Time for scientists to march

“Time for politicians to act”, said the scientists three decades years ago. But politicians didn’t think it was time. As this blogpost documents, through more than half a century, we – humanity – have chosen to ignore the warnings about global warming from our scientists. To procrastinate. To wait and see.

Actually, already in 1912, a New Zealand newspaper warned that our ongoing air pollution from burning coal turns our climate into a ticking time bomb.

In 2017, the scientists have finally had enough. The time to act really is running out. To get the politicians’ attention, on 22 April 2017 the scientists will come out of their laboratories and universities and take to the streets in cities around the world to March for Science.

They’ll need us – concerned citizens – to be there and simply with our presence show the media’s camera eyes – and through them, the parliamentarians – that we share the scientists’ concern and we support the work that our scientists are doing to keep us in the loop.

As 4,000 scientists noted in a joint statement in 1992: we must reject decisions which are supported by pseudo-scientific arguments or false and non-relevant data.

I put this blogpost together in an attempt to explain to some of my friends why they will see me on those streets on Earth Day, and why I hope they will join me.

We live in a critical period of human history where it is time to stand up and be counted – that’s what the March for Science on 22 April 2017 is about.

Looking back

All at the same time, I believe reminding ourselves of the history – of how scientists have been speaking up about global warming through one generation after the next – needs to be more broadly understood and known.

Ireland allegedly just became the world’s first country to stop investing in fossil fuels. In 2017 that is! We must ask ourselves: Why on earth – when we have had UN Climate Conferences on the topic in more than 20 years – did it take that long before the first country passed some legislation in favour of dropping coal, oil and gas investments?

The possible explanations that question follow below.

A lot more can be said and documented on this topic – and if you notice something you think I’ve missed, please let me know.

March For Science Australia is part of a global event advocating for robust funding and support of science on Earth Day, 22 April 2017. The organisers are currently seeking organisational partnerships and endorsements. The first Earth Day in 1970, with its marches and teach-ins, was science-inspired.

March for Science Melbourne starts at 1pm on Saturday 22 April at the State Library of Victoria.

 [CLIMATIC ROOT TREATMENT]  is a series of blogposts seeking to uncover and understand the deeper roots of society’s problems with taking appropriate action on the climate emergency, and to explore the advantages we could see once the action sets in.

“The [fossil fuel] industry thinks we are all fools, so all I can say is dig deep, find the facts, knowledge is power.”

~ Damian Marchant from Frack Free Moriac

We can’t say we haven’t been warned

We must stop burning of coal, oil and gas, or we will be in trouble, scientists warned the American president. That was back in 1965. The people who heard the president talk about it looked at each other, some with surprise, others with concern, and then they did – nothing.

20 years passed with more and more talk, scientific studies and meteorological measurements, but not so much else.

In 1988, the magazine New Scientist published an article saying ‘Time for politicians to act’. With our unregulated air pollution we are creating an ever-growing climate monster, and it is up to our politicians to ensure we get this growth under control, or else… things could get dramatically out of hand for us, our entire civilisation could get wiped out. So it’s time to act: stop polluting the air before it is too late. The scientists didn’t phrase it exactly like that, of course – but this was the general message they delivered.


The 1988-report ‘The Greenhouse Effect: Issues for policy makers’ stressed that “although the developed countries consume four-fifths of the fossil fuels burnt each year, less-developed contries will be most vulnerable to the ill effects of global warming, such as rising sea levels.”

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In his US presidential campaign, George H. W. Bush announced that same year that, if he was elected, “We will talk about global warming… and we will act.” The politicians who were listening to Bush at that time must have looked at each other and thought, wow! – but then, again, they did – nothing. And Bush of course didn’t keep his election promise either.

1990s: The Lying Game kicks off
In 1991, Shell published a 28-minute film, ‘Climate of Concern’, about the problem with our CO2 emissions, and then… they did nothing. Not surprisingly, they quickly got the geni back in the bottle, shelved the film and then instead began funding university scholars who would claim that the burning of coal, oil and gas was not at all something we should be concerned about. Other major oil companies started doing the same.

Enter The Lying Game, today also known as the Fake News syndrome, with Donald Trump giving it extra fame, because we have not been used to seeing presidents outright lie in the open while everybody’s listening. Fake news wasn’t invented by Trump – it is a global phenomena driven by social media, and in fact it is nothing but the well-known and old-fashioned concept of propaganda, only now it has been disguised by and fine-tuned to the new pier-to-pier communication technologies.

The Lying Game was invented and financed to cover up the underlying, immoral act of profiting from knowingly wrecking our climate – the most widespread Greed Crime of all times – which, among other things, has locked pollution and destruction of nature in as the norm in our industrialised societies, even though the reality is it causes havoc and deaths and should be condemned as a crime against humanity.

Source: maxgustafson.se
Cartoon by Max Gustafson

In 1992 in an address to the chiefs of state and governments 46 prominent scientists and other intellectuals endorsed by further 4,000 scientists, including 72 Nobel Prize winners, declared that they wished to make their “full contribution to the preservation of our common heritage, the Earth” and “forewarn the authorities in charge of our planet’s destiny against decisions which are supported by pseudo-scientific arguments or false and non-relevant data.”

The Lying Game obviously was a question of survival for one of the most lucrative and wealthy industies on the planet. Lying became big business. It is what has enabled fossil fuel companies to become richer than entire countries, it has increased luxury and power to the richest one per cent of the population, and enabled just eight wealthy men to own more than what half of the human population owns.

30 years more passed. The fossil fuels industry’s trick with their Lying Game worked as intended: The many discussions back and forth about whether or not to “believe” in climate science increasingly became a political blockage. The politician’s willingness to act disappeared. Even talking about the issue – in particular during election periods – was no longer an option. Too complicated. Politicians in the major parties considered the topic too hard for voters to even think about. Just leave it out.

Fossilt missbruksbeteende
[Sign on building: ‘Addiction clinic — energy transition — support og help’] … “Let me go! I can stop whenever I want! My consumption is not harmful!” … “The hardest part is the denial.” Cartoon by Max Gustafson

Silencing the ‘alarmists’
Many more reports and studies, ‘time to act’-articles, films and rising temperature graphs later, a majority of people simply blocked off, following their elected leaders’ poor example. The concept of ‘fake news’ is often described as an entirely new phenomena of our time, but really, it has been around since the invention of the paper press. Truth is what you choose to believe. The only thing new is that social media makes it a lot easier to avoid ever getting confronted with the reality of science. Opinions fill the space.

In order to continue living as the fossil fuel industry had set it all up for us – enabling us to consume and burn their coal, oil and gas as if we were addicted to it – people would avoid eye contact with any scientist, any climate-concerned neighbour or nephew, and in order to keep them at a distance, they would label them with expressions such as ‘alarmists’, ‘greenies’, ‘radical environmentalists’, or ‘treehuggers’.

Propaganda is based on irresponsibility and repetition. Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt, allegedly “Australia’s most read columnist”, excells at that. He has repeated the same disinformation about global warming being a hoax for years. On 13 March 2017, he did it again.

In 2013, 520 scientists in 44 countries sent a ‘Message to world leaders’, reminding them that “ultimate monetary costs for climate mitigation and adaptation grow substantially each year action is postponed.”

“There is a lot of new and alarming scientific insight about the environmental changes currently taking place and how this is profoundly affecting humanity. How we mitigate and manage these interacting environmental impacts will determine whether or not human quality of life declines over the next few decades,” explained one of the signatories, Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, US.

Looking the other way
Scientists who didn’t want to be seen as ‘alarmists’ got more and more silent. Talking about climate change became a social taboo. And when at rare occasions we did talk about climate change, we would tend to talk about it as a ‘natural disaster’ or as if it were some freak of nature. In that way people could conveniently forget how the problem got around in the first place. They could suppress that the climate disruption is a result of deliberate decisions made by human beings – predominantly wealthy men in suits – who knew what was coming and then, even so, decided to ignore it and create confusion about it.

Over the last 25 years, this game has been running quietly under the radar of media and public attention, culminating with the industry’s official hijacking of legislative powers in countries such as Australia and the United States, where federal governments are busy removing regulations on carbon pollution, restricting clean energy development, and boosting production of the dirtiest fuels.

Just as outrageous we think it is that the German people in the 1930s simply looked the other way when they heard what was being done to the German Jews, we also somehow have found a way to collectively suppress the fact that year after year, millions and more millions of people around the world are dying – getting violently and tragically killed – as a direct consequence not of any ‘natural forces’ but of those executive board room decisions made in the 1990s.

In the world as it looks today, it is important to remember this: it is not climate change which is our enemy and which threatens our livelihood and our future. It is not ‘nature’, as the Australian Prime Minister said in a statement on national tv on 3 April 2017: “Right through New South Wales and Queenland we have seen nature flinging her worst at Australians,” he said.

Wrong, Malcolm Turnbull – and you know this very well, because in 2010 in Sydney, you were the one to tell us that we had zero carbon budget remaining:

“Our response to climate change must be guided by science. The science tells us that we have already exceeded the safe upper limit for atmospheric carbon dioxide. We are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we’ve got.”
Malcolm Turnbull, 2010

Speaking at the Deakins on the Politics of Climate Change in 2010, Malcolm Turnbull also said:

“Climate change is real, it is affecting us now, and it is having a particularly severe impact on Australia. And yet, right now, we have every resource available to us to meet the challenge of climate change except for one: and that is leadership. Our efforts to deal with climate change have been betrayed by a lack of leadership, a political cowardice the like of which I have never seen in my lifetime before.”

Well, there is one coward politician for you, like so many others of them. Seven years later, after becoming the country’s leader as Prime Minister, Australians have seen Turnbull manage to turn lack of climate action leadership and political cowardice into a brand for his parliamentarian so-called “leadership”.

The bottom line is: Climate change is not a natural phenomena, so don’t think of it that way. It is man-made. Made by people like Turnbull himself.

CEOs and politicians who have decided to ignore the scientists’ warnings and bring on the climate havoc – they are the ones we must hold to account. The media ought to be able to do that, but apparently they have been instructed not to do that. Which means it really is up to us, the ordinary members of the community, to hold them to account. And the same goes for those media communicators and editors who keep carrying their disinformation and lies out to the public.

Pogo on Earth Day 1971: “Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.”

So this is about us. Expressed in poetry, Prince Ea puts it this way:

Playing with fire
While the climatic havoc now confronts us and threatens our livelihoods with destructive weather events, tornados, heat waves, bush fires, droughts and flooding, with melting of poles and gletchers, rising sea levels, killing of coral reefs, extinction of species and many other serious and existential threats, you would have thought that journalists would be the ones to know better. After all, journalists are trained to investigate and report on matters that are important to our society.

