Going Under

By Bill McGuire

If your children or grand children live within sight of the sea, then be afraid. Very afraid. Sea-level rise is set to be one of the most devastating and disruptive consequences of climate breakdown and the prospect of the oceans drowning coastal communities by the end of the century is growing by the day. The prevailing view sees perhaps a metre or so of sea-level rise by the century’s end – enough in its own right to doom low-lying islands and coastlines – but the true picture may be far worse. A number of studies suggest that sea levels by 2100 could be two or three metres up on today; perhaps as much as five metres. A truly terrifying scenario.

uk_sealevel_rise

How the UK would look on an ice-free Earth

Global sea levels rose by around 20cm during the 20th century and are climbing now at close to half a centimetre a year. Much of this is due to the expansion of the oceans as they warm, but melting ice is playing an ever more important role in hiking the rate of the rise. The problem is that the Earth is not heating up uniformly, and the bad news for us is that temperatures across the polar regions are climbing far more rapidly than anywhere else. Of course, this is where the vast majority of our world’s ice resides; in total, a staggering 24 billion cubic kilometres of it – close to seventy per cent of all the fresh water on Earth. The great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica have been bastions of stability since the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago. During the second half of the 20th century, however, and especially in the last few decades, they have started to crumble, shedding vast quantities of freshwater into the oceans.

Until recently, attention has been focused on accelerating melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, which are the most sensitive to rising temperatures. The last 20 years or so has seen a huge increase in the melting rate of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which is now shedding close to 400 billion tonnes of ice every year. Even more worryingly, the melting rate is increasing exponentially, which means it will continue to accelerate rapidly.

The news from West Antarctica is not good either. In the five years from 2012 to 2017, ice loss from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet shot up threefold, from 76 billion tonnes annually, to a colossal 219 billion tonnes. In total, more than 2.7 trillion tonnes of Antarctic ice has melted in the last quarter century, adding three-quarters of a centimetre to global sea level. At the new rate, the contribution over the next 25 years would be 1.5cm. Not really too much to worry about. If, however, the rate of increase is maintained over this period, then the annual rise by the mid-2040s – barely more than 20 years away – would be close toa catastrophic five centimetres a year. And this is without the growing contribution from Greenland and from the increasing expansion of sea water as the oceans continue to warm. It is not known how the melt rate will change in coming decades, but it is a sobering thought that even if the rate of increase stays as it is, low-lying lands and all coastal population centres would be threatened with permanent inundation by the century’s end.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, new research from East Antarctica paints an even more disturbing picture. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet dwarfs those of both Greenland and West Antarctica. Complete melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet would raise global sea levels by around seven metres, while melting of all the ice in West Antarctica would add another five or so. If East Antarctica lost its ice, however, it would push up sea levels by a staggering fifty metres or more. Until recently, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet was regarded as largely stable, and some studies even suggested that it might have been growing. The new study (1) reveals, however, that this is now changing, and changing with a vengeance. What was a sleeping giant is now beginning to wake up.

Satellite data reveals that a cluster of colossal glaciers, which together make up about an eighth of the coastline of East Antarctica, are starting to melt as the surrounding ocean gets progressively warmer. The loss of the giant (It’s about the size of Spain!) Totten Glacier – just one of the cluster – would, on its own, raise global sea levels by more than three metres. The new data show that it and its companions are now moving increasingly rapidly seawards and thinning as they do so, meaning that even the worst predictions for rising sea levels may be optimistic. As with the many other indicators that flag the remorseless breakdown of the stable climate that fostered the growth of our civilisation, the collapse of the polar ice sheets sends us the message that time has run out. Prevarication is no longer an option. Only serious and determined action now will give us any chance of avoiding a climate calamity that will swamp the world’s coastlines and displace hundreds of millions – if not billions – of people.

(1) https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/more-glaciers-in-antarctica-are-waking-up

 

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.

