This widespread failure to act on the existential threat posed by climate change has prompted more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries to sign a “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” declaration. Published independently of the climate pledge report, the declaration begins: “Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and ‘tell it like it is.’”
While climate skeptics and deniers often accuse scientists of exaggerating the threats associated with the climate crisis, the available evidence suggests the opposite. By and large, scientists have either been right in their assessments, or have been unduly conservative ( Dale Jamieson, Michael Oppenheimer and Naomi Oreskes )
Universities pride themselves on preparing students for a bright future. But with the climate in crisis, where disasters of “unprecedented” scale and impact become the new normal, what future will our students have? As we face environmental degradation and biodiversity losses of unimaginable proportions, universities and other educational institutions’ priorities should be adequately preparing their students and staff for increasingly challenging times. Climate change and ecological destruction affect all parts of life including what we need or value the most, such as water, food, ecosystems, wildlife, safety, shelter, energy, transportation, health, communities and the economy. The basic human needs of many, in particular those who are the most vulnerable, are already in jeopardy. Dealing with climate-induced conflicts, mass migration, health impacts, economic costs and environmental degradation represent challenges of extraordinary proportions. There is simply no greater challenge than addressing the ecological and climate emergency and universities owe it to their students to be at the forefront of these issues ( Jean S. Renouf, Michael E. Mann , John Cook , Christopher Wright , Will Steffen , Patrick Nunn, Pauline Dube, Jean Jouzel , Stephan Lewandowsky, Anne Poelina and Katherine Richardson).
The new Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comes during a week when the world is fixated on what many now call the climate crisis. The planet has already warmed 1°C since preindustrial times, and July was the hottest month in the modern record. The report stresses that the watery parts of the planet are already entering a new state. After 0.2 meters of sea level rise since the late 1800s, some coastal cities flood routinely during high tides. With the Arctic warming at double the global rate, sea ice is in rapid decline, causing severe disruption to Indigenous communities and wildlife. “There are changes in the ocean we can’t stop,” says Nerilie Abram, a report author and paleoclimatologist at Australian National University in Canberra.
Like all IPCC reports, this week’s assessment reflects only science submitted for publication, which means it is already out of date. In a study due out later this year, for example, a team led by Schuur estimated that the rapid collapse of some permafrost landscapes as they thaw could increase emissions from permafrost by 50%. Nor could the current report draw on next-generation climate models developed for the next major IPCC report, due in 2021. Most of those models forecast faster warming than their predecessors. Robert DeConto, a glaciologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, calls their omission “a little bit frustrating. ” (Paul Voosen, staff writer who covers Earth and planetary science )
As the planet warms, diverse ecosystems—from mountain glaciers to the icy Arctic to the oceans—are already seeing dangerous effects from climate change. Future warming will threaten food supplies, force the migration of countless species and dramatically change the icy regions of the world. The changes are coming. How much is up to us, scientists warn in a new report released Wednesday by the United Nations (Sabrina Shankman).
“It’s bad, and it’s going to get much, much worse—that’s the bottom line. But it’s not hopeless,” said Jane Lubchenco, a former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and an environmental scientist at Oregon State, who served as a reviewer for the IPCC report. “If we move, then it’s not hopeless.”
“It’s important to note that the costs of biodiversity loss are more dramatic for people in the developing world, since they tend to be more reliant on natural resources in their immediate environments. For example, in many poor countries, local fish are a crucial source of cheap protein. So when marine ecosystems are disturbed — by either overfishing or pollution — people are in serious trouble” (Shahid Naeem, Chair of Columbia’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology)
Climate change is projected to drive up hunger rates, malnutrition, and child stunting. But we’d be kidding ourselves if we think this is just a matter of not having enough food to eat. It also has serious implications for global political stability. Regions affected by food shortages will see mass displacement as people migrate to more arable parts of the planet or in search of stable food supplies. In fact, it’s happening already. Many of the people fleeing places like Guatemala and Somalia right now are doing so because their farms are no longer viable. (Jason Hickel, Foreing Policy).
“Think of the Earth’s temperature as a bell curve, Climate change is shifting the bell curve toward the hotter end of the temperature scale, making extreme-heat events more likely.” (Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University)
The collapse of Pine Island and Thwaites in Antartida could happen faster or slower, I don’t think we really know yet, but it’s within the realm of possibility, and that’s kind of a scary thing (Jeremy Bassis, a leading ice sheet scientist at the University of Michigan).
“Stretching across a frozen plain more than 150 miles long, these glaciers, named Pine Island and Thwaites, have marched steadily for millennia toward the Amundsen Sea, part of the vast Southern Ocean. Further inland, the glaciers widen into a two-mile-thick reserve of ice covering an area the size of Texas. There’s no doubt this ice will melt as the world warms. The vital question is when. The glaciers of Pine Island Bay are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica. (A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites “The Doomsday Glacier.”) Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour 11 feet of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans — an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today” (Eric Holthaus).
“The idea that economic growth can continue forever on a finite planet is the unifying faith of industrial civilization. That it is nonsensical in the extreme, a deluded fantasy, doesn’t appear to bother us. We hear the holy truth in the decrees of elected officials, in the laments of economists about flagging GDP, in the authoritative pages of opinion, in the whirligig of advertising, at the World Bank and on Wall Street, in the prospectuses of globe-spanning corporations and in the halls of the smallest small-town chambers of commerce. Growth is sacrosanct. Growth will bring jobs and income, which allow us entry into the state of grace known as affluence, which permits us to consume more, providing more jobs for more people producing more goods and services so that the all-mighty economy can continue to grow. “Growth is our idol, our golden calf,” Herman Daly, an economist known for his anti-growth heresies, told me recently” (Christofer Ketcham)