The Climate and Ecological Crisis Why We Need To Rebel
The last five years have been the warmest on record. And only two of the 20 warmest years on record since 1880 are not in this century: 1997 and 1998 1. The Earth has warmed by 1°C on average compared to the pre‑industrial era 2, but this warming is not evenly distributed. Europe has already warmed by at least 1.5°C and more if just summer is considered. The Earth is warming fast. The science behind this is clear and we’ve been aware of the details since the 1970s.
Put plainly, the Earth is warming due to the release of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere as a result of human activity — mostly from the combustion of fossil fuels like petrol and coal. Since 1850, all long-term warming trends can be explained by human activity — the causes are known3!
This release of GHG (mainly CO2) is happening extremely quickly: currently at a rate ten times higher than the highest point of the past 65 million years4. The Earth’s resilience and adaptation are being pushed to their limits and probably beyond. And yet, rapid climatic changes aren’t the only stressors that we humans are imposing on our Earth’s systems. Deforestation, plastic pollution, over-fishing, chemical pollution, air pollution, over-exploitation, habitat destructions… the list goes on. A mass extinction event is underway5! All help to destroy our environment and ecosystems and drive the Earth’s life support toward collapse.
There is no pretending otherwise: we are in the middle of a climate and ecological crisis.
We are in an Emergency!
250 million years ago the Earth was pushed beyond its limit and 96% of all species were wiped from its surface. Scientists call this period the “Great Dying” and it took nearly 5 million years for the Earth to recover. This cataclysm was caused by a massive release of CO2 into the atmosphere, too much for the Earth to take 6. Are we on the verge of a new, human-made, “Great Dying”? If we don’t act fast then yes we are 7.
Once we cross a warming threshold or natural ecosystems collapse, Earth will start warming alone, all by itself, even after we stop emitting CO2. Like a giant boulder, once it goes downhill we won’t be able to stop it. This is due to self-reinforcing loops 8. For example, the massive amount of CO2 emitted by humans warms the atmosphere, triggering the melting of frozen Arctic ground, the permafrost, that releases long-trapped methane into the atmosphere, causing more warming and so on… Many feedback loops that reinforce Climate Change through various mechanisms exist: the dying of Amazon and boreal forests, the acidification of the oceans, destruction of marine ecosystems, slow down of the Atlantic major currents… These loops are already being triggered. For example, Arctic ground is melting at a rate that wasn’t expected to happen until at least the second half of the century 9! We urgently need to stop our own greenhouse gas emissions before crossing the hidden crucial limit where these loops spiral out of control. We don’t know exactly where that limit is, but scientists agree that if the climate warms by 1.5°C then we will enter a zone of uncertainties 10, where some mechanisms can start taking effect and push the Earth global warming further by themselves. Past 2°C warming some of these mechanisms will clearly be triggered and past 4°C global warming it will most likely be too late to avoid a “HotHouse” Earth scenario 1112 that will be irreversible for the next 10,000s of years and will almost certainly result in the complete collapse of our society. At our actual rate, we will have release the carbon necessary to reach 1.5°C by the end of 2027 13, and our rate is increasing!
This is why waiting to reduce our emissions is a gamble, on the survival of the human species. Immediate transformation is not a radical stance – it is the only sensible choice. Together we can stop the giant boulder from falling off the cliff while there is still time: right now.
We Need to Rebel!
The scale of the challenge we’re facing is enormous, and the environmental, societal, economic and political change required to overcome it is massive. We’ll need to transform our societies and relationship with our environment on a scale never seen before.
None of this is new. We’ve known what is happening since the 1970s, yet, no effective action was taken. In 1990, we released 22.6 Gt of CO2, and in 2018 we released 37.1 Gt of CO2 into the atmosphere (the highest til now, with 2019 being on course to be even higher). This is 64% more than in 1990 when the first report of the IPCC report was released! There’s no reduction happening worldwide. Even in developed countries, who could lead the way in the reduction of CO2 emissions, the decrease is painfully slow. Germany still emits around 800 million tons of CO2 per year. The EU (28 countries) has seen a 20% decrease from 2006 to 2014, but since then, it’s on the rise again 14.
This is nowhere near enough, far from it. As we’ve seen, we need to aim to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2025, and even the most advanced countries are stagnating. The required changes just aren’t happening. Decades of scientific research on climate change, political speeches, NGO outreach, international agreements, and national policies have all failed.
The most recent and most promising international agreement, made in Paris in 2015, has laudable targets but the declared national ambitions, taken together, fall woefully short of reaching the least ambitious goal of “well below 2°C”. We are still heading for a devastating 3°C of warming by 2100 in the event that all countries met their 2015’s commitments16. Efforts should be tripled to limit global warming to 2°C and increased five‑fold to limit warming to 1.5°C, considered the boundary for “climatic safety”. Cross this threshold and all bets are off.
As governments fail to act, some are looking to the private sector for innovation and climate reduction strategies. Initiatives such as “Benefit Corporations” 17 have appeared, and a large number of corporate players are attempting to reduce their social and environmental footprints. There is little doubt that companies will play a role in providing and implementing solutions to climate change, but relying on voluntary efforts by the private sector would be mistaken15:1. Transnational corporations have a track record of human rights violations, environmental crimes, and over-exploitation of natural resources. Their unchecked operations will result in rising emissions 15:2. Moreover, major industrial players are sabotaging efforts for a sustainable future.
