Despite an unremitting stream of warnings and studies we still are not doing what we must to protect the natural world and keep temperatures from warming beyond critical upper-temperature limits. We were warned about our impact on nature seven years ago in the GEO-5 report. Undeterred we continued to perpetrate genocide against nature. In 2012 scientists warned us that our oceans are dying but we did not respond. We have now decimated entire aquatic ecosystems and all around the world coral reefs are dead or dying.
We were warned not to surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial norms. We ignored these warnings and we keep pumping climate change-causing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at record-breaking rates. We are now at 1 degree C above preindustrial norms, two-thirds of the way to the point of no return.
Everyone from Stephen Hawkings to President Obama has warned us of the urgent need to act on climate change. The world’s leading scientific organizations have also repeatedly warned us about climate change. This includes the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Society, the Royal Institution, NASA, the US National Academy of Sciences, the US Geological Survey, and the national science bodies of dozens of countries.
We have amassed an unparalleled body of research that convincingly demonstrates we are on the cusp of an apocalypse. “By now, we know all we need to know” Anne Olhoff said recently. Olhoff is the head of strategy, climate and planning and policy for the UNEP DTU (Technical University of Denmark) Partnership. “The science is pretty clear and very frightening,” she said.
These warnings are not new. A half-century ago climate models accurately predicted global warming. A brief review of climate science shows us that we have known about the dangers of a warming planet since the 1950s. In the last couple of decades, scientists have added to these warnings. In 2006 the Stern Review warned us that we had to urgently reduce our emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. By 2012 dozens of studies made the case for anthropogenic climate change including a report from UNEP that warned that we are on the brink of a climate catastrophe. In 2013 The U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) report and an IPCC study reaffirmed that anthropogenic climate change is a real and growing problem.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) issued a climate warning in 2012 and so did the World Bank. We have seen countless scientific warnings including reports from PwC, AGU, and the WMO, all of which have told us that we are running out of time. Seven years ago the IEA and the WRI warned that we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Investors are continually being warned about the dangers of hydrocarbons and even oil companies have issued their own climate warnings. In fact, in the 1960s the fossil fuel industry’s own science revealed that they are causing global warming.
We fail to act despite the preponderance of economic evidence indicating that the benefits of climate action far outweigh the costs. According to the Global Energy Transformation report, there is 160 trillion dollars worth of savings from climate action. Five years ago the wisdom of action was explained in the Risky Business Report. Climate change has also been the hot topic at the World Economic Forum (WED) in Davos Switzerland.
In 2017 two scientific warnings stand out, the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) and an open letter from the Alliance of World Scientists. The letter is titled “Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” and it was published in BioScience. It was signed by more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries. It warned humanity about the dangers of climate change. The warning specifically said that humanity must change its ways in order to protect the planet. It specifically points to rising greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.
A 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study reaffirmed that we are teetering on the cusp of a man-made climate calamity. The IPCC report warned that governments must take urgent action to avoid “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. The report warned that by 2030 we will breech the upper threshold limit (1.5 C). A 2019 IPCC report warned that we are seeing accelerated ice melt and sea-level rise.
In 2019, more than 10,000 scientists from 153 countries declared a “climate emergency”. The study is called “World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency”. The seriousness of the threat was addressed by biologist Jesse Bellemare who said “the climate crisis is real, and is a major, even existential, threat to human societies.” Bellemare is an associate professor of biology at Smith College who is a signatory of the study’s emergency declaration.
Researchers have warned us that we are facing the end of civilization. The well-documented effects of catastrophic warming include cataclysmic flooding from sea level rise, more frequent and devastating extreme weather, massive wildfires, and chronic food shortages. But there may be an even worse fate awaiting us in a world ravaged by runaway climate change. Simply put, if we fail to act we are headed for a horrific disaster that will adversely impact life on Earth.
Climate change is here and the only question that remains is just how bad it will get. That is still up to us, but with each passing year, we ebb ever closer to tipping points from which we may not be able to recover. The window of opportunity to act is closing and the longer we wait the harder it will be.