Emergency on Planet Earth

The science is clear: we are facing an unprecedented global emergency. We must act now. An expert group of science writers, climate scientists and ecologists, most of whom are members of the Scientists for Extinction Rebellion community, explain the science simply: what is really going on on our planet today. We present clear and unequivocal evidence - backed up by the latest research - that we are indeed in a state of planetary emergency, that human activities are to blame for this crisis, and that the arguments often used by skeptics or deniers to contest this fact are simply not true and are designed to avoid action. We also provide clear evidence that our governments are not doing nearly enough to address the crisis. And we explain why, without bold and radical action within the next few years, the impacts of this emergency will be catastrophic and irreversible, leading to incalculable suffering and loss of life.

What is this book?

Written by Dr Emily Grossman with the support of the XR Scientists community. Fact-checked and reviewed by a wide range of experts in relevant fields - both from within the XR Scientists community and external to it. This guide is also available on the Extinction Rebellion UK website. Downloadable here. Last updated 1st September 2020


The science is clear

We are facing an unprecedented global emergency

We must act now.


“We are in a planetary emergency.” Professor James Hansen, Former Director NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

“Based on sober scientific analysis, we are deeply within a climate emergency state but people are not aware of it.” Professor Hans Schellnhuber, Founding Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

“There is sufficient evidence to draw the most fundamental of conclusions: now is the time to declare a state of planetary emergency. The point is not to admit defeat, but to match the risk with the necessary action to protect the global commons for our own future.” Professor Johan Rockstrom, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

“This is an emergency and for emergency situations we need emergency action.” Ban Ki-Moon, Former UN Secretary-General

"The climate emergency is our third world war. Our lives and civilization as we know it are at stake, just as they were in the Second World War." Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Economist, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences

“Climate change will lead to battles for food.” Jim Yong Kim, Former President of The World Bank

“Climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century,” Maj Gen Munir Muniruzzaman (Retd.), chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change

“You have to understand, this is also a crisis for the world. The fact is that if the poor are suffering today, then the rich will also suffer tomorrow.” Dr Sunita Narain, Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment

“Climate change is moving faster than we are - and its speed has provoked a sonic boom SOS across our world. We face a direct existential threat.” António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General

"We have all the resources we need to deal with this. There is nothing magical about reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We just don’t have the political or economic will to do this.” Professor Stephan Harrison, Professor of Climate and Environmental Change, University of Exeter

“Listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer the most. The urgent need for interventions can no longer be postponed.” Pope Francis

“The future of the human race is now at stake.” Rowan Williams, Former Archbishop of Canterbury

Introduction

reference to be updated: credits

Humanity is facing a crisis unprecedented in its history. A crisis that, unless immediately addressed, threatens to catapult us towards the destruction of all we hold dear, our planet’s ecosystems and the future of generations to come. This crisis has been caused by human activities and we have to stop making it worse or we will face catastrophe that we cannot think our way out of, invent our way out of or buy our way out of. In one way or another, it will affect every one of us and everything we love.

The science is clear: the world is heating and the breakdown of our environment has begun. Even now, warmer temperatures are wreaking havoc, causing an increase in extreme weather, floods, storms and droughts - along with rising sea levels, heat stress in our oceans and degradation of our soils. Extreme weather events are having devastating impacts on agriculture and destroying homes, costing taxpayers billions of dollars and leaving millions of people in need of humanitarian aid.

If we keep going as we are, the coming years will bring more wildfires, unpredictable super storms and scorching heatwaves. Rising sea levels and droughts could render vast tracts of land uninhabitable through flooding and desertification, putting food supplies at risk. Receding glaciers threaten to cut off fresh water supplies for millions. Mass migration and famine are likely to take us towards civil unrest and ultimately war, raising the terrifying possibility of societal collapse.

But that’s not all. Around the world, biodiversity is being annihilated at a terrifying rate. Population sizes of thousands of species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have fallen by 60% since the 1970s. We are losing our crop-pollinating insects and soil-rejuvenating earthworms. Species are going extinct 100 to 1,000 times faster than they would be doing naturally. Many scientists say we are now entering the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction event, with one million species threatened with extinction - many within decades. Only this time it’s our fault. The consequences will be catastrophic if we do not act swiftly.

Millions of our trees are being felled to feed the ever-increasing demands for palm oil, clothes and meat. Our soils are being degraded through deforestation and intensive agriculture. We are running out of raw materials and using up our resources. Our rivers are being poisoned and our seas are acidifying and filling up with plastic. The air is so toxic that it kills millions each year.