However, apart from a few media outlets that work hard to make a difference – such as The Guardian in the United Kingdom, the New York Times in the United States, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, Information in Denmark – most of mainstream media have decided to play the tune of the fossil fuel industry and generally look the other way. Again, this is not some coincidence or due to lack of knowledge. This has been a deliberate, conscious policy decision of theirs.

Politicians and media have managed to ignore or discredit so much scientific evidence over the years that the Earth’s climate today is changing much more dramatically and catastrophically than our climate scientists’ models predicted 10 years ago. Together with the fossil fuel industry they have literally and knowingly been ‘playing with fire’ as they decided to prioritise short term profits over long term safety and stability.

Fossil fuel industry-infiltrated leaders such as US president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin keep denying the science. Recently Putin basically told the world that climate change was unstoppable and not caused by human activity, so we better just get used to it – while continuing to drill and dig for more fossil fuels, of course.

Our responsibility
Democracies have become a ‘fossilised’ and paralysed, ensuring that humanity keeps buying and burning the fossil fuels as if nothing was wrong.

In the meanwhile, today we see people suffering mental health issues from having to deal with the anxiety of what is going to become of us in the next decades – don’t talk about centuries, that’s even scarier! – and millions of other people are dying from illnesses related to the carbon pollution in itself. The World Health Organisation talks about six million dead bodies a year which the world’s cynical fossil fuel industry leaders and fossil-funded politicians and reporters can be taken to account for.

We, the ordinary citizens, have a huge collective responsibility for allowing this mess to continue as long as we don’t want to look up from our screens or listen to what the scientists are shouting to us now. Because just like the politicians, we can’t say that we haven’t been warned. We have been warned, again and again.

I hope you’ll continue reading, because I would like to give you more details on just some of those historical examples I have mentioned above, plus a few more.


Scientists in 1988: ‘Time for politicians to act’

“Time for politicians to act”, wrote New Scientist in their October 1988 issue.

It has, in other words, been ‘Time for politicians to act’ through three decades now – and we, their voters, have allowed them to continue procrastinating and finding excuses for continuing to subsidise and mingle with the fossil fuel industry while cutting support to renewables energy projects and any innovative technologies in the field.

A 1988-report, ‘The Greenhouse Effect: Issues for policy makers’ stressed that “although the developed countries consume four-fifths of the fossil fuels burnt each year, less-developed contries will be most vulnerable to the ill effects of global warming, such as rising sea levels.”

“The time to ‘wait and see’ whether global warming poses a serious threat to life on Earth is over, says a report released this week by the Joint Energy Programme of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in Britain. The report calls for an international effort to control pollution from carbon dioxide.”
Quote from New Scientist, 1988

» Source: www.books.google.com.au

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1965: Scientists warn the American president

Marc Hudson, a PhD Candidate from the Sustainable Consumption Institute at University of Manchester, wrote in The Conversation in October 2016:

“Awareness of the threat of climate change goes back more than half a century, well before its sudden arrival on public policy agendas in 1988.”

Lyndon B. Johnson, who was president of the United States from 1963 to 1969, made the first presidential statement about climate change in the United States. The words were written for him by pioneering climate scientist Roger Revelle.

Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee wrote – on page 127 in a report entitled ‘Restoring the Quality of Our Environment’ more than 50 years ago:

“By the year 2000 the increase in atmospheric CO2 will be close to 25%. This may be sufficient to produce measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate, and will almost certainly cause significant changes in the temperature and other properties of the stratosphere. (…) The climatic changes that may be produced by the increased CO2 content could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings.”

The members of the science advisory committee suggested that the problem could be solved with geo-engineering – they called it “tools for modifying atmospheric circulation in ways which might counteract the effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.” They estimated, for instance, that a one percent change in the Earth’s reflectivity would cost about 500 million dollars a year.

» More about the topic of geo-engineering at the bottom of this page

» ‘Restoring the Quality of Our Environment – Report of The Environmental Pollution Panel’, President’s Science Advisory Committee, 1965.

1981: American oil company Exxon predicts ‘catastrophic’ warming

Through much of the 1980s, Exxon researchers worked alongside university and government scientists to generate objective climate models that yielded papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Their work confirmed the emerging scientific consensus on global warming’s risks.

Exxon’s 1980-climate modeling and science turned out to be spot on, and the company’s early modeling projections still hold up more than 30 years later.

One scientist, Werner Glass, wrote an analysis in 1981 for a senior vice president that said the rise in global temperatures would begin to be noticed in a few decades. Exxon manager Roger Cohen at the time called it “distinctly possible” that the projected warming trend after 2030 “will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the earth’s population).” By 2030, he warned, the damage could be irreversible.

However, as the consensus grew within the scientific world, Exxon’s managers decided to double down on the uncertainty and began campaigning to muddy research results. InsideClimateNews has all the details:

» InsideClimateNews – 22 September 2015:
Exxon Confirmed Global Warming Consensus in 1982 with In-House Climate Models

» The Guardian – 25 November 2015:
Two-faced Exxon: the misinformation campaign against its own scientists

1988: The “White House effect”: Promise to act on climate

A combination of growing scientific alarm about the growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and a long hot summer in 1988 made climate change an election issue. On the campaign trail, then-Vice President George H. W. Bush announced in his presidential campaign:

“Those who think we’re powerless to do anything about the “greenhouse effect” are forgetting about the “White House effect”. As President, I intend to do something about it… In my first year in office, I will convene a global conference on the environment at the White House… We will talk about global warming… And we will act.”