 

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Forward To The Past

By Bill McGuire

The trouble with blogging about climate change is that the bad news comes so thick and fast these days that it is difficult to know what to flag up next. The findings of at least three pieces of research were published in the last week or so, each of which added further support to the case that we are going to hell in a hand cart. It took a deal of humming and harring before deciding which to address here, but in the end I determined to take a look at what past climate change can tell us about where we are headed. For now, the melting glaciers of East Greenland and evidence for an upcoming acceleration of planetary warming will just have to wait.

The idea that the past is the key to the present is a tenet worth much in the fields of Earth Science and geophysics, and it makes perfect sense. In the same way that observing natural processes happening today can help us interpret events within the geological record, so what happened thousands or millions of years can tell us what we to expect on 21st century Earth.

The latest news from deep time is not good. In fact it is terrifying. Around 252 million years ago, the geological period known as the Permian was brought to an abrupt end by the greatest mass extinction event in the history of our world. Known as the Great Dying, it saw almost all marine species wiped out, along with two-thirds of all life on land. What caused this cataclysmic dieback has been a matter of debate and controversy in geological circles for many years. Now, though, it looks as if the culprit has been fingered – climate change. 

The results of a new study published earlier this month1 by scientists from Stanford University and the University of Washington provide robust evidence for a huge spike in warming at this time, with global average temperatures climbing as much as 10°C in as little as a few hundred years. As a result, the warmer oceans may have lost up to four fifths of their oxygen, leading to the obliteration of 96 percent of all marine species. On land, the extreme temperatures wiped everything – from lizards and insects to early plants and bacteria – from the face of the planet. The cause of the temperature spike is not certain, but up there as the favourite is a massive outburst of greenhouse gases triggered by elevated levels of volcanic activity.

Substitute the repeated annual injection into the atmosphere of more than 35 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, for volcanic activity, and the situation begins to look horribly familiar. But surely, you might say, even the worst case scenarios don’t predict a 10°C rise in global temperatures, do they? Well, on the basis of current trends, the best we can hope for is a global average temperature hike of 3°C by 2100; nearer 4 or 5°C – or even more – should feedback loops really start to kick in as expected. That is already half way to the Great Dying, and would see countless species wiped out in a continuation of the ongoing, human-induced, sixth great extinction. Even worse, if we burn most (not even all!)known fossil fuel reserves, it has been calculated that our world could end up a staggering 16°C warmer than during pre-industrial times2. At the moment, the average temperature of Planet Earth is a little over 14°C. This would take it to more than 30°C. The result would be a mass extinction to put the Great Dying in the shade, and one that the human race would struggle to survive. Under these furnace conditions, most of the planet would simply be too hot for human physiologies to function, so the best prognosis for our race would be the survival of a few pockets clinging on in the slightly cooler polar regions.

So, it is perfectly clear. We now know exactly what trajectory we will be on if we continue to burn fossil fuels and swamp the atmosphere with carbon.  Not back to the future, but forward to the past. We can’t let it happen.

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.

Sources:

(1) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6419/eaat1327 

(2) https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20140017102.pdf 

Inspiring your audience – How to ‘Sell’ Climate Change Action

By Kate Goldstone

 

The battle against runaway climate change is one that every one of us faces. Our children face it too. But across the world climate campaigners are struggling – and often failing – to capture the public imagination, to persuade their audiences to act, to get things moving. As an ex-marketer I think it’s important to explore why it’s sometimes such a challenge to wake our audiences up, and how we can work more effectively to bring millions more protestors into the fold.

The history of climate change

The history of the scientific discovery of climate change (1) kicked off in the early 1800s, when the natural greenhouse effect was first pinpointed. By the 1960s the warming effect of CO2 was clearer, but some scientists began wondering whether human generated atmospheric aerosols might have a cooling effect on the planet.

