By Bill McGuire
OK. Let’s not beat about the bush. While our world has been going to hell in a handcart, many of you studying and recording its demise have had nothing to say on the subject and have remained deep in the shadows, when what has been needed is for you to hog the limelight. The cod justification you have used is always the same; muttered excuses about the need for objectivity; about how you shouldn’t become involved in politics; about how you are merely faithful recorders of facts; a silo mentality that shields you from having to make difficult decisions or engage with others outside your comfort zones.
You know who you are.
In truth, the reason you have never liked to stick your head above the parapet is for fear of being shot at by your peers. As a fellow scientist I understand that – I really do. There is nothing worse than being ridiculed within your own community. It can, I know, mean loss of prestige, a squeeze on funding, and a closing down of opportunities for advancement. I understand, therefore, why you continue to play down anything that might draw attention; why you lie low; tow the party line. I know, too, what you really think and feel about climate change, because I have talked to many of you in private, and the response – without exception – has been that the true situation is far worse than you are prepared to admit in public. So, behind the facade, I know that you are torn between speaking out and holding back; that you are as desperate as anyone for the measures to be taken that the science demands; most of all, that you fear for your children’s future in the world of climate chaos they will be forced to inhabit.
So, what to do.
Maybe the just-published IEA (International Energy Agency) World Energy Review 2018 will help to crystallise your thoughts and feelings and help convince you of the path you need to choose now. The report paints a picture of the future energy landscape that will send shivers of horror down the spines of all who give a damn about our world and all life upon it. The forecasts are – without exception – dire. By 2040, an extra 1.7 billion people are predicted to drive up energy demand by a quarter, most of it met from high carbon sources. The proportion of renewables in the energy mix is expected to have crept up to 40 percent, but coal is still forecast to be king of power generation, followed by gas. Instead of heading down fast, emissions in 2040 will be even higher than they are now, says the review, at a staggering 36 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. To put this in perspective, just last month the IPCC, hardly celebrated – as you well know (you might even have been an author or contributor) – for its doom-mongering, warned that in order to avoid catastrophic, all-pervasive, climate breakdown, emissions need to be slashed by 45 percent within just 12 years, and reach net zero by mid-century. But even this will not be enough.
I don’t need to tell you that the chasm between what’s needed, and what the IEA forecasts will happen, flags the extraordinary scale of the uphill battle we face. If we are not to bequeath to our descendants a desiccated, lifeless hothouse, then we need your help and your support.
The time to worry about what your colleagues think of you is long gone. Prestige will mean nothing in the world to come; academic advancement won’t alter the fate of your children and grandchildren one iota. So, speak out, tell it like it is. Force those who need to know to listen. Welcome any flack and hurl it back ten-fold. Come down off the fence and choose the path to rebellion.
Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and author of Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanic Eruptions. He was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters.