Only immediate climate action can save the future. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.
Now is not the time for inaction and diversion. Humans must directly tackle this most serious and intractable problem.
Why do we not respond to the crisis?
Today we are faced with multiple interrelated crises. For example, the threat of catastrophic climate change or equally catastrophic thermonuclear war, as well the threat of widespread famine. These threats to human existence and to the biosphere demand a prompt and rational response; but because of institutional and cultural inertia, we are failing to take the steps that are necessary to avoid disaster.
Only immediate action can save the future
Immediate action to halt the extraction of fossil fuels and greatly reduce the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses is needed to save the long-term future of human civilization and the biosphere.
At the opening ceremony of United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Katowice, Poland, (COP24), Sir David Attenborough, a renowned environmentalist worldwide, spoke honestly and directly about this grave problem.
“Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest in thousands of years. Climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now.”
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, said climate change was already “a matter of life and death” for many countries. He added that the world is “nowhere near where it needs to be” on the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Swedish student Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old who has launched a climate protest movement in her country.
She said, in a short but very articulate speech after that of UN leader Antonio Guterres:
“Some people say that I should be in school instead. Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can ‘solve the climate crisis’. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions.”
She added: “Why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly mean nothing to our society?”
Thunberg continued: “Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So we can’t save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed.”
She concluded by saying that “since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.”
Our responsibility to future generations and the biosphere
All of the technology needed for the replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy is already in place. In 2016, they supplied 24 per cent of electric generation energy, increasing by about 6%. And they are growing rapidly. Because of the remarkable properties of exponential growth, this will mean that renewables will soon become a major supplier of the world’s energy requirements — despite bitter opposition from the fossil fuel industry.
Both wind and solar energy can now compete economically with fossil fuels. This situation will become even more pronounced if more countries put a tax on carbon emissions, as Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Costa Rica, the United Kingdom and Ireland already have done.
Much research and thought have also been devoted to the concept of a steady-state economy. The only thing that is lacking is political will. It is up to the people of the world to make their collective will felt.
History has given to our generation an enormous responsibility towards future generations. We must achieve a new kind of economy, a steady-state economy. We must stabilise the global population. We must replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. We must abolish nuclear weapons. We must end the institution of war.
We must reclaim democracy in our own countries when it has been lost. We must replace nationalism by a just system of international law. We must prevent the degradation of the earth’s environment. We must act with dedication and fearlessness to save the future of the earth for human civilization and for the plants and animals with which we share the gift of life.
Hope: We can still change
Here is what Greta Thunberg says about hope:
“And yes, we do need hope. Of course, we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then and only then, hope will come today.”
John Scales Avery is a theoretical chemist at the University of Copenhagen. He is noted for his books and research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. Since 1990 he has been the Chairman of the Danish National Group of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (Nobel Peace Prize, 1995).