The ’70s saw the warming powers of CO2 confirmed, and by 1990 both computer modelling and simple observations confirmed greenhouse gases were deeply involved in climate change. Worse still, human-caused emissions were bringing about noticeable global warming. Now we understand a lot more about the causal relations between our CO2 habits and climate change, and there’s no doubt that the human race is at fault. It’s definitively a human thing.

What’s been done so far?

Five decades on from those first indications, it can feel like not a lot has changed. People are still burning fossil fuels, driving everywhere, still flying like there’s no tomorrow, even though our tomorrows are going to be seriously limited if we carry on. Governments are still sitting on their hands, entire nations are sticking their fingers in their ears and pretending everything’s OK. Wildfires are raging, coastlines are flooding, extreme weather is on the up… but nothing much seems to be happening, or at least nothing on the grand scale we need at this point.

Why so little real climate change action?

From an individual perspective, is there anything more scary that the planet you live on, the place that keeps you alive, turning against you? The thing about climate change is, it’s massive. It’s everywhere. It affects every human, plant and animal on the planet, of every kind, in multiple ways, very few of them positive.

Climate change means bad weather. Really bad, unpredictable weather. It means the wholesale destruction of property and crops. It means water wars and mass migrations. It means widespread economic difficulties and it might even destroy whole societies, entire nations. Countries on the Equator will probably become uninhabitable through the heat and lack of rain. People will starve. Because vast swathes of land will no longer be suitable for them, countless precious members of the animal kingdom will die off and become extinct.

From a government perspective, climate change is a really tricky fix. Because governments are only in power for a short time, their viewpoint is a short-term one. They’re not comfortable bringing in unpopular climate change measures that restrict their constituents, cost them money or make their lives less pleasant, and that – as we know – is fatal. It means most of them are doing absolutely nothing, or very little, to mitigate climate change. And it leaves the public, you and I, with very little wriggle room.

If, like me, you’ve stopped flying altogether, barely ever use a car, have fitted energy-efficient light bulbs and other kit to your home and gone veggie or vegan, there’s not a lot else you can do. It’s incredibly frustrating watching governments fiddle while Rome burns. But no wonder it’s so hard to get most people off their backsides and into protest mode, when the problem feels so big, so hard to surmount, so horrifying to even contemplate. It’s very discouraging seeing our leaders doing bugger-all about it, and it’s saddening to see so relatively few ordinary people putting their neck on the block as well.

The remarkable power of optimism

According to an article in New Scientist magazine (2) decades of environmental doom-mongering have fallen on deaf ears. It says that a ‘new environmental campaign with a message of hope’ is what we need, a fresh way to campaign called ‘Earth Optimism’.

Fans of Earth Optimism say the successes we’ve experienced in protecting individual species like the scimitar oryx and Togo slippery frog, the overall decline in Amazon rainforest destruction, and our brilliant work on renewable energies are worthy of celebration. They all reveal the power we have at our fingertips as individuals.

Yes, the movement is accused of naivety, of wearing rose-tinted specs. But at the same time they’re not claiming that everything’s lovely. Rather, they believe we can’t expect people to rise to a challenge like this without inspirational examples of success.

Do environmental campaigners come across as too doom-mongering? Do we come across as ‘guilt-tripping party poopers’ as the article suggests? If you’re in need of a boost, you can follow Earth Optimism’s Tweets here (https://twitter.com/earthoptimism?lang=e)

Taking a marketing perspective

You could say we need to create the marketing campaign to end all marketing campaigns. And marketing is usually about optimism. A positive marketing message is always more powerful and influential than a negative one, which is why we tend to get so frustrated with party political promotion, which focuses a lot harder on negative information about competing parties than positive messages about their own policies.

The more we moan and weep and tear our hair out, the more we’re putting people off. The more dreadful facts and terrifying revelations we put out there, the more we drive people to bury their heads in the sand and keep them there. Do we in fact need fresh, new messages and an Obama-esque ‘yes, we can’ mindset? Do we need to shift the narrative to inspire people? What do you think?

