible, we know how to achieve it, and many good people are actively engaged in the struggle. The crucial message is to panic now, but not to despair
One of the most worrisome developments regarding the climate crisis is that while virtually all of the published climate science shows the impacts of global warming are increasingly irreversible, climate skepticism and inactivism remain quite widespread. In your view, is climate crisis denial motivated by cultural and economic factors alone, or is there possibly something else also at work? Specifically, I am wondering if there is a connection between postmodern attacks on science and objectivity and climate science denial and inactivism.
There was a skeptical crisis in the 17th century. It was real, a significant moment in intellectual history. It led to a much better understanding of the nature of empirical inquiry. I’m not convinced that the postmodern critique has improved on this.
With regard to your question, I doubt that the postmodern critique has had much of an impact, if any, outside of rather narrow educated circles. The major sources of climate science denial — in fact much broader rejection of science — seem to me to lie elsewhere, deep in the culture.
I was a student 75 years ago. If evolution was brought up in class, it was preceded by what’s now called a trigger warning: “You don’t have to believe this, but you should know what some people believe.” This was in an Ivy League college.
Today, for large parts of the population, deeply held religious commitments conflict with the results of scientific inquiry. Therefore, science must be wrong, a cult of liberal intellectuals in urban dens of iniquity infected by people who are not “true Americans” (no need to spell out whotheyare). All of this has been inflamed by the very effective use of irrationality in the Trump era, including his skillful resort to constant fabrication, eroding the distinction between truth and falsehood. For a showman with deeply authoritarian instincts, and few principles beyond self-glorification and abject service to the welfare of the ultrarich, there’s no better slogan than: “Believe me, not your lying eyes.”
The organization that Trump now owns, which years ago was an authentic political party, had already moved on a path that provided a generous welcome to such a figure. We’vediscussed previouslyhow the brief Republican flirtation with reality on environmental destruction during the McCain campaign was quickly terminated by the Koch brothers’ campaign of intimidation. The last time Republican leaders spoke freely without obeisance to Trump, in the 2016 primaries, all were loyal climate denialists, or worse.
Scientists are human. They’re not above criticism, nor their institutions. One can find error, dishonesty, childish feuds, all of the normal human flaws. But to be critical ofscienceas such is to condemn the human quest to understand the world in which we live. And truly to abandon hope.
Many discussions on the climate crisis revolve around “equity” and “justice.” Leaving aside the question of “climate equity vs. climate justice,” especially in the context of the Paris Agreement, how much importance should we assign to these debates in the context of the overall goal of decarbonizing the global economy, which is obviously the only way to tackle the existential crisis of global warming?
It shouldn’t be overlooked that it is the small, very affluent minority, most of them in the rich countries, who have overwhelming responsibility for the environmental crisis, in the past and right now. Decarbonizing and concern for equity and justice, therefore, considerably overlap. Beyond that, even on narrow pragmatic grounds, putting aside moral responsibility, the major socioeconomic changes required for the necessary scale of decarbonization must enlist committed mass popular support, and that will not be achieved without a substantial measure of justice.
Robert Pollin has been making the case for a Global Green New Deal as the only effective way to tackle global warming, and the two of you are co-authors of the recently published work,Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet. No doubt, we need internationalism in the fight against climate breakdown because, as you have so aptly put it yourself, it is either “extinction or internationalism.” My question to you is twofold: Firstly, how do you understand “internationalism” in the current historical juncture where, in spite of all of the globalizing processes under way in the course of the past 40 or 50 years, the nation-state remains the central agency? And, secondly, what system changes are required to give “internationalism” a real fighting chance in the war against the apocalyptic consequences of global warming which are already knocking at humanity’s door?
There are many forms of internationalism. It’s worthwhile to think about them. They carry lessons.
One form of internationalism is the specific kind of “globalization” that has been imposed during the neoliberal years through a series of investor-rights agreements masquerading as free trade. It constitutes a form of class war.
Another form of internationalism is the Axis alliance that brought us World War II. A pale reflection is Trump’s sole geostrategic program: construction of an alliance of reactionary states run from Washington, including as one core component the Middle East Abraham Accords and its side agreements with the Egyptian and Saudi dictatorships, taken over by Biden.
Still another form of internationalism has been championed on occasion by workers’ movements, in the U.S. by the “Wobblies,” the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Other unions, too, have the term “international” in their names, a relic of commitment to true internationalism.