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, both the British Prime Minister Thatcher and the American president Bush were strong advocates for action on climate change, as was the then leader of the Australian Liberals, Andrew Peacock.

» The Conversation – 20 October 2016:
Why the silence on climate in the US presidential debates?

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“We’ve known what’s coming for half a century now, and we’re on the precipice of its arrival. There’s never been a more important time to listen to the science.”
Ethan Siegel, astrophysicist and author

1967: Meteorologists’ climate model

Headlines are never as reliable as going to the scientific source itself, and the ultimate source, in this case, is the first accurate climate model ever: by Syukuro Manabe and Richard T. Wetherald. 50 years after their groundbreaking 1967 paper, ‘Thermal Equilibrium of the Atmosphere with a Given Distribution of Relative Humidity’, the science can be robustly evaluated, and they got almost everything exactly right. Their major result, published on 1 May 1967, was:

“According to our estimate, a doubling of the CO2 content in the atmosphere has the effect of raising the temperature of the atmosphere (whose relative humidity is fixed) by about 2°C.”

What we’ve seen from the pre-industrial revolution until today matches that extremely well.

» Forbes – 15 March 2017:
The First Climate Model Turns 50, And Predicted Global Warming Almost Perfectly

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1991: Shell educates about the threat of climate change

Shell’s 28-minute film ‘Climate of Concern’ which was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities, back in 1991, reminds us that the executives of Shell knew all about the threats of climate change back then.

‘Climate of Concern’ was unearthed by Dutch journalist Jelmer Mommers of The Correspondent. He also retrieved many other documents showing the full extent of Shell’s understanding of climate change. Since the late 1970s, Shell began sharing data on climate change with other oil companies.

Regardless, instead of responding to the threat, they decided to ignore it. And they did more than that. Shell decided to start funding denial instead, as did the executives of all the major companies of the coal, oil and gas industries. Their strategy was to delay society’s transition away from fossil fuels. The immense profits in the industry enabled their lobby entities to influence and infiltrate national governments to ensure that air pollution would continue not to be regulated or punished, and that their destructive, polluting business model would keep profits flowing for decades ahead.

This strategic turning point took, where the fossil fuel industry finally got their propaganda machine working and turned the conservative side of politics away from action, took place in the mid-1990’s, and it is important to understand that this is main reason humanity now finds itself in a climate emergency situation.

“The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered. However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly.”

» Article about Shell’s film in The Guardian

» ThinkProgress – 6 March 2017:
100 years ago, Alexander Graham Bell warned us about the ‘greenhouse effect’
“Back in 1917, the inventor of the telephone foresaw a future where coal and oil were replaced by renewable fuels.”

1912: Burning coal affects climate

The small article ‘Coal consumption affecting climate’ from 1912 is a striking example of how long we knowingly have ignored the problem. The damage caused by adding CO2 to our atmosphere has been known for over 100 years now.

» Article by Andrew C. Revkin published in the New York Times on 21 October 2016:
News Coverage of Coal’s Link to Global Warming, in 1912

» Source: www.trove.nla.gov.au

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1827: Discovery of the greenhouse effect

One of the first scientific works on climate change, and certainly a seminal study, was completed in 1827 by Jean Baptiste Fourier. He is generally credited with the discovery of the greenhouse effect, whereby the presence of an atmosphere acts to increase a planet’s surface temperature. An excellent summary of the contributions of his work is provided here.

“From his work, scientists were able to describe how heat entered and left a planet’s system. He described heat loss by infrared radiation from the Earth and other planets. He correctly concluded that energy transferred within the Earth was negligible compared to that transferred by radiation. He also recognized the important nature of the atmosphere – that it is transparent to visible light but not to infrared light. This is why the greenhouse analogy to our atmosphere is so apt.”
~ John Abraham in The Guardian on 31 March 2017

1860s: Description of the greenhouse effect

“Another major discovery occurred in the 1860s by researcher John Tyndall. He studied various gases and their ability to absorb radiant heat. Among the gases he studied were oxygen and nitrogen which he found were virtually transparent to radiant heat. On the other hand, he found that some gases like water vapor and carbon dioxide can absorb heat, even though they are present in small amounts.

The genius of Tyndall was his measurement device. He used a galvanometer with a tube that he could fill with various gases. He couldn’t use glass to make the walls because glass is a radiant heat absorber. In fact, his original paper was filled with a detailed description of his experiment and the issues he had to address to ensure quality results. But, in the end he was able to quantify the importance of trace gases on the energy absorptivity of our atmosphere. A nice review of his work is available here.”

» The Guardian – 31 March 2017:
Scientists understood the climate 150 years ago better than the EPA head today

1896: Predictions about global temperature rise

“The Swedish researcher Svante Arrhenius became the first person (that I know of) to make predictions about how much the Earth temperature would change as we add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The title of his work, ‘On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground’ says it all.