Can we do it? Yes, we can!

If you doubt we can do it, think plastic. You have more influence than you think. Just look at what we’ve done about plastic pollution in the short time between David Attenborough’s epic Blue Planet series, which highlighted the issue, and now. All over the world ordinary people are using less plastic, handing back plastic packaging to the supermarkets it came from, changing their shopping habits, turning up en-masse to clean the world’s beaches and rescue plastic-stricken sea creatures.

Give us a cause and we’ll follow it. Give us a job and we’ll do it. But when we’re left to stew in our own juices as our politicians prevaricate, we’re completely disempowered. Maybe we need to break the task into bite-sized chunks. After all, none of us can save an entire planet’s climate on our own.

Can you think of a way to translate an enormous, unwieldy problem into something people can get their teeth into, get behind, get sorted? Can you think of an optimistic way to express an issue that we need people to focus on? How would you sell climate change action?

Sources:

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_climate_change_science

(2) https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23631473-200-reasons-to-be-cheerful/

Nurses to Extinction

The old woman coughs hoarsely into a handkerchief, pulling the mask from her face. We use morphine to keep her free of the agitation of respiratory distress, and nebulized drugs to keep her airway open, as well as make the cough productive. Eating and drinking are hard to do when you are constantly on an oxygen mask. Even with the oxygen off your mouth, there is oxygen flowing into your nose. This is not really helping her to live, merely setting trails to her dying with tubes and wires.

The webpage London Air gives you very measured and description of how air pollution can affect conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). It does however not give any insights into the emotions of those suffering from the disease, often caused by our bad air quality, nor of those who care for them – London’s many fine nurses, healthcare assistants, allied health professionals, and doctors. We do the best we can with people panicked and traumatised at their own bodies’ failure. The ravages of COPD are quite ghastly to behold. Many patients bounce back into hospital a short time after their admission with the same problem, but with a poorer prognosis. Our treatment of them has only been a sticking plaster, placed over the cracks. We do our best to keep people happy and enjoying that bare, reduced life they lead in hospital. Back out in the polluted streets and modern slums of London we do not see or hear them – they are invisible – save when they re-emerge from this “illspring.”

The “sticking plaster” seems for me symbolic here, as it mirrors our government’s attitude to dealing with climate change. For a small cut, a “sticking plaster” is ideal, but climate chaos is a huge, scarifying wound – capable of destroying communities, dwellings, lives and –as time may tell – societies. Nothing small or temporary will do. I did not want to be a “sticking plaster” in the battle against extinction and the poisoning of our environment. Nurses have long been patient advocates. But that advocacy remains locked to our clinical area for the most part. We should remember the bravery of some of the first modern nurses such as Mary Seacole, who, derided and scorned, journeyed into battles to take injured soldiers away from harm’s reach or tend to their injuries.

But long before the Crimean War, women, and occasionally men, provided help to their communities when it was not always safe and went against the authorities’ wishes. What were the state-sanctioned Stuart witch trials of England other than an attack on local “healers” and “pellars”. Most of these people did the best they could with a lack of science and scant resources. It was in some sense a power grab enacted by James I – drawing influence away from local knowledge and talent and making the country ready for the Age of Reason, which was all too keen to throw the kernel of medical wisdom away with the chaff for being folksy. The 17th century Stuart regime was faced with a crisis, in the form of the 1665 plague, a terror that took the lives of 100,000 people. The clinical heirs to the folk wisdom of ill health, the plague doctors, were not able to offer good remedies. The rich fled London. Industrialisation and human misery helped to spread the damage. This history offers us a smaller scale parallel of our modern situation. The difference is that we can stop extinction with our knowledge and tactics, whereas early modern clinicians had little hope of stopping Bubonic epidemics. Not to detract from their humanity and human sensitivities, but nurses are made for crisis situations, whether that be widespread disease or climate change.