In Europe, the most eloquent spokesperson for this form of internationalism was Rosa Luxemburg. The conflict between internationalism and chauvinism came to a head with the outbreak of World War I. Chauvinism conquered. The Socialist International collapsed.In Luxemburg’s acidic words, the slogan, “Proletarians of all countries united” was abandoned in favor of “Proletarians of all countries cut each other’s throat.”
Luxemburg held true to the internationalist vision, a rare stance. In all countries, intellectuals across the political spectrum rallied enthusiastically to the chauvinist cause. Those who did not were likely to find their way to prison, like Luxemburg: Karl Liebknecht, Bertrand Russell, Eugene Debs. The IWW was crushed by state-capital violence.
Turning to the present, we find other manifestations of internationalism. When the COVID pandemic broke out in early 2020, the rich countries of central Europe at first managed to get it more or less under control, a success that collapsed when Europeans chose not to forego their summer vacations.
While Germany and Austria were still in fairly good shape in early 2020, there was, however, a severe pandemic in northern Italy a few miles to their south, within the Europe Union. Italy did benefit from true internationalism — not on the part of its rich neighbors. Rather, from the world’s one country with internationalist commitments: Cuba, which sent doctors to help, as it did elsewhere, extending a record that goes far back. Among others, Panama received assistance from Cuba, but the U.S. took care of that. In its final 2020 report, Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services proudly announced that it had successfully pressured Panama to expel Cuban doctors to protect the hemisphere from Cuba’s “malign” influence.
The malign influence, spelled out in the early days of Cuban independence in 1959, was that Cuba might infect Latin America with its “successful defiance” of U.S. policies since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. To prevent this threat, the U.S. launched a major campaign of terror and economic strangulation, following the logic spelled out at the State Department in 1960 by Lester Mallory. He recognized, as U.S. intelligence knew, that the “majority of Cubans support Castro,” and that the “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.” Therefore, “it follows that every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba … to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
The policy has been rigorously followed with bipartisan fervor in the face of unanimous world opposition (Israel excepted). The days of “decent respect for the opinions of mankind” have long faded to oblivion, along with such frivolities as the UN Charter and the rule of law. It is astonishing that Cuba has survived the relentless assault.
The successes of the policy of strangulation and torture are reported with no little exuberance, an unusual exhibition of sadistic cowardice. Among the many popular protests underway in Latin America, one is front page news: in Cuba, giving Biden an opportunity to slap even more sanctions on the “villain” for its resort to abusive measures to suppress the demonstrations, which appear to be mostly about “economic dissatisfaction and hardship,” and failures of the authoritarian government to respond in timely and effective fashion.
Cuba’s unique internationalism is also undermined, freeing the world from any departure from the norm of self-interest, rarely breached in more than the most limited ways.
That must change. It is by now broadly understood that hoarding of vaccines by the rich countries is not only morally obscene but also self-destructive. The virus will mutate in countries with nondominant economies, and among those refusing vaccination in the rich countries, posing severe dangers to everyone on Earth, the rich included. Much more seriously, heating of the planet also knows no borders. There will be nowhere to hide for long. The same is true of the growing threat of nuclear war among major powers: the end.
Rosa Luxemburg and the Wobblies sketched the kinds of “system changes” toward which humanity should strive, in one or another way. Short of the goals they envisioned, steps must be taken toward engaging an informed and concerned public in international institutions of solidarity and mutual aid, eroding borders, recognizing our shared fate, committing ourselves to working together for the common good instead of “cutting each other’s throats.”
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. Currently, his main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, climate change, the political economy of the United States, and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published scores of books, and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Arabic, Croatian, Dutch, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish. His latest books are Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books;Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal:The Political Economy of Saving the Planet(with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors); andThe Precipice:Neoliberalism, the Pandemic, and the Urgent Need for Radical Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published atTruthout and collected by Haymarket Books (scheduled for publication in June 2021).
On 5 December 2017, the United Nations declared that a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, the ‘Ocean Decade’, would be held from 2021 to 2030.
The Ocean Decade provides a common framework to ensure that ocean science can fully support countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Officially launched and entering its implementation phase on 1 January 2021, the Ocean Decade is gaining momentum around the world.
The first set of Decade Actions have been officially endorsed and will serve as the first building blocks of the Decade, propelling action amongst ocean actors to generate more and improved ocean science and turn that knowledge into transformative solutions for sustainable development.
By Dr. Vladimir Ryabinin
The ocean covers 71% of the planet’s surface. It feeds us, protects us and absorbs more than 90% of the excess heat generated by global warming. It is an inestimable source of economic, social and cultural wealth – 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Yet, according to predictions, tropical coral reefs may disappear by the turn of the century and by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Despite the importance of the ocean to human health and well-being ocean research remains poorly funded: it only receives a tiny fraction – an average of less than 2 percent – of national research budgets.
