It’s not the end of the world. Although it seems so.
Climate change is going to get worse. However pessimistic the latest scientific studies, including Monday’s United Nations report, are, scientists agree that it is possible to combat global warming.
Science says that the time has not come for planet Earth or for humanity. Steps can be taken to prevent the worst by acting early, they say.
After decades of trying to raise public awareness, mobilize governments to take action and crack down on sectors that don’t believe in science, researchers say they must fight a new battle: “fatalism.” The feeling that there is nothing to do and that there is no point in trying to contain the warming. It is the reason why many young people say they are not going to have children.
Jacquelyn Gill, a scientist at the University of Maine, noted in 2018 that fewer and fewer people tell her that climate change is not real and more, “to whom we call ‘fatalists,’ who believe that there is nothing to do anymore ” to save the planet.
Gill claims that this is not true.
“I refuse to write an obituary for something that is still alive,” Gill told the Associated Press, referring to Earth. “We have not reached a point of no return. But it’s hard to make people understand.”
Fatalism “is definitely a real phenomenon,” said Wooster College psychology professor Susan Clayton, who studies anxiety states associated with climate change. “It’s a way of saying, ‘no action is needed because there is nothing to do’.”
Gill and six other scientists who spoke to the Associated Press about “fatalism” do not deny the damage that the accumulation of gases causes to the climate. But they insist that the situation is not hopeless.
“Everyone knows things are going to get worse,” said Jennifer Francis of the Woodwell Climate Research Center. “We can do many things to avoid reaching the worst possible scenario.”
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just issued its third report in six months. The first two focused on how bad warming is and the damage it causes to people and ecosystems, while Monday’s report explains how imbalances depend on the amount of fossil fuels we burn. It indicates that the world continues to go in the wrong direction in its fight against climate change, with new investments in infrastructure to exploit fossil fuels and more deforestation to cultivate the land.
“They are not saying that we are doomed to a future of destruction and increasing misery,” said Christiana Figueres, a former secretary of the UN climate panel, which helped craft the 2015 Paris climate agreement and who now heads an organization called Global Optimism. “What they are saying is that ‘the current path is an atlas of misery’, towards increasing destruction. But we don’t have to choose that. That is the element that is always left out of the conversation.”
The director of the United Nations Environment Program Inger Andersen said that reports like this try to encourage the world to do something to mitigate what science describes as a crisis. At the same time, we do not want to paralyze people, thinking that everything is lost.
“We are not doomed, but it is vital to act quickly,” Andersen said. “Every month, or every year that passes and we don’t do something, climate change becomes more complex, more expensive and more difficult to solve.”
“The message we have is that human activities created this problem and that humans can solve it,” said James Skea, one of the authors of Monday’s report. “All is not lost. We can still do something.”
“We’re not talking about the end of civilization,” said Michael Mann, a scientist at Pennsylvania State University.
But he maintained that “fatalism” represents a worse threat than that of those who deny that there is global warming that compromises the future of the planet. He believes that some of the people, organizations and companies that used to deny climate change are now promoting the theory that it is too late to contain it.
Mann maintains a publicized confrontation with Guy McPherson, who taught ecology at the University of Arizona, now retired and one of the leaders of the fatalist movement.
McPherson says he’s not part of any monetary system, hasn’t been paid for 13 years, hasn’t voted and lives on his own for a decade. He stated that all species are becoming extinct and that humans are no exception. He predicted that humanity will be extinct in 2026, although in an interview with the Associated Press he said that “2026 is not a fixed date.” He spoke of 2030 and changes in the habitat of humans due to the loss of ice in the Arctic.
Francis, the Woodwells Center expert who is a pioneer in the study of Arctic ice and whom McPherson admires, said that while there will be no ice in the Arctic by the summer of 2050, McPherson exaggerates the effects of that phenomenon. People in the area will be hit hard, while “the rest of us will experience accelerating warming and rising seas, mismatched weather events and extreme weather, but most communities will adapt one way or another.”
“Under no circumstances can it be said that the human race will be extinct by 2026,” Francis said.
It might already be impossible to prevent the Arctic from being ice-free during the summers, but with new technologies and a reduction in emissions, Francis believes, “we have a real chance of preventing other catastrophic scenarios.”
Clayton said that “no matter how bad things get, they could always be worse.”
“A bad thing is not the same as the worst possible possibility. That’s very reassuring.”
Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin.
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