Nurses should feel empowered by being trusted figures in the community, the inheritance of a job that is a vocation nor a career. We can speak about climate chaos, as well as report from the frontline of pollution and degradation’s effects on our nation’s health. We have the social connections of those wise women of times forgotten, but with a deeper pool of knowledge and more possibilities of working together within our networks.  We can relay the suffering of those in poverty and lingering in chronic illness and give voices to the voiceless. We can be more than mere “sticking plasters” in sum. Which is why, as your fellow nurse, I would passionately urge all of you to join Extinction Rebellion.

Tom Lennard @tomlennard

You can get involved with the Extinction Rebellion health workers group at “XR Health Workers”.

 

 

 

 

Focus Australia – Serious climate issues down under

By Kate Goldstone

For generations, people from all over the world have made their way to Australia on holiday to enjoy its wonderful warm, sunny weather and extraordinary natural environments. Plenty of families moved there permanently, seduced by the climate. Now New South Wales, the country’s most heavily populated state, is officially experiencing total drought, and Australia’s legendary hot dry weather is fast becoming more or a problem than a pleasure (1).

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology defines drought as “rainfall over a three-month period being in the lowest decile of what has been recorded for that region in the past ” (2). The current very dry winter down under is intensifying the ‘worst drought in living memory’ in some areas of eastern Australia, with New South Wales, the provider of a quarter of the country’s agriculture, now 100% in drought. 23% of New South Wales is in a state of ‘intense drought’ and the rest is either in drought or drought-affected. And in the news’ grim wake there’s a growing litany of horror in the form of failing crops, dying livestock, and severe water shortages.

Some farmers are being forced to pay as much as a hundred dollars for a truck of hay to keep their beasts alive. Some are selling off their animals in despair. Others are digging in to wait for the rain… if it ever comes. In the Australian countryside farming suicide rates have always been higher than average. Now they’re around 40% higher than urban suicide rates, according to the national mental health charity Sane Australia (3).

The blame lies at the feet of climate change

Of course Australia’s weather is naturally varied year-on-year, and is affected by multiple complicated factors. Like much of the world’s weather it’s a chaotic system, and hard to predict. But all the same, a growing number of scientists are laying the blame at the feet of climate change. The Australian government itself admits the risk of severe drought could be more likely thanks to human-created global warming. As the Prime Minister PM Turnbull acknowledged, he doesn’t know many people in New South Wales who don’t think the climate is getting drier and rainfall becoming more volatile.

Government relief payments do nothing to fix the underlying issue

The Australian government is already paying out annual relief of as much as A$16,000 to affected farmers. The Prime Minister has just promised extra payments of up to A$12,000, in a move that has been criticised for being too little, too late. In a nation where drought isn’t a stranger at the best of times, it’s clear those in power are worried. But like most governments, they’re not doing anywhere near enough on the people’s behalf to mitigate climate change. Emergency relief doesn’t contribute to the fight against global warming, it merely papers over the cracks.

Australia is at more risk of runaway climate change than most

Worse still, The Guardian (4) reports that climate change could affect Australia more than any other continent. A science agency and Bureau of Meteorology report says they expect temperatures to rise as much as 5.1C in Australia by the year 2090. Scientists have long predicted that a 4C rise would be catastrophic, and that makes a hike of more than 5C downright terrifying. Unless action is taken to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions right now, officials say there’s a ‘very high confidence’ that temperatures will continue to rise steeply across Australia throughout the 21st century. Let things slide any further and the Australian government’s lack of real action could see the worst case 5C scenario become a reality.