Using measurements of the energy incoming from the moon, Arrhenius showed that changes to trace gases in the atmosphere can dramatically affect the temperature of the planet. He also discussed how gases are able to absorb specific wavelengths of light. Using experimental data from other preceding studies, he predicted global temperatures would rise approximately 5–6°C in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”
~ John Abraham in The Guardian on 31 March 2017

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1938: “Carbon dioxide warms the climate”

Starting in the late 1930s, Guy Stewart Callendar, a British engineer and amateur meteorologist, stirred the field by calculating that rising carbon dioxide levels were already warming the climate. Check out his 1938 paper on the subject: ‘The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and Its Influence on Temperature’.

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1956: New York Times writes about global warming

By 1956, the New York Times was writing on combustion-driven global warming.

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1992: Appeal for sustainability and scientific ecology

There has alredy been numerous appeals from scientific organisations. Does anyone remember the Heidelberg Appeal? It was addressed to the chiefs of state and governments 25 years ago, published on 1 June 1992 in the Wall Street Journal over the signatures of 46 prominent scientists and other intellectuals. Subsequently it was endorsed by around 4,000 scientists, including 72 Nobel Prize winners. The appeal read:

Heidelberg Appeal to Heads of States and Governments

“We want to make our full contribution to the preservation of our common heritage, the Earth.

We are, however, worried at the dawn of the twenty-first century, at the emergence of an irrational ideology which is opposed to scientific and industrial progress and impedes economic and social development.

We contend that a Natural State, sometimes idealized by movements with a tendency to look towards the past, does not exist and has probably never existed since man’s first appearance in the biosphere, insofar as humanity has always progressed by increasingly harnessing Nature to its needs and not the reverse.

We fully subscribe to the objectives of a scientific ecology for a universe whose resources must be taken stock of, monitored and preserved. But we herewith demand that this stock-taking, monitoring and preservation be founded on scientific criteria and not on irrational pre-conceptions.

We stress that many essential human activities are carried out either by manipulating hazardous substances or in their proximity, and that progress and development have always involved increasing control over hostile forces, to the benefit of mankind. We therefore consider that scientific ecology is no more than an extension of this continual progress toward the improved life of future generations. We intend to assert science’s responsibility and duty towards society as a whole. We do however forewarn the authorities in charge of our planet’s destiny against decisions which are supported by pseudo-scientific arguments or false and non-relevant data.

We draw everybody’s attention to the absolute necessity of helping poor countries attain a level of sustainable development which matches that of the rest of the planet, protecting them from troubles and dangers stemming from developed nations, and avoiding their entanglement in a web of unrealistic obligations which would compromise both their independence and their dignity.

The greatest evils which stalk our Earth are ignorance and oppression, and not Science, Technology and Industry whose instruments, when adequately managed, are indispensable tools of a future shaped by Humanity, by itself and for itself, overcoming major problems like overpopulation, starvation and worldwide diseases.”

Heidelberg, April 14, 1992 (third revision)

While there has been no shortage of appeals, calling for common sense and action, from scientists, scholars and activists, and while we have been seeing growing interest in global campaigns like Earth Hour and Earth Day, there is still very little to be heard from the average population, the mainstream, the majority. On the contrary, denial (“climate is crap”, “it’s a Chinese hoax”), and apathy (“we are f*cked”), appears to be the two most typical reactions to the topic. Surveys confirm this.

The scientific fact that over 93 percent of the global warming takes place in the oceans, while only a few percent in the atmosphere, and the consequences of this fact, is rarely mentioned, or understood.

So “suddenly” in 2016, after 20 years of continuous unregulated air pollution, which has been rising in volume year after year and keeps warming the oceans, video footage starts ticking in that shows that the Great Barrier Reef is dying. The media responds as if everyone is taken by surprise and are in shock.

Eventually, after weeks of reporting and numerous upset letters to the editor and debates on tv, the responsible politicians did – nothing. Still after all these years of warnings, nothing has changed.

2009: Appeal to world leaders’ ethics and morals

Call on world leaders to “consider deeply the ethical and moral questions at the root of the climate change crisis.”

In 2009, 25 non-governmental organisations in consultative status with the United Nations, leaders of the world’s religions, policy institutes, and members of civil society, signed an appeal directed at the world leaders who gathered at a UN Summit on Climate Change in New York.

Moral and Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change: Appeal to World Leaders

“We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, leaders of the world’s religions, and other members of civil society, urge the governments of the world to participate in the UN High Level Event on Climate Change through representatives at the highest level and unequivocally call on them to:

Consider deeply the ethical and moral questions at the root of the climate change crisis — questions of justice and equity that will determine the survival of cultures, ecosystems, and present as well as future generations;

Recognize that the quest for climate justice is not a competition for limited resources but part of an unfolding process towards greater degrees of unity among nations as they endeavor to build a sustainable, just and peaceful civilization;

Distinguish their contributions to this High-Level Event by demonstrating trust, justice, solidarity, and a vision of prosperity for the most vulnerable populations;

Demonstrate courage and moral leadership as they articulate the vision and secure the foundations for a comprehensive and legally binding agreement during the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCC and the 5th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in December 2009; and

Ensure that commitments in all arenas of the climate change challenge are guided by ethical and moral considerations so as to inspire the trust and confidence of individuals, communities and institutions to effect the changes needed to build a sustainable civilization.

We call on the gathered leaders to summon the same spirit and sense of urgency that led to the creation of the United Nations, to forge a climate change agreement worthy of the trust of humankind.

