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An emergency warning for humanity


2 March 2022 at 4:59 pm
David Ritter
It is impossible not to absorb the latest findings from the IPCC without feeling an incredible weight of sadness. The solace is that we know the causes of the emergency and there is an escape plan, writes David Ritter.


David Ritter | 2 March 2022 at 4:59 pm


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An emergency warning for humanity
2 March 2022 at 4:59 pm

It is impossible not to absorb the latest findings from the IPCC without feeling an incredible weight of sadness. The solace is that we know the causes of the emergency and there is an escape plan, writes David Ritter.

The IPCC Working Group II Report: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, released on Monday night, is an emergency warning for humanity. The content is deeply confronting, but having the best available information at least enables us to orient ourselves in the crisis. 

Key findings include: 

  • Severe climate impacts are now here and already causing widespread devastation around the world, with increasingly irreversible consequences. 
  • It is highly likely that average global temperature rise will exceed 1.5 degrees of global warming as soon as the mid 2030s. Whether we can respond to that overshoot and bring global temperatures back down again in as few years as possible, will depend entirely on the urgency and level of action taken to reduce emissions.
  • Overall, risks and impacts are appearing faster, and are becoming more severe sooner than previously predicted. 

Many species of corals, like those found on our Great Barrier Reef, are at their limit and surpassing 1.5 degrees of warming will be devastating for their future. 

By 2050, a billion people are expected to face coastal flooding risk from rising seas, while at least 3.3 billion people are “already highly vulnerable to climate change.” The consequences for our Pacific Island neighbours are incredibly severe.

It is important to be emotionally honest. It is impossible not to absorb the latest findings from the IPCC without feeling an incredible weight of sadness that it has come to this and to feel anxiety about what is coming. But the future depends on us holding our nerve, and not giving in to the dogs of nihilism, the sirens of distraction, or the morphine of defeatism. 

We may also feel fury that we have arrived at this point because of the fossil fuel order, and above all, the efforts of the fossil fuel corporations and their political allies who have deliberately held back solutions and continue to do so, even as the emergency deepens. 

The solace is that we know the causes of the emergency. There is an escape plan. We know exactly what is driving global warming – the burning of coal, oil and gas, followed by deforestation – and we have all the technology and policy solutions necessary to rapidly transition away from all fossil fuels to clean energy from renewables, and to end deforestation.

In the face of an emergency, you respond to the greatest threats first. “Individual action” on your own consumption pattern is all well and good; but our individual actions will only make the difference if it is directed towards shifting corporations, and other major institutions. The truth is that around 70 per cent of Australia’s domestic emissions come from corporations. So the question for every individual is to think about the biggest thing you can influence: your business, your club, your college, your festival, your council. 

The number one job is to get everyone to stop buying and producing fossil fuels. It is applying the mantra of don’t buy, don’t supply, say why to every business and institution. For most corporations and institutions, the most urgent step is to stop buying electricity sourced from coal – the number one driver of climate change – and to switch to only using electricity from renewable sources.

To be transparent about my own organisation for a moment, our primary Australian campaigns are directed towards delivering the greatest possible emissions abatement, in the shortest possible time: targeting our country’s biggest polluter (AGL); the worst new fossil fuel project (Woodside); and the biggest corporate energy users (REenergise). Such is our strategy to use our resources for maximum impact, coupled with our commitment to stand with and support Pacific Island peoples in their visionary fight for climate justice

With politicians failing in their most basic duty to safeguard the future of both the citizens and the natural environment of Australia, it is left to an alliance of community and capital – a banksia revolution – as our last best chance. Of course, none of this means we should give up on politics. State and territory politicians are responding with some impressive investments in renewable energy and clear emissions reduction targets – but at the same time, they continue to recklessly allow new coal and gas developments, contrary to the advice of the International Energy Agency.

Ultimately, the fossil fuel order must give way so that our governments can discharge their most fundamental obligation to protect the safety of the Australian people and our shared patrimony, including our incredible environment.

The siren is deafening. The flames and the waters are rising. But if there is one thing we know, it is that human beings, working together can achieve practically anything. We must acknowledge the truth: then move with courage, speed, ingenuity and justice as if the near-term future of all we care about depended on our actions. Because, in truth, it does.


David Ritter  |  @ProBonoNews

David Ritter is the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

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