In 2016, the first World Ocean Assessment of the United Nations stated that humankind was running out of time to start managing the ocean sustainably. This alarming conclusion poses a question to our civilization: is there a way to reverse the decline in ocean health while continuing to rely on the ocean for our ever-increasing needs, particularly under a changing climate and increasing loss of biodiversity? The proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2017 of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, 2021–2030, the ‘Ocean Decade’, is based on the informed conviction of UN Member States that indeed, this opportunity still exists, and that, furthermore, ocean science must play a central role in this process.
Ocean Decade Vision: ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’
Ocean Decade Mission: ‘to catalyse transformative ocean science solutions for sustainable development, connecting people and our ocean’
The Ocean Decade, officially launched on 1 January 2021, is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will bring together ocean actors across the world to foster the partnerships and generate the knowledge needed to support a well-functioning, productive, resilient, sustainable and inspiring ocean. In this way, the Ocean Decade may be considered a tool to help countries not only meet SDG 14, but many of the other SDGs that rely on the ocean.
Having celebrated its 60-year anniversary last year, the UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC) is proud to be coordinating the work of the Ocean Decade. The UNESCO-IOC has a long history as the lead UN body for ocean science and is uniquely placed to serve as a global unifier that can leverage and build on past experiences and partnerships so the Ocean Decade can deliver on its mission to ‘catalyze transformative and tangible ocean science solutions for sustainable development, reconnecting people to our ocean’.
The scale of this initiative is unprecedented, but it could not happen at a more critical time. Broad commitment has already been demonstrated at the highest level by 14 countries, whose heads of government or state are members of theHigh-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. TheOcean Decade Alliance, another group of leading institutions and individuals, have committed to generating a multiplier effect on resource mobilization for the Decade.
Throughout the Ocean Decade, partners around the world will come together at local, national, regional and global levels to co-design and co-deliver a wide range of Decade Actions to meet one or more of the ten Decade Challenges representing the most pressing needs of the Decade. Solutions will be diverse but could include new policies, management frameworks, innovations or technologies, training materials and more – all based on scientific data and knowledge.
Thefirst set of Decade Actionsare already beginning to flourish and grow. These include innovative programmes for state-of-the-art ocean science research on a broad range of issues which will serve as the first building blocks of the Decade, propelling action amongst ocean actors to generate more and improved ocean science and turn that knowledge into transformative solutions for sustainable development. More Decade Actions are in the pipeline and furtherCalls for Actionwill be held regularly throughout the Decade.
Countries have been setting up theirNational Decade Committeesand celebrating the start of national Decade Actions. For example, in Canada, Colombia, Japan and the United States, national stakeholders have been brought together – including UN entities, local authorities, private sector leaders, the NGO community – to introduce the vision of Decade and helped identify and engage a wide range of national key players wishing to contribute to the achievement of one or more Decade Challenges.
There are many ways ocean actors across the globe can become part of this knowledge revolution. I invite you to visit the Ocean Decade website and find out more about how you can join the movement for the ocean we want.
Researchers say ‘overexploitation of the Earth’ has seen many of its ‘vital signs’ deteriorate to record levels.
Thousands of scientists have repeated calls for urgent action to tackle the climate emergency, warning that several tipping points are now imminent.
The researchers, part of a group of more than 14,000 scientists who have signed on to an initiative declaring a worldwide climate emergency, said in an article published in the journal BioScience on Wednesday that governments had consistently failed to address “the overexploitation of the Earth”, which they described as the root cause of the crisis.
Since a similar assessment in 2019, they noted an “unprecedented surge” in climate-related disasters, including flooding in South America and Southeast Asia, record-shattering heatwaves and wildfires in Australia and the US, and devastating cyclones in Africa and South Asia.
For the study, scientists relied on “vital signs” to measure the health of the planet, including deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, glacier thickness and sea-ice extent and deforestation. Out of 31 signs, they found that 18 hit record highs or lows.
For example, despite a dip in pollution linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of atmospheric CO2 and methane hit all-time highs in 2021.
Greenland and Antarctica recently showed all-time low levels of ice mass and glaciers are melting 31-percent faster than they did just 15 years ago, the authors said.
Ocean heat and global sea levels set new records since 2019, and the annual loss rate of the Brazilian Amazon reached a 12-year high in 2020.
Echoing previous research, the researchers said forest degradation linked to fire, drought and logging was causing parts of the Brazilian Amazon to now act as a source of carbon, rather than absorb the gas from the atmosphere.