How high temperatures affect humans

High temperatures affect more than agriculture, of course. If you’ve ever suffered through an exceptionally hot summer’s day you’ll know how nasty and uncomfortable it can be. The human body has an internal temperature of around 37C, and it dislikes being any hotter. Prolonged exposure to heat and humidity can easily kill you. If it doesn’t you’ll suffer muscle cramps because you’re dried out, short of vital electrolytes, and salt-deprived. If you’re not used to high temperatures you can suffer heat edema, where your hands and ankles swell up like balloons when your poor blood vessels dilate in an effort to radiate heat away. If you see little prickly red spots on your skin, it’s a heat rash caused by blocked sweat pores. If you stop sweating altogether, it’s time to worry – you’re on the road to potentially fatal heat stroke. When you heat up to more than 40C and lose consciousness, you’re in real trouble.

Extreme heat also results in dizziness, nausea, fainting, hallucinations, and something called heat syncope, where you get a temporary drop in the blood flow to your brain because you’ve lost so much fluid. Vomiting, diarrhoea and palpitations also reveal your body is not at all happy. No wonder, in summer 2003, an estimated 70,000 people died in the great European heatwave, which saw temperatures soaring to record levels for weeks on end.

All this happens to humans… and to our fellow creatures, who also suffer and die when temperatures exceed the usual maximum. Australia’s precious Great Barrier Reef, for example, is dying fast, being bleached to death thanks to rising sea temperatures. And once it goes, that’s that – it’s gone. Half a million years of growth, and we destroy it within a few decades. It’s shameful.

No continent is an island

The thing is, no continent is an island. Climate change is global. No one country is protected from it, no one country can make it go away. If Australia doesn’t act fast enough on climate change, the USA will ultimately suffer. If the USA doesn’t act fast enough Europe will suffer. If the EU doesn’t act now, China will suffer. And so on. We’re all interconnected, as are our economies. When one part of a global economy nosedives, so does the rest.

Australia might just be facing a perfect storm. When you blend dire predictions with government inaction and a climate that might already be changing off the scale, the future doesn’t look rosy.

It’s time to force the world’s governments to act on our behalves, to try to secure a decent future for our children. Will you go to jail for the cause, the greatest challenge mankind has had to face since we made our way out of Africa? Can you support the cause in any other way? If so, we’d love to hear from you.

Together we can make great things happen.

 

Sources:

(1) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-45107504

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drought_in_Australia

(3) https://www.sane.org/

(4) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/26/climate-change-will-hit-australia-harder-than-rest-of-world-study-shows

(5) https://www.theweathernetwork.com/news/articles/five-awful-ways-extreme-heat-affects-the-human-body/51464

We need an Apollo programme for climate change

By Bill McGuire

      A recent visit to the cinema to see the excellent First Man, which follows astronaut Neil Armstrong on his path to immortality, reminded me of the big anniversary coming up next year. I find it hard to believe, but 2019 will see the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, way back in July 1969. I was a schoolboy at the time and remember it vividly. In many ways, this seminal event was the beginning of the end for the hugely ambitious US space programme. Despite another five landings following, and all the drama of the Apollo 13 emergency, the final two moon missions were scrapped, along with plans for a moon base and manned mission to Mars in the 1980s. There has been no return to the Moon and – notwithstanding wildly optimistic ravings from Elon Musk and other internet billionaires with more money than sense – a human presence on the red planet seems as far away as ever.

      It is probably not entirely a coincidence that interest in space and reaching out to other worlds began to fade at a time when concerns over our own was growing. Today, few in their right mind would prioritise space exploration over putting our house in order down here on Earth. A house that is in severe danger of being trashed beyond repair by a conspiracy of climate breakdown, environmental degradation and mass extinction. Notwithstanding this, space still has a major role to play down here on the surface. Specialist satellites play a key part in observing and tracking many of the features that flag up how quickly our world is falling apart, including ice cover, sea-surface temperatures and land use. The Apollo programme, in particular, also taught us a vital lesson; just how quickly something can be accomplished if it is wanted badly enough. This is encapsulated in a short clip from the now famous speech President Kennedy made in 1962, during which he announced the intention to put a man on the Moon. 

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.

