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Thousands of scientists around the world unite to push for declaration of climate emergency

Jack Gramenz, November 6, 2019 6:45PM news.com.au

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Activists hold placards before a march through downtown Los Angeles, US, during a climate change rally where teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg addressed the crowd on November 01, 2019. Picture: AFP media_cameraActivists hold placards before a march through downtown Los Angeles, US, during a climate change rally where teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg addressed the crowd on November 01, 2019. Picture: AFP

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Eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel companies, restoring forests, eating more plants and wasting less food, having fewer children and abandoning an obsession with economic growth are among the recommendations from a new report cosigned by thousands of scientists warning of a climate emergency.

11,263 scientists from 153 countries have joined together to endorse* the declaration of a climate emergency, offering six clear measures they believe could avoid “untold* human suffering” as a result of climate change.

The group said the declaration is based on the scientific analysis of more than 40 years of publicly available data on energy use, surface temperature, population growth, land clearing, deforestation, polar ice mass, fertility rates, GDP* and carbon emissions from around the world.

Forest destruction at the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve in Aceh media_cameraThe former peatlands of the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve in Trumon, South Aceh, Indonesia, which were illegally cleared. Picture: Junaidi Hanafiah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It provides what the coalition calls “six clear measures” where immediate steps must be made to slow down the pace of climate change, relating to energy, pollution, land use, food, the global economy, and population.

Scientists deliver six clear measures for climate emergency action

ENCOURAGING SIGNS
While they said the planet is facing a climate emergency, they concede* getting governments to act is going to be tricky, and will involve “transforming the ways we govern, manage, eat, and fulfil material and energy requirements”, but there have been some signs of progress.

“We are encouraged by a recent global surge of concern. Governmental bodies are making climate emergency declarations. Schoolchildren are striking. Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding in the courts. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change, and many countries, states and provinces, cities, and businesses are responding,” the paper reads.

CITIZENS’ RIGHTS TO PROTEST
While governments and businesses around the world are responding to climate-concerned boycotts* and protests, Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announced he wants to prevent Australians exercising their right to engage in similar action, though how the government plans to do so remains to be seen, if such a practice ever actually eventuates*.

University of Sydney school of environment and life sciences’ Dr Thomas Newsome, one of the lead authors of the warning, is one of many Australians who have voiced opposition to Mr Morrison’s proposal.

“I think the growing concern about inaction to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is causing people to speak out in many different ways. Peaceful protesting and joining the strikes is one way to send a message, and people have the right to do so,” Dr Newsome said.

Hundreds of thousands of school children left school in September to call for action on climate change as part of global strikes. media_cameraHundreds of thousands of schoolchildren left school in September to call for action on climate change as part of global strikes.

Dr Newsome is one of five scientists from the University of Sydney, Oregon State University, University of Cape Town and Tufts University who authored the warning, published today in the journal BioScience.

“From the data we have it’s clear we are facing a climate emergency,” Dr Newsome said. “Scientists have a moral* obligation to warn humanity of any great threat,” he added, though he also sought to avoid being dismissed as yet another doomsayer*.

University of Sydney's Dr Thomas Newsome co-authored the warning with four other scientists from around the world. media_cameraUniversity of Sydney’s Dr Thomas Newsome co-authored the warning with four other scientists from around the world.

‘NOT HOPELESS’
“While things are bad, all is not hopeless. We can take steps to address the climate emergency,” Dr Newsome said.

“Some people may not think they can make a difference, but lots of small changes can inspire larger scale shifts in policy* and economic frameworks,” he added.

“Because the impacts of climate change are becoming more obvious and damaging, for example record heatwaves and increasing extreme weather events, it is likely that people will start to pay more attention and urge governments, policymakers and the business community to take action,” Dr Newsome said.

But there’s more to measure than just the temperature of the Earth, and Dr Newsome said a “broader set of indicators should be monitored, including human population growth, meat consumption, tree-cover loss, energy consumption, fossil-fuel subsidies and annual economic losses to extreme weather events”.

SCIENTISTS REPEAT CALL FOR ACTION
Oregon State University college of forestry Professor William Ripple, another lead author on the study, said scientists are sick of being ignored.

“Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have generally conducted business as usual and are essentially failing to address this crisis … climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

An aerial image of a drought affected farm in Queensland, where 66 per cent of the state has been drought declared. media_cameraAn aerial image of a drought affected farm in Queensland, where 66 per cent of the state has been drought declared.

In 1979, scientists from 50 countries met at the World Climate Conference in Geneva, a conference that was repeated in 1990 and again in 2009, and are among a number that have resulted in calls for action.

The report said that despite this, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, along with an increase in per capita* meat consumption and the number of airline passengers, as well as increased losses in global tree coverage, which reduces the Earth’s capability* to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Oregon-based non-profit The Worthy Garden Club in the US, a collective of businesses, energy specialists, agriculturists, scientists, and astronomers, provided partial support for the research.

A rigger working on a 3200 panel solar farm in the Northern Territory helps the growth of renewable energy sources that scientists say are key to mitigating climate change. media_cameraA rigger working on a 3200 panel solar farm in the Northern Territory helps the growth of renewable energy sources that scientists say are key to limiting climate change.

SCIENTISTS’ “SIX CLEAR MEASURES” TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE

  • ENERGY: Implement* massive conservation practices; replace fossil fuels with clean renewables; leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground; eliminate subsidies to fossil fuel companies; and impose carbon fees that are high enough to restrain the use of fossil fuels.
  • SHORT-LIVED POLLUTANTS: Swiftly cut emissions of methane, hydrofluorocarbons, soot and other short-lived climate pollutants. This has the potential to reduce the short-term warming trend by more than 50 per cent over the next few decades.
  • NATURE: Restrain massive land clearing. Restore and protect ecosystems such as forests, grasslands and mangroves, which would greatly contribute to the sequestration* of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas.
  • FOOD: Eat mostly plants and consume fewer animal products. This dietary shift would significantly reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases and free up agricultural lands for growing human food rather than livestock feed. Reducing food waste is also critical – the scientists say at least one-third of all food produced ends up as garbage.
  • ECONOMY: Convert the economy’s reliance on carbon fuels to address human dependence on the biosphere*. Shift goals away from the growth of gross domestic product and the pursuit of affluence*. Curtail* the extraction of materials and exploitation of ecosystems to maintain long-term biosphere sustainability.
  • POPULATION: Stabilise global population, which is increasing by more than 200,000 people a day, using approaches that ensure social and economic justice.

GLOSSARY

  • endorse: put your name to in support of
  • untold: too much or too many to be counted or measured
  • GDP: Gross Domestic Product, the value of all goods made or grown in a certain time period
  • concede: admit
  • boycotts: stop doing something or going somewhere to protest
  • eventuate: come about, happen
  • moral: to do with right and wrong
  • doomsayer: pessimist
  • policy: an organisation’s plans for the future
  • per capita: per person in a population
  • capability: ability to do something
  • implement: put into action
  • sequestration: taking a substance (such as carbon) from the atmosphere and trapping it elsewhere, such as within plants or the soil
  • biosphere: global network of all living things and their interaction with the soil and rock, air, water
  • affluence: wealth

EXTRA READING

Climate change: what it means for Australians

Plant a trillion trees to pause climate change

Protesting extinction is as old as the dinosaurs

Kids feeling eco-anxiety about plastic waste

Antarctic ice melting faster than expected

QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many scientists from how many countries have cosigned this paper?
  2. What have the scientists been encouraged by recently?
  3. What has the Prime Minister said recently, mentioned in the story, that is concerning to Dr Newsome?
  4. What happened in Geneva in 1979?
  5. What do the scientists recommend we do about land clearing?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. What can you do?
Think about the six measures recommended by the scientists. Use them to help you to write a list of everyday things that you and your school can do to help.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Geography, Civics and Citizenship, Personal and Social Capability

2. Extension
You have read in the story that our Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to prevent people from taking action against climate change.

What do you think about this? Write to the Prime Minister explaining why you agree or disagree with this statement. Remember to give lots of reasons and evidence to make your letter very convincing.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Geography, Science, Civics and Citizenship

VCOP ACTIVITY
6 Clear Measures
Make a poster to help represent the 6 clear measures where immediate steps must be made to slow down the pace of climate change.

You can label the poster or use pictures to help represent the 6 categories.

Make it as clear as possible so people understand the easy changes they can start making immediately.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What measure can you take to address climate change? Do you think people should protest to call for action on climate change?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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