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World Scientist's Warning of a Climate Emergency
Summary and commentary by Arthur Dahl
President, International Environment Forum
An international group of leading scientists has been issuing warnings for thirty years of our growing environmental crises. After a "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" in 1992, the Alliance of World Scientists (https://scientistswarning.forestry.oregonstate.edu/) issued a "World Scientists’ Warning: Second Notice" in 2017, and a "Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency" in 2019 (https://www.scientistswarning.org/), documenting the catastrophic trends in the world leading to a climate emergency and the need for rapid action. I was one of nearly fourteen thousand scientists in 158 countries to have signed up to that call, but it has not yet had much impact. At the end of July 2021, the authors have repeated their warning of a climate emergency, updating their data to show that most trends are still in the wrong direction. Click here for their full paper with all the graphs.
Among the worrying planetary vital signs, the number of ruminant livestock passed 4 billion, forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon accelerated to become a carbon source instead of a carbon sink, global GDP dipped during the pandemic but is expected to reach an all-time high, the reductions in fossil fuel use and air travel during the pandemic appear to be transient, greenhouse gases have set new concentration records in the atmosphere, 2020 was the second hottest year on record, and melting of Greenland, polar and glacier ice, and ocean heat content and sea level rise, have set new records.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as serious as it is, was not enough to affect the climate crisis. To respond to the climate emergency, the scientists call for immediate action to change course in six areas: (1) energy, eliminating fossil fuels and shifting to renewables; (2) short-lived air pollutants, slashing black carbon (soot), methane, and hydrofluorocarbons; (3) nature, restoring and permanently protecting Earth’s ecosystems to store and accumulate carbon and restore biodiversity; (4) food, switching to mostly plant-based diets, reducing food waste, and improving cropping practices; (5) economy, moving from indefinite GDP growth and overconsumption by the wealthy to ecological economics and a circular economy, in which prices reflect the full environmental costs of goods and services; and (6) human population, stabilizing and gradually reducing the population by providing voluntary family planning and supporting education and rights for all girls and young women. All transformative climate action should focus on social justice for all by prioritizing basic human needs and reducing inequality.
Why has the world not listened to the scientists? The warning could not be clearer, and as the recent IPCC report has shown, the evidence is overwhelming that the climate catastrophe is already underway. Bahá'u'lláh warned over a hundred years ago that material civilization carried to excess would be as great a source of evil as it had been of good when kept within the bounds of moderation. Our present economic system is in total contradiction to that concept, and in particular the lifestyle of the affluent. The UN and many leaders of thought have called for a fundamental transformation in society, but it is clear that science is not enough to motivate that. We need a fundamental change in values, which only a spiritual or religious renewal can bring about, and that is what the Bahá'ís are working towards from the grass-roots up, community by community, all around the world. As the climate emergency accelerates, let us hope that the renewal of civilization on new foundations can ultimately save us from the worst.
Last updated 22 August 2021