      Swap ‘stop climate breakdown’  for ‘go to the Moon’ and these few sentences describe perfectly the can-do thinking that a war on climate change requires. It may be Kismet, but Kennedy’s speech was made seven years before the first moon landing; the same length of time over which Extinction Rebellion demands that UK carbon emissions reach net zero. So, it seems obvious. What we need is an Apollo Programme for climate change. An all-embracing crusade that strives to cut emissions to the bone within seven years. To do this will require retooling the economy and rebooting our wasteful lifestyles to make falling carbon output the measure of the success of our society; not rising GDP, the number of families with two cars, or how many fighter jets we have sold to Saudi Arabia.

      The driver for the Apollo programme was simple and straightforward – get to the Moon before the ‘Russkies’ do. When the alternative is global catastrophe, an Apollo Programme for climate change shouldn’t really need to be incentivised. Knowing that we will bequeath to our children and their children a world that is not desecrated beyond redemption should be sufficient. Nonetheless, there are welcome incentives too. A zero carbon world will be a cleaner, safer and – almost certainly – a happier one. So what’s not to like. The sooner we start the better.

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.

A View from a University Researcher

By Stuart Capstick

How many more last chances can we have? There’s no need for another list of the appalling consequences we face if we don’t act: most of us know that if we carry on this way, the outcomes will be a devastated planet and enormous human suffering.

I am a psychologist who researches people’s understanding and responses to climate change, and I have done so for over ten years. I could tell you what the literature says about the way we block out negative information, how we shape our thinking to fit a softer version of reality, how in some ways we’re just not wired upto feel the urgency of this. I’ve worked on projects that aim to get people to make greener choices and have a better grasp of the climate science, and I’ve tried to push for a more urgent approachto changing the way we live.

But despite all this – maybe because of it – those last ten years have felt like joining an effort to put out a house fire with a water pistol. Research papers on every aspect of climate change and the environmental crisis now number in their millions. Yet at the same time as I add to this ever-growing pile, I know in my heart that it has changed little. The publication of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5C– meticulously organised by one of the most respected group of scientists in the world – was followed less than a month later by a UK government budget that allocated £30 billion to road-building, and made not one single mention of climate change. Our government is failing us, it is failing our children, and it is failing the natural world. They pay little more than lip service to scientists and to the science. The ‘honest broker’ model– in which boffins assemble the evidence and decision-makers act on it – is broken, if it ever worked at all.

There are times that I lie awake at night, with a sense of blind panic rising in me, and I feel terrified and trapped by climate change. Terrified for my kids – who are 3 and 6 years old, and whose innocent understanding of the world so far doesn’t extend to what we’re doing to it. Trapped, because like everyone else I am just one part of a much bigger structure, that seems unwilling or unable to change.

Most people now accept the reality, human causes and seriousness of climate change. But most of us also float along in a dream-world, knowing but not knowing, aware but unmoved. The hope for me is that XR is sounding an alarmthat could wake some of us up – enough of us to shake the complacency and the silence that permeates society. In all honesty, I don’t know whether we can make a real difference through XR, and I share the doubtsthat some have expressed about its tactics and slogans. We don’t know yet whether XR will peter out miserably, or morph into an effective resistance movement, but I’ve decided that is not a good enough reason not to try.

With hundreds of others, I blocked the road by Parliament on 30thOctober in a first, symbolic gesture to kick-start XR. There was nothing pleasant about breaking the law that day, or having to ignore police demands for you to desist in doing so. But for the first time in years, I felt some glimmer of hope – that maybe we were beginning to treat this like the emergency it is.

As academics and researchers, we are trained to be objective and ‘neutral’ – but I refuse to be neutral about our species sleep-walking into planetary collapse, and I’m not the only one. It’s high time we faced these issues head on, and for that reason I support non-violent direct action of the sort XR has planned. I hope others will join in, and hold our government, our society, and our institutions to account.

Dr Stuart Capstick is a Research Fellow at Cardiff University and with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. This piece is written in a purely personal capacity.