As Sir David Attenborough put it: “We are facing a man-made disaster on a global scale.”

These climate and ecological crises can no longer be ignored or denied. Yet in spite of promises from governments, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise steeply and biodiversity loss shows no sign of slowing.

In November 2019, a group of more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries declared “clearly and unequivocally that the Earth is facing a climate emergency” and that without deep and lasting changes, the world’s people face "untold human suffering".

The time has come to take radical action. The future of our children, and our grandchildren, is at stake.

This horrifying narrative sounds almost too unbelievable to be true. Can it really be as terrifying as all that?

We hear so many conflicting opinions and reports – how do we know for sure what is true? Can we really be sure that the world is warming any more than it has in the past? And even if it is, are we certain that humans are to blame? Are species really going extinct at such high rates? And even if they are, why does this matter to us? Are things really going to get worse? If so, how much worse? And how soon? And what can we do about it?

Over the following sections, [we](See Chapter "Credits and reviewers"), an expert group of science writers, climate scientists and ecologists, most of whom are members of the Scientists for Extinction Rebellion community, explain simply what’s really going on on our planet today. We present clear and unequivocal evidence - backed up by the latest research - that we are indeed in a state of planetary emergency, that human activities are to blame for this crisis, and that the arguments often used by skeptics or deniers to contest this fact are simply not true and are designed to avoid action.

We also provide clear evidence that our governments are not doing nearly enough to address the crisis. And we explain why, without bold and radical action within the next few years, the impacts of this emergency will be catastrophic and irreversible, leading to incalculable suffering and loss of life.

We show that the time has come to take radical action. That the future of our planet is at stake. And that we cannot afford to wait another second.

Contents

Emergency on Planet Earth

What is this book?
Introduction
Contents


Part 1: Back to the start… How did we get into this climate mess and is it really that bad?
How can we be so sure that the Earth is heating?
Why should we care about a few degrees of heating?
Hasn’t the Earth been hotter in the past?
What exactly are greenhouse gases and what is the greenhouse effect?
Can we be certain that humans are causing global heating?
Haven’t natural fluctuations in carbon dioxide affected the Earth’s temperature?
What’s happened in the past few thousand years?
What’s happened in the past 150 years?
What are greenhouse gas emissions like today?
We have been warned over and over!


Part 2: It’s getting hot in here… What’s already happening to our planet as a result of global heating and why?

What is already happening to our weather?
More extreme weather
Longer and more intense heatwaves
Longer and harsher droughts
More forest fires
More extreme storms and floods
Stronger hurricanes

What is global heating doing to our oceans, coastlines and wildlife?
Melting ice and rising seas
Loss of homes due to rising seas
Impacts of heating on ocean life
Impacts of carbon dioxide on ocean life
Impacts of heating on land-based wildlife


Part 3: The lie of the land… What other damage are we doing to our planet?

How are we damaging our land and our waters?
Loss of natural resources
Deforestation
Intensive agriculture
Livestock farming
Soil degradation
Loss of grasslands, mangroves, wetlands and peatlands

How are we polluting our waters?

This is a work in progress Pages are being copied over as fast as we can, bu this is as far as we have got ... so far! For the rest of this remarkable summary, please go to:
Click here for the online version
Click here for the downloadable Google document


Coming soon:

How are we polluting our air? 54

How are we destroying our wildlife? 55 Why should we care about the loss of our wildlife? 55 Loss of species 56 Loss of fish, whales and dolphins 58 Loss of insects 59 Loss of wildlife in the UK 61 The Sixth Mass Extinction 62


Part 4: Sick, thirsty, hungry and homeless… What knock-on effects are we already seeing? 63 Impacts on human health 63 Health threats from extreme weather 63 Increased spread of diseases 64 The threat of new diseases 65 Health threats from air pollution 66 Health threats from intensive agriculture 67 Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable 67 Impacts on global food production 68 Impacts on water availability 70 Mass displacement and threats to safety, human rights and our global economy 71


Part 5: Too hot to handle… Where are we heading? 74 How hot is too hot? The promises of the Paris Agreement 74 How hot is it likely to get and when? 75 The additional risks of feedback loops 78 Water vapour and clouds 79 The ice-albedo effect 79 Melting permafrost 80 Wetland methane production 81 Drying soils and mega-heatwaves 81 Carbon cycle feedbacks 82 How tipping points might make things even worse… 82 Permafrost collapse 84 Ice sheet slippage 85 Thermohaline circulation 86 Forest dieback 86 The compound risk of multiple tipping points 87