Livestock such as cows and sheep are now at record levels, numbering more than four billion and with a mass exceeding that of all humans and wild land mammals combined, they said.
‘Address the root cause’
Tim Lenton, the director of the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute and study co-author, said the recentrecord-breaking heat wavesin western United States and Canada showed that the climate had already begun to “behave in shocking, unexpected ways”.
“We need to respond to the evidence that we are hitting climate tipping points with equally urgent action to decarbonise the global economy and start restoring instead of destroying nature,” he said.
The researchers said there was “mounting evidence that we are nearing or have already crossed” a number of climate tipping points.
These include melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, which may now be irreversible on a centuries-long time scale, regardless of how or if the human race slashes its emissions.
They said increasing ocean deoxygenation and warming waters were threatening warm-water coral reefs, upon which half a billion people rely for food, income and storm protection.
“Given these alarming developments, we need short, frequent, and easily accessible updates on the climate emergency,” said the study.
The authors repeated previous calls for transformative change in six areas: eliminating fossil fuels, slashing pollutants, restoring ecosystems, switching to plant-based diets, moving away from indefinite growth models and stabilising the human population.
They also called for climate-change education to be included in school core curriculums globally in order to raise awareness of the issue.
In the immediate term, they proposed a trio of emergency responses to the climate emergency.
These consisted of “a significant carbon price”, a global phase-out and ban of fossil fuels, and the development of strategic climate reserves such as restoring and maintaining carbon sinks and biodiversity hot spots.
“We need to stop treating the climate emergency as a stand-alone issue – global heating is not the sole symptom of our stressed Earth system,” said William Ripple, a distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry.
“Policies to combat the climate crisis or any other symptoms should address their root cause: human overexploitation of the planet,” Ripple said.
He added: “We need to quickly change how we’re doing things, and new climate policies should be part of COVID-19 recovery plans wherever possible.”
The last century or so has seen substantial human impact on the planet. What does a better future look like, and what challenges must we overcome to reach it?
By Jack Neighbour
COVID-19 won’t pose an existential threat to humans, thanks to science and a record-breaking, high-speed development of effective vaccines. But there are still plenty of challenges that have the potential to affect each and every one of us, and some experts believe that our actions over the next 50 years will determine our survival through the next 10,000. Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic represents a bit of a factory reset in more ways than one: we’re at a pivotal moment—some might even call it a last chance—to do something about what is considered to be the single greatest threat to our future on this planet: climate change.
World-renowned naturalist David Attenborough calls climate change “the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced”―manyscientists and other experts agree with him. The challenge is global, and there’s no running from it: the 2020s are the decade in which we need to cut emissions by at least 45 percent to limit an overall global temperature increase to 1.5⁰ Celsius. Right now we are on track for a temperature increase over 3⁰ Celsius―more than double this critical number. The implications are catastrophic: mass extinctions, severe weather events, and food and freshwater insecurity. Coastal cities like Shanghai and Miami would cease to exist―simply swallowed up by rising seas. Events like this displace millions, crumble critical infrastructure, and exacerbate issues like hunger and inequality.
It all sounds very bleak, but it’s important to remember that these risks can be mitigated if we work together to act on climate change and its impacts. We’re already well on the way as more businesses, nations, and individuals seek to reduce carbon emissions and turn to renewable sources of energy per the Paris Agreement framework.
When it comes to transitioning from fossil fuels though, money does a lot of the talking. As economies begin to bounce back from the pandemic, more people are realizing the importance of investing in greener alternatives. As Anne Simpson, Managing Investment Director of Board Governance and Sustainability for the largest public pension fund in the U.S., the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), puts it, “The economic logic behind sustainability is what’s driving investors in this direction.” She believes that a business cannot function without a healthy ecosystem.
For a growing number of investors, climate change and sustainability top the list when it comes to responsible places to put their assets. So called “investor activism” makes good business sense, especially now that prices of renewable energy technologies are plunging. New advances are also set to save environmental―as well as financial―costs. After water, concrete is the most widely used substance in the world. It underpins our construction industries, but also creates so much Co2 during production that, if concrete were a country, it would trail only China and the U.S. in emissions. Now, researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts are using enzymes in human red blood cells to develop a “self-healing” concrete that repairs tiny cracks as soon as they appear. This reduces the need for replacement concrete and lowers the hefty tab that businesses―and the planet―have picked up in the past.
Fiscal sense aside, climate change and the widening inequality it creates call for more accountability from governments, companies, and individuals to ensure that the future is still a good place to live.