» fore.yale.edu: ‘Moral and Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change: Appeal to World Leaders’

» I posted a blogpost about this appeal on 3 April 2013.

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Consensus Statement

2013: Message to world leaders from 520 scientists

In 2013, a 51-page ‘consensus statement’ was published with a message to world leaders and with information for policy makers, signed by scientists in 44 countries.

‘Scientific Concensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century: Information for Policy Makers’ warned that “global environmental harm is putting at risk the happiness and well-being of this and future generations.”

Here is an extract from the statement:

Climate Disruption

“Even best-case emissions scenarios (the IPCC B1 scenario) project that Earth will be hotter than the human species has ever seen by the year 2070, possibly sooner. Continuing current emission trends would, by the time today’s children grow up and have grandchildren (the year 2100), likely cause average global temperature to rise between 2.4 – 6.4°C, with the best estimate being 4°C. The last time average global temperature was 4°C hotter was some 14 million years ago.”

• Longer and more intense heat waves
• More frequent damaging storms
• Major damage to coastal cities as sea level rises.
• Water shortages in populous parts of the world.
• Local reduction of crop yields
• Economic losses, social strife and political unrest
• Spread of infectious disease.
• Pest expansions that cause severe ecological and economic losses
• Major damage to unique ecosystems
• Extinction of species. At least 20-40%

Avoiding the worst impacts of human-caused climate change will require reducing emissions of greenhouse gases substantially and quickly. For instance, in order to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at 450 parts per million by the year 2050, which would give a 50% chance of holding global temperature rise to 2°C, emissions would have to be decreased 5.1% per year for the next 38 years. This rate of reduction has not been achieved in any year in the past six decades, which puts the magnitude and urgency of the task in perspective.

However, reducing emissions to requisite values over the next 50 years appears possible through coordinated innovation and deployment of new transportation and energy systems, which can be accomplished largely with existing technology. This will require rapid scaling-up of carbon-neutral energy production (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, hydrogen fuel-cells, nuclear, microbe-based biofuels) to replace energy production from fossil fuels.

In the transitional decades when fossil fuels will continue to be in widespread use, increased efficiency in energy use (better gas mileage for cars and trucks, more energyefficient buildings, etc.) will be necessary, as will phasing out coal-fired power plants in favor of lower-emissions facilities (natural gas).

While fossil fuels remain in use during the transitional period, carbon capture and storage (CCS) from major emitters like cement and steel plants will probably be necessary.

Scaling up carbon-neutral energy production fast enough will likely require legislation and government policies designed to stimulate the right kinds of innovations and realign the economic landscape for energy production.

Some effects of climate change already are underway (sea level rise, higher frequency of extreme weather, etc.). Plans to adapt to unavoidable climate changes will need to be developed and implemented for cities and public lands. Keeping agricultural areas productive will require changing the crops grown in some places, and ensuring seed stocks that are adapted to new climates.

Ultimate monetary costs for climate mitigation and adaptation grow substantially each year action is postponed.”

Maintaining Humanity's Life Support Systems

» Read more: Message to world leaders from 520 scientists

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2016: Open letter to Australian Prime Minister from 5154 scientists

On 25 August 2016, 154 Australian atmospheric, marine, environmental, biological and medical scientists, including several leading climatologists, sent an open letter to their Prime Minister, demanding that climate policy match the science.

“We call on the Australian government to tackle the root causes of an unfolding climate tragedy and do what is required to protect future generations and nature, including meaningful reductions of Australia’s peak carbon emissions and coal exports, while there is still time. There is no Planet B.”

» Read the open letter

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Where we are today

“The World Meteorological Organisation’s assessment of the climate in 2016 reports unprecedented heat across the globe, exceptionally low ice at both poles and surging sea-level rise.”

» The Guardian – 21 March 2017:
Record-breaking climate change pushes world into ‘uncharted territory’
“Earth is a planet in upheaval, say scientists, as the World Meteorological Organisation publishes analysis of recent heat highs and ice lows”

» SBS / AAP – 20 March 2017:
Energy shift must start soon: reports
“Two international bodies say the world needs to swiftly shift energy production away from fossil fuels if it is to prevent a dangerous increase in temperatures.”

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Stop digging for coal and drilling for oil and gas

In our response to the scientists warnings, we could have chosen differently. All new fossil fuel projects could be banned with the stroke of the pen, if only the political will was there. Starting 30-40 years ago, we – the global community – could have regulated our way out of it by simply putting a price on greenhouse gas pollution and making it increasingly expensive to put those dangerous gasses into the atmosphere, and be supporting and encouraging the development of clean energy technologies, battery storage, and so on. We could have said that we wanted to protect the ‘common good’ which one would have thought the Earth’s atmosphere could be classified as.

But no, we decided to do the exact opposite. In 2015, the IMF revealed that on a global scale, during that year governments subsidised fossil fuels by the tune of $10 million dollars a minute. Their revelation found that the $5.3 trillion subsidy estimate for 2015 was greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments.

The world’s major fossil fuel companies decided to pretend climate change wasn’t happening and that the climate scientists’ models were wrong, and they knew that politicians could be bought.

If for that reason we can’t get out elected leaders to act, and to protect our livelihood and the common good, because they are too entrenched with the fossil fuel industry, then we need to become politicians ourselves.

