There has been plenty of evidence presented to global leaders that climate change is an increasingly real problem. This includes growing risk to the environment, our global economy, and our physical health. Despite these obvious threats, we as a planet continue on a pace to increase warming well beyond the Paris goal of two degrees Celsius.
This begs the question, what is left to do to change our course in time to prevent the worst possible outcomes?
One important answer is that we must dare to ask a simple question of the handful of key leaders, like those heading the group of 250 companies which emit around one-third of annual greenhouse gases. Tim Nixon, Managing Editor, Thomson Reuters Sustainability, and Sherah Beckley, Editor, Thomson Reuters Sustainability
As Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme and Christiana Figueres, Former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC declare, “it’s so important that we just ask the question”.
What are you doing on climate change?
And this challenge must be personal. Sons and daughters must ask the question to their parents. Close friends and business partners must ask themselves and each other. Wives must ask their husbands. Husbands must ask their wives. Citizens must ask each other. Before this becomes intolerable for our environment, economy and well-being, we must dare to ask those we know and love the most. What are you doing on climate change?
Why is this important?
First let’s review what has not worked to bring us on course.
The risks to our natural environment are clear, but somehow unconvincing. Sea levels are rising. Oceans becoming more acidic. Droughts more severe. Storms more intense. Fires more frequent and dangerous. And our scientific community informs us with an overwhelming level of consensus that we have more of this kind of thing coming, but with increased severity as a warmer atmosphere holds more energy and more potential for destruction. And despite this evidence, we are not changing our behaviour in part because the risks are over the horizon and beyond the concerns of the next day. As Dr Mae Jemison (former Nasa Astronaut) says “Data, in order to be effective, really needs to connect to people”.
The risks to our global economy are clear, but also unconvincing. Damage to coastal infrastructure and property values is rising. Assets of some of our largest global corporations will be lost because of their potential damage to the planet. Insurance will become increasingly expensive for assets at risk of loss. Stock markets will decline as stranded asset values decrease. To be sure, some companies and countries will adapt and prosper enormously in this transition, but the reputational, legal, and financial cost for many of the vast majority who are choosing to “wait and see” will be catastrophic. And yet these risks are not enough to change our behaviour, again in part because they lie over our personal horizon.
The risks to our physical health are clear, but equally unconvincing. Air in many of our world’s largest cities continues to be unhealthy to breath for significant parts of the year. Parts of whole coastal cities and many lives are lost as storms intensify and seas rise. New weather patterns are drying up vast farmable regions, producing mass, forced migration of millions of people, and the conflict and misery which inevitably result. And as our physical health is affected, so will the physical health of the rest of the species of animals and plants with which we share this planet and on whom we depend for life. There is great accumulating risk, both physical and spiritual, but this is not enough to change our behaviour. It is beyond our personal horizon.
So what to do?