"The world should take note that the climate summit in Paris later this year (COP21) may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2-degrees C, and aim to stay well below 2-degree C for safety, yet the current trajectory may well reach a devastating 4-degrees C or higher"
We the undersigned have assembled at the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences to address the challenges of human-induced climate change, extreme poverty, and social marginalization, including human trafficking, in the context of sustainable development. We join together from many faiths and walks of life, reflecting humanity’s shared yearning for peace, happiness, prosperity, justice, and environmental sustainability. We have considered the overwhelming scientific evidence regarding human-induced climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and the vulnerabilities of the poor to economic, social, and environmental shocks.
In the face of the emergencies of human-induced climate change, social exclusion, and extreme poverty, we join together to declare that:
Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity;
In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role. These traditions all affirm the inherent dignity of every individual linked to the common good of all humanity. They affirm the beauty, wonder, and inherent goodness of the natural world, and appreciate that it is a precious gift entrusted to our common care, making it our moral duty to respect rather than ravage the garden that is our home;
The poor and excluded face dire threats from climate disruptions, including the increased frequency of droughts, extreme storms, heat waves, and rising sea levels;
The world has within its technological grasp, financial means, and know-how the means to mitigate climate change while also ending extreme poverty, through the application of sustainable development solutions including the adoption of low-carbon energy systems supported by information and communications technologies;
The financing of sustainable development, including climate mitigation, should be bolstered through new incentives for the transition towards low-carbon energy, and through the relentless pursuit of peace, which also will enable the shift of public financing from military spending to urgent investments for sustainable development;
The world should take note that the climate summit in Paris later this year (COP21) may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2-degrees C, and aim to stay well below 2-degree C for safety, yet the current trajectory may well reach a devastating 4-degrees C or higher;
Political leaders of all UN member states have a special responsibility to agree at COP21 to a bold climate agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity, while protecting the poor and the vulnerable from ongoing climate change that gravely endangers their lives. The high-income countries should help to finance the costs of climate-change mitigation in low-income countries as the high-income countries have promised to do;
Climate-change mitigation will require a rapid world transformation to a world powered by renewable and other low-carbon energy and the sustainable management of ecosystems. These transformations should be carried out in the context of globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals, consistent with ending extreme poverty; ensuring universal access for healthcare, quality education, safe water, and sustainable energy; and cooperating to end human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery. All sectors and stakeholders must do their part, a pledge that we fully commit to in our individual capacities.
Whatever decision humanity takes on the next step forward, whether it be to do nothing and allow industrial human civilisation to continue, or to cease emissions and hope that is enough to see us through, or to start actively sequestering carbon whilst attempting to reduce solar radiation hitting the Earth’s surface, each path is in itself a course of climate intervention.
Put simply, doing nothing is a course of climate intervention, as is doing something. If we continue to emit greenhouse gases as we are, we will likely see a collapse of human civilisation far sooner than if we do not. But even if we stop, it is very unlikely that human civilisation will survive the warming from past emissions, possibly due after a couple of decades (this timeframe is optimistic to some and pessimistic to others). The third way is to try and wilfully influence the climate, the “Promethean” way.
Whatever decision we take now is largely based on how we feel subjectively and philosophically as opposed to scientifically because much of the science as to whether it will actually would work or not hasn’t been done. This point is critical. If we say climate engineering is a fools game and should not be researched in the public domain in a controlled manner (if it is going on behind closed doors then it is out of our control anyway), then we are saying “good night and good luck”, not just to our children but also to many other species of life on Earth. So the question remains: Is it ethical to make a decision based on our opinions and philosophies, rather than on solid science?
The challenge is social
In a recent interview I conducted with Professor David Keith from Harvard University, he made the case very strongly that climate engineering is not, compared to the cost of climate change impacts, an expensive science. Even if the cost runs into billions of dollars, it will be far less than the bill we will accrue from lost coastal cities, devastated agriculture, water shortages, collapsed economies etc. Keith dismissed my concerns over the difficulty of delivering aerosols to the lower stratosphere, as solvable, probably using adapted airplanes. He insists that the real challenge is not technical, it is “social”.
It is clear in my mind from speaking to so many climate scientists that the risk is real and needs to be addressed. I cannot contemplate looking future generations in the eye and saying, “we chose not to do the research because we felt it could do more harm than good”. In a decimated world with far amplified suffering in every region, greater diseases, starvation, displacement, refugees, conflict etc. it simply does not bare thinking about. Who are we to prescribe such a path of locked in destruction?
Education and awareness of the gargantuan issues we face is imperative. The more people that can discuss these issues in an informed way, the better. That is our route to survival and change. It is the route out of the despair of anticipation of very dire outcomes from climate change.
With this in mind I was surprised at how seemingly frustrated Keith became when I suggested what he was saying was a “proposal”. “Proposal to who?” he retorted. The industrial civilisation has been cooking the planet on a steadily rising heat for over a century now. He and his colleagues are proposing ways to cool it down and sustain life. There are huge inherent risks. The proposal is to me and my neighbours, my community and the wider global community of humanity, nestled within a global ecology, who will all be effected, for better for worse, by the outcomes of your work if implemented. To throw the point back, the biggest problem is “social”.
David Keith interview with Nick Breeze, March 2015, Cambridge SRMS Conference
So where do we go from here (outside the Holocene)?