From 1979 to 1983, the American Petroleum Institute (API) ran a task force originally called the “CO2 and Climate Task Force”. The results of this task force were presented to oil industry leaders and were clear: a 3% annual growth rate of CO2 could lead to a 2.5°C increase that would bring “world economic growth to a halt in about 2025,” and a “likely” 5°C rise by 2067, with “globally catastrophic effects”. The reaction of the oil industry was devastating. Instead of taking action to change its business models, the industry embarked on an ambitious campaign to prevent meaningful change.
The API’s lobbying successfully prevented the US from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in the late 90s – arguing to the White House that it “would be extremely harmful to the US economy”. The API also led a massive worldwide campaign of climate change disinformation called the “Global Climate Science Communications Plan”. Their goal was to convince the public of uncertainties in climate science, defeat international agreement attempts like Kyoto and Paris, and to put an end to further initiatives. The fossil fuel industry spent at least $370 million lobbying US climate change legislation from 2000 to 2016 and even more, funding think tanks, research institutions and industry scientists 15:3.
This strategy appeared to be depressingly successful. Climate deniers have enjoyed more media coverage than climate scientists in the past decades 18, and many political leaders are even referring to climate change as a “hoax”. Even today, every oil major is betting heavily against a 1.5˚C world and investing in projects that are contrary to the Paris goals. Of all the oil majors, ExxonMobil has the greatest risk of stranded assets in a low-carbon world, with more than 90% of potential 2019-2030 spending on new projects outside a 1.6˚C pathway. It’s followed by Shell (70%), Total (67%), Chevron (60%), BP (57%) and Eni (55%)19. It’s obvious that those industry leaders will use their lobbying power to counter any meaningful reduction policies of carbon emissions.
To ensure a liveable future on Earth we need a radical change of strategy, no one is coming to save us: we must rebel! This isn’t an irrational or crazy statement; it’s the only sane response to this crisis. We’re living in a period of human history where a revolution of our way of life is inevitable. Either our societies will collapse, or radical changes will successfully address the current environmental and social crisis, leading humankind into a new era of sustainability.
To achieve a sustainable system where every generation, everywhere, enjoys an equal right to natural wealth, we need mass rebellion! According to Erica Chenoweth’s research on historical mass protests, we need to mobilise around 3.5% of the population 21. When a committed and vocal 3.5% unites behind the demand for a new system, the social avalanche that follows is irresistible 22. It’s through direct action that minorities succeed in awakening the spirit of independence and audacity that’s needed to bring mass rebellion to a head. Continuous action and protest awakens others to the importance of change: swelling numbers. The rebellion spreads until it reaches a special threshold: that 3.5 % of the population. At this point, group inertia becomes too powerful to stop, and radical change becomes inevitable! None of us can avoid the call to come together to save ourselves. Hope dies, action begins.
Act Now, Join the Rebellion
Nothing is more important than to act! So what can you do?
- Join the protests during the Rebellion Wave starting 7 Oct.
- Tell the truth. Discuss with your surroundings - friends, family, colleagues… - about the climate and ecological crisis. Tell them about the actions that are being taken, tell them about the rebellion.
- Join citizen’s assemblies to discuss solutions to the crisis and actions to take.
- Participate in our action of flooding politicians with postcards.
- Become a rebel, join Extinction Rebellion.
- Follow us on facebook, twitter, instagram.
9 Oct. 2018, The Globe Is Already Above 1°C, on Its Way to 1.5°C, Climate Central. ↩︎
Hausfather, 13 Dec 2017, Analysis: Why scientists think 100% of global warming is due to humans, Carbon Brief. ↩︎
Zeebe et al., 2016, Anthropogenic carbon release rate unprecedented during the past 66 million years, Nature Geoscience 9:325–329. ↩︎
Barnosky et al., 2011, Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?, Nature 471:51–57. ↩︎
Rothman, 2019, Characteristic disruptions of an excitable carbon cycle, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116(30):14813-14822. ↩︎
Wolff et al., 2015, Feedbacks on climate in the Earth system: introduction, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 373(2054):20140428. ↩︎
Farquharson et al., 2019, Climate Change Drives Widespread and Rapid Thermokarst Development in Very Cold Permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic, Geophysical Research Letters 46(12):6681-6689. ↩︎
IPCC, 2018, Impact of 1.5°C of Global Warming on Natural and Human Systems, Global Warming of 1.5°C Chap. 3. ↩︎
World Bank, 2012, Turn down the heat : why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided, A Report for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, Washington DC, World Bank. ↩︎
Steffen et al., 2018, Trajectories of the Earth system in the Anthropocene, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(33):8252–8259. ↩︎
Alston, 2019, Climate change and poverty — Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights — A/HRC/41/39, United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) Special Report. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎
IPCC, “Special Report Summary” p. 18. ↩︎
Petersen et al., 2019, Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians, Nature Communications 10:3502. ↩︎
Grant, 5 Sep 2019, Oil and gas companies approve $50 billion of major projects that undermine climate targets and risk shareholder returns, Carbon Tracker. ↩︎
Kropotkin, Peter, 1880, The Spirit of Revolt. ↩︎
Chenoweth, 4 Nov 2018, My Talk at TEDxBoulder: Civil Resistance and the “3.5% Rule”. ↩︎
Mongiot, 15 Apr 2019, Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse, The Guardian. ↩︎