In Queensland, politicians continue to encourage and support the construction of the world’s largest coal mine. They allow gas fracking companies to pump chemicals into the ground to drill for gas. In the Australian Bight companies also want to start drilling for oil. Governments plan to build new gas-fired power plants and even coal-fired power plants, while new pipelines are invested in and rolled out.

The only reason this can be happening in 2017, eight years after the big United Nations’ Climate Summit in Copenhagen, and 30-50 years after the many other warnings humanity has been given, is a very fundamental human greed and selfishness which we – as a whole – allow. To be polluting the air for personal gain has the blessing of our regulators.

Owners of the fossil fuel industry have been successful in tranquillising the population to believe everything is just fine, as a way to protect their economic investments. They are fully aware they are putting our entire civilisation at risk, while a dysfunctional media sector in large parts either hasn’t understood or deliberately ignores what really has been going on during the last five decades. Either it would be because they just don’t think readers, listeners and viewers would want to know about this – the “It-is-too-big-anyway syndrome” – or because the journalists and editors are aware that they work in media organisations which are either owned by fossil fuel barons, or have a board of directors which has been hijacked by fossil fuel lobbyists.

It’s been fossil fuel crunch time for half a century. Yet we pretend to be surprised when ecological disasters and extreme weather events that scientists warned us about back then, now are beginning to happen and at a much faster rate with much greater impacts than the scientists had anticipated. It is frightening, because what it means, if we for a moment look up and face reality, is that we’ve missed the boat to avoid climate change. The only question that remains now is whether we will wake up in time to avoid the worst calamities of unstoppable runaway global warming that goes beyond temperature levels anyone would like to think of, beyond the threshold to supporting life on the planet in those numbers we are today.

This mentioned as background information for why we must demand of our politicians to ban all investments in fossil fuel projects. Right now there is a South Australian petition running which asks precisely for that:

No more bad investments

Petition to the Parliament of South Australia

“We petition you to enact legislation to ban all new investment in projects that contribute to global warming. Bans should apply immediately where safe alternatives are already available.

Climate impacts are already killing people and destroying ecosystems. Every new climate-damaging project you approve puts us all in even greater peril and makes recovery even harder. You are failing in your duty of care if you encourage or allow new projects that increase the risk of disastrous climate impacts. It is madness for us to allow governments to get away with putting us at risk. We deserve better.

As a first step, this ‘no more bad investment’ legislation should ban all new coal, oil, and gas projects within South Australia. No new gas-fired power stations. No new gas exploration or extraction projects. No drilling for oil in the Bight. No coal gasification.

The resultant market certainty would mean renewable energy and energy efficiency alternatives would rush to meet demand with little or no financial incentive from government.

Numerous companies are already vying to build solar thermal with storage, grid-level storage via batteries or pumped hydro, and more solar and wind power to operate in conjunction with that storage. Similarly, innovations in all the other climate-damaging sectors of the economy will emerge once there is legislative certainty.

There is no need to put our people and ecosystems at greater risk by allowing investment in climate-damaging projects. We can power our state without sacrificing our future.”

» Sign the petition

“You can resist an invading army. You cannot resist an idea whose time has come.”

Victor Hugo (1802-1885), French author

Climate-hacking or technofix: “No paths that won’t involve severe consequences”

The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to keep the global temperature rise “well below” 2°C degrees, and hopefully 1.5 degrees. But [University of Melbourne climate scientist David] Karoly says the current commitments on the table would still lead to substantially more than 2.5 degrees, and “possibly even as much as 3 degrees of warming”. And that’s assuming countries actually meet their pledges.

There are strong arguments that geoengineering is looking more likely whatever happens with the Paris Agreement. Almost all modelling of the IPCC’s scenarios to limit warming to 1.5 degrees assumes some kind of planetary technofix to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If we’re fixated on a temperature target, solar geoengineering – [reflecting or diffusing sunlight for instance by spraying sulphate aerosols into the upper atmosphere] – could be another “alternative” method to achieve it.

On the other hand, if US President Trump gets his way and Paris unravels, emissions and temperatures could rise even faster. As the only way to cool the planet quickly, geoengineering could be needed as an emergency response.

The biggest fear behind these “necessary evil” arguments is crossing irreversible climate change tipping points. An often-cited example is the thawing of perpetually frozen ground, called permafrost. If the Arctic permafrost melts, it could release tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases.

The problem is we don’t know exactly where these tipping points lie. There’s an argument that “moderate” solar geoengineering could reduce the risk of crossing them by lowering the peak global temperature rise this century, or slowing the rate of change.

But solar geoengineering also introduces entirely novel risks. David Karoly says spraying sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere would deplete the ozone layer, leading to more skin cancer and changed rainfall patterns over the tropics, causing drought. “Major volcanic eruptions like Mount Pinatubo did globally reduce rainfall.”

Despite these dangers, some climate activists are calling for more research into the technique. David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red, acknowledges all the concerns but still says we need to at least consider it. “There is a compelling need to cool the planet, and prevent us going past further significant tipping points,” he explains. “The brutal fact is there are no clear easy paths out of this, and there are no paths that won’t involve severe consequences.”

Back in 1965, the scientific advisers to President Johnson wrote that burning fossil fuels would cause significant rises in temperature. “Through his worldwide industrial civilisation, Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment.” In decades hence, will we choose to counteract that massive global experiment with another?
~ Greg Foyster

» The Saturday Paper – 18 March 2017:
Geoengineering against climate change
“While some scientists claim solar geoengineering could be our last, best hope to deal with climate change, others say it will open the door to entirely new risks.”