It is clear that much more research has to be funded appropriately. The potential risk of doing nothing is as great or greater than the risk of not knowing whether we can intentionally alter climate and get the result we want. We know that adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere increases climate impacts by warming. Decreasing those gases will cause cooling impacts. We need to try and move back towards the concentration of gases that have demonstrated that they can support diverse life forms. Humanity along with other life cannot exist outside the Holocene. The loss of climate stability has begun and will accelerate in its destructive path. It is a message from the Earth to change our ways.
The global “thermostat”
Keith says the “thermostat” analogy is not a good one because there maybe several thermostats to maintaining a stable climate on Earth. One might be by the amount of biomass (living matter) on land and in the oceans. Another has to be from ceasing the emissions of carbon from burning coal, oil and gas. Another might be reducing the amount of the sun’s energy that reaches the Earth’s surface (known as ‘solar radiation management, or SRM).
They have an added dimension of interrelated effects. For example, deploying SRM to cool the Earth is likely to slow down the degradation of carbon sinks such as forests and oceans. Even small shifts in temperatures of 1ºC can cause these vital life support systems (i.e. oxygen factories) to die off, so that oceans and forests become lifeless deserts. If we can keep them a degree or two cooler then we can keep them alive.
“Prometheus Bound" or “evolving species”?
The philosophical debate regarding whether humanity should try and play (or defy) God by taking control of the climate is worth considering. Clive Hamilton discusses it in detail in his book ‘Earthmasters’ (also in this clip below from our interview in 2013). Hamilton’s concerns are valid but ultimately he does make the same claim that climate engineering “is not political enough”. We need more open discussion about what is at stake regarding the existential threat to life on this planet.
Dr. Clive Hamilton, Author of 'Earthmasters', interview with Nick Breeze, July 2013
To say that we are attempting to defy the God's as Prometheus did in the Greek legend, is to me a choice that has been taken from us. We made the decision to play God when we cultivated land, subjugated other species and built economic, corporate and political systems that are self-determining and use fossilised matter in the form oil to consume the living world in closed cycle.
Perhaps the only path that does exist for us is to invest more heavily in our intelligence and evolve away from being hunting and gathering tribal animals. The future for humanity involves generations of reparation to our home here on Earth. As an evolving species, we must now become the custodians of the planet and learn ways to keep her alive. We have no other choice.
by Nick Breeze
I am a little confused about the notion of Earth Day. The only analogy I can think of is standing over the mutilated body of someone whom I have done grave harm to and saying, “Today I just want to think about YOU!”
Humanity is the runaway species on Earth. Economics is the religion that drives the destruction of each and everyone of us. But how to convey this in a way that is easy enough to understand, honest and not over dramatic?
I recall about 24 years ago doing work experience in Jersey at the zoological park founded by my great uncle Gerald Durrell. Each day I would ride on my bicycle to the zoo and spend the day immersed in the fruits of his labour. Jersey zoo, 'Durrell', has one very special quality. Every animal that has a home there is on the critically endangered species list and is part of a programme to reintroduce it to the wild. A happy memory I will take away from my work experience there was being allowed into the lemur enclosure with a bucket of grapes. The little fur balls climbed all over me, as if I were a tree and stuck their fingers up my nose and in my ears whilst stuffing their faces, gratefully, with grapes.
The other memory I will take to the grave from this trip was the short video presentation in the auditorium where Gerry speaks about his raison d’être. The analogy is one that speaks to me more and more as I get older and I muse upon it most days:
“The world is as delicate and as complicated as a spider’s web. If you touch one thread you send shudders through all the other threads. We are not just touching the web, we are tearing holes in it”
Brave new world?
There comes a point when we must realise that we have gone too far. The interglacial period of the last 8.5 thousand years, that has given us a stable climate between hot and cold, is now over. It was called the ‘holocene’. Life, not just humans but all life, prospered in the holocene. Every time we get to the edge of the temperature boundary, bad things happen. Crops fail, weather goes crazy, species (including humans) die.
We are now so far advanced in our systemic changing of the Earth’s climate that events are now taking care of themselves. Weather extremes are being felt around the globe. Droughts, floods etc. are impacting us on a daily basis. The mainstream media doesn’t even bother to report them anymore. Those effected are wishing them away but they are stubborn, and worsening. The Earth is doing what it has always done throughout its 4.5 billion years of life: responding to forcings.
The carbon emissions from human industrialisation have now saturated the atmosphere and are causing some major feedbacks. The Arctic summer sea ice loss is the most visible. In the normal world no one really acknowledges it, except to say that “an ice free Arctic presents opportunities for resource extraction of fossil fuels and minerals”.
The reality is that the loss of the Arctic polar ice-cap is the trigger that will bring about the biggest tragedy that people of my generation and the next will have to witness. At 0.85 Cº we are outside the temperature range of the holocene. Politicians and big business corporations have created a “target” of 2 Cº as the limit for how much the world should heat before climate change becomes dangerous.
IPCC and the 2Cº "target"
2 Cº is not safe. It is a lie to say that we can adjust the Earth’s temperature to 2 Cº and leave it there. It is a gross deception on a scale that even dinosaurs will understand.
The bottom line is that the Earth is heating up and emissions reductions are miles away from being a meaningful cure. Yes, we should stop burning fossil fuels but in order to restore the biosphere and avoid the catastrophic global heating that is already coming our way from emissions to date, we will have to remove 1 trillion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. The only sensible way to do that is to increase the global biomass in order to remove the greenhouse gas from the carbon cycle.
Happy Earth day!
Is it doable? Who knows. There is talk and even conferences dedicated to it but will it happen within the timeframe needed? If it does, then it will be nothing short of a modern day miracle and only then I will inflate the balloons for Earth Day.