In a year characterized by unusually high flooding, scorching heatwaves, wildfires and deadly avalanches, the climate emergency’s huge cost — whether quantified in lost resources or human lives — is all too evident.
A team of researchers headed by William J. Ripple and Christopher Wolf, both from Oregon State University, refurbished their remarkable 2019 “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” with new data related to the climate’s health. However, the updates are not too good. The study was published in the BioScience journal.
The use of fossil fuels reduced slightly in 2020 — a broadly predicted result of the COVID-19 pandemic — but the researchers state that carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane “have all set new year-to-date records for atmospheric concentrations in both 2020 and 2021.”
Moreover, numerous tracked planetary vital signs, which reflect metrics like ocean heat content, sea-level rise and ice mass, have also set alarming records. Yet, there are a few positive aspects, such as fossil fuel subsidies plummeting to a record low and fossil fuel divestment making a record high.
“The updated planetary vital signs we present largely reflect the consequences of unrelenting business as usual. A major lesson from COVID-19 is that even colossally decreased transportation and consumption are not nearly enough and that, instead, transformational system changes are required,” states Ripple, Wolf, and associates.
The researchers note that only intense changes in human behavior can overcome the challenges of the existing climate emergency. Besides other recommendations, the researchers emphasize the need for a substantial global carbon price, the phase-out and eventual ban of fossil fuels, as well as the creation of global strategic climate reserves to protect and restore natural carbon sinks and biodiversity.
The researchers reiterate the need for climate education to be included in school curricula to reinforce climate awareness and encourage students to undertake the most required climate action.
Ripple, Wolf and associates end with a revived call for global collaboration to induce fundamental change.
“Policies to alleviate the climate crisis or any of the other threatened planetary boundary transgressions should not be focused on symptom relief but on addressing their root cause: the overexploitation of the Earth,” they added.
Only by addressing the fundamental cause, the researchers propose, will it be possible to “ensure the long-term sustainability of human civilization and give future generations the opportunity to thrive.”
Ripple, W. J., et al. (2021) World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency 2021. BioScience. doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biab079.