What will our world look like in 2050 if we don’t take radical action now? 88 2050: More intense heatwaves and forest fires 89 2050: More intense storms, floods and hurricanes 90 2050: Increased droughts and water shortages 91 2050: Rising seas and increased coastal flooding 92 2050: More devastating loss of wildlife on land and in the oceans 94 2050: Further reductions in food production 94 2050: More devastating impacts on human health 96 2050: Mass displacement 97 2050: Poverty and financial instability 97 2050: Social instability and conflict 98

What will our world look like by the end of the century? 98 2100: Extreme weather 99 2100: Flooding and mass migration 99 2100: Wildlife loss 100 2100: Impacts on human health, food and water 100

What will our world look like by the end of the century if we reach 4°C of heating? 101 4°C of heating: Extreme heat 102 4°C of heating: Rising seas, flooding and mass displacement 104 4°C of heating: Wildlife loss 105 4°C of heating: Reductions in food production 105 Not worth the risk: why we need to apply the Precautionary Principle 106


Part 6: Enough is enough… How are our governments letting us down? 108 What are governments ‘supposed’ to be doing to address the ecological crisis? 108 What are governments ‘supposed’ to be doing to address the climate crisis? 109 The Paris Agreement 109 Net zero by 2050 109 Can we really get to net zero this way? The problem with relying on negative emissions technologies 110 Why net zero by 2050 isn’t actually fast enough 111 Why richer countries need to get to net zero MUCH sooner than 2050 112 How our governments are making the climate crisis worse, not better! 113 Emissions from shipping and aviation are on course to reach dangerous levels 114 Governments are still subsidising fossil fuels 115 Governments are approving new fossil fuel projects 116 Banks are financing the fossil fuel industry 117 The way that governments invest money in emerging from the coronavirus crisis is crucial 117 Is the UK government doing enough? 118 UK emissions are falling - but only in some sectors 118 UK figures don’t account for aviation, shipping or embedded emissions 119 UK emissions are not falling nearly fast enough 120 The UK government is missing its own targets 120 The UK needs to be getting to net zero by 2025, not 2050 122 The UK government is making things worse, not better! 123 The UK government is subsidising fossil fuels 123 The UK government is approving NEW fossil fuel projects 123 UK banks are investing in fossil fuels 124 But the UK only emits 1.5% of the world’s carbon, shouldn’t we be focusing our efforts elsewhere? 124


Part 7: Act now… So what do we do? 126 How long do we have and is it already too late? 126 So what needs to happen now? 126 Why individual action isn’t enough 127 The urgent need for collective action 128


Quotes 132


Credits and reviewers 143 What other scientists, political voices and readers are saying about this guide 145 Articles, interviews and short films about this guide 147

Part 1: Back to the start… How did we get into this climate mess and is it really that bad?

Part 1: Back to the start… How did we get into this climate mess and is it really that bad?

1.1 How can we be so sure that the Earth is heating?

“Join the dots. It's happening. It's happening in your world, it's happening in my world. And let's be very clear about this - it is going to get much worse.” Dr Sunita Narain, Director General of The Centre for Science and Environment/

Independent temperature records from multiple official sources confirm that there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the Earth is heating. A graph showing global temperature change in the last 2019 years image source

Each of the last three decades has been successively hotter than the one before, 19 of the top 20 hottest years have occurred in the last 19 years, and the past four years have been the hottest on record. 2016 was the hottest year ever recorded, whilst in 2019, nearly 400 temperature records were broken across 29 countries, June 2019 was the hottest on record, and July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded. As of July 2020, January 2020 was the warmest January ever recorded in Europe, we saw the hottest May ever and we already have an 85% chance that 2020 will turn out to be the hottest year on record.

Some people argue that global heating can’t be happening because the weather seems to be getting colder where they live. This may indeed be true, but what’s important to remember is that when we talk about global heating and climate change, we are talking about changes in long-term average trends in atmospheric conditions - normally measured over decades - whereas when we talk about the weather we are referring to short-term and local variability around that average.

What this means is, whilst we are clearly seeing an overall increase in average global temperatures, there can still be significant regional and yearly variations in the weather. In any one year there may be some parts of the world that are colder than usual, and there may be entire years that are colder than previous years. Indeed, those wishing to confuse the public that global heating isn’t occurring sometimes do so by pointing to misleading graphs that are based on false or misinterpreted data that refers to regional as opposed to global changes, or cherry-pick data that focus on short-term trends rather than looking at the bigger picture.

Land and Ocean Temperature Departure from Average Jan-Dec 2019 image source