» The Guardian – 29 March 2017:
Fear of solar geoengineering is healthy – but don’t distort our research
“Models suggest solar geoengineering could reduce climate change and our independently assessed studies are vital to understanding its full potential.”

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“Unlike any movement I can think of, environmentalism is a science-based movement.”
~ Denis Hayes, president of the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation who as a Stanford law student helped organise the first Earth Day in 1970.

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“Already the desert is extending, waterways are drying, Arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate. We are standing on the threshold of an ecological apocalypse. Climate change is an atom bomb waiting to explode.”

“We are gathered here today not against ISIS terrorists. We are gathered here against economic terrorists and ecological terrorists.”
~ Charles Bo, cardinal of Myanmar, speaking to 132 participants of a religious conference in Yangon on 27 February 2017

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“A brighter, better future, powered by sun, wind and waves, is just around the corner. But it requires a unified movement, determination and most importantly, the support of people like you.”

~ Kelly O’Shanassy Australian Conservation Foundation

We must fight for a solar civilization

How can renewables help to create a better civilization?

By Dr Jeremy Leggett

I speak today about the wider context of all the wonderful innovation and creative disruption we are hearing about from around the world at this inspiring event, [the Start Up Energy Transition Tech Festival in Berlin].

My message is about how to maximise its impact, in the singular times in which we live. The first is to inspire allcomers with what that civilization – let us a call it a solar civilization – looks and feels like. The second is to fight as hard for that vision as fossil-fuel diehards fight to keep alive their ruinous status quo.

We bring alive the solar civilization with every kind of renewable and/or efficient carbon-reducing installation we develop, finance, and construct. Each one – whether as small as a watt-scale solar lantern or as large as a gigawatt-scale renewable-energy park – increases climate resilience, air quality, prosperity, health, community, and common security, among other things. We need to instal more and more of them, faster and faster.

We must fight for a solar civilization by recognising the malign forces that are gaining ground in modern liberal democracies and confronting them with our vision. These forces – of nationalist, populist demagoguery, often led by aspiring despots – tend to back fossil fuels, and are often financed by diehard fossil-fuel interests. They tend to make no secret of the fact that they see us as their enemies, and we in return should not seek to appease them.

The business case for refusing to normalise these forces, never mind the social case, is absolutely clear today. The populists ask us to back fossil-fuel technologies that either are, or soon will be, more expensive than most of ours. These technologies will not help the poor in the long term, they will only enrich an elite few in the short term, and then only temporarily.

The duty to shareholders is increasingly clear. The populists ask them to take impossible risks of wasting capital and stranding assets. 

The duty to wider stakeholders is axiomatic. When the vast majority of scientists warn the populists that their actions risk the very liveability of the planet, they exercise perverse denial, reject and mock expertise, and deploy what they call alternative facts and we call lies.

SolarAid will be seeking to collaborate with any and all who agree with these sentiments in the battle ahead. We would love to hear from you if you think like us.

Dr Jeremy Leggett is author of the book ‘The Winning of the Carbon War’ and executive chair of SolarAid.

» www.jeremyleggett.net

» www.solar-aid.org

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“Good reasons for cautious optimism”

“Installation of renewables in the energy sector is doubling every five to six years and has been on this course for a decade. If we keep doubling at this pace, renewables will reach 100 percent before 2050. We can say good riddance to coal by around 2030, saving millions of lives as air quality improves. And bye-bye to oil by 2040. At this pace and scale, we can be close to carbon-free by 2050.”
Johan Rockstrom, director of Stockholm Resilience Center and professor of global sustainability at Stockholm University.

» The New York Times – 23 March 2017:
Why the World Economy Has to Be Carbon Free by 2050

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» www.earthday.org

“If rhetoric cut emissions, we’d be carbon free already. But only action does.”

Joe Romm

“While science can provide the building blocks for understanding the impact and likelihood of climate change, it is important for citizens’ groups and individuals to provide the motivation for action.”

Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

» Global campaign site: www.marchforscience.com

» Australian campaign sige: www.marchforscienceaustralia.org

» Australian Facebook page: www.facebook.com/MarchForScienceAustralia

“It is time for scientists, science enthusiasts, and concerned citizens to come together to make ourselves heard.”

» The Guardian:
Global ‘March for Science’ protests call for action on climate change
“Tens of thousands rally across the world in a rebuke of Donald Trump’s dismissal of climate science”

» Washington Post:
Analysis | Historians say the March for Science is ‘pretty unprecedented’
“Historians say the March for Science stands out from past scientist protests because of its broad and sweeping goals.”

» The Guardian:
Earth Day 2017: ‘The experts are fighting back’
“With a climate-change sceptic in the White House, marchers worldwide are today spreading a message of hope that protest and science can save the world”

» The Conversation:
Peter Doherty: why Australia needs to march for science
“In its broadest sense, the March for Science aims to cause US legislators to reflect a little and understand what they risk if they choose to erode their global scientific leadership.”

» Twitter newsflow: #MarchforScienceAustralia   #MarchforScience

» See also: #StandUpForScience   #Science   #ClimateScience   #Renewables   #NoMoreBadInvestments   #StopAdani   #PriceOnCoal   #ActOnClimate   #ChangeClimateChange   #ClimateAction   #ClimateSolutions