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Climate crisis: We need to act now to avert catastrophe

It’s a sobering headline but here climate experts and activists lay it on the line - there is very little time left to reverse the situation

‘Everything, everywhere, all at once needed to halt climate change’

Warming since pre-industrial times has reached just over 1 degree and we quite clearly already cannot cope. Witness the impacts being experienced across many parts of the world, including in our proverbial back garden in Europe. We are seeing loss of lives and livelihoods, most acutely in the least developed countries who are least responsible and most vulnerable.

The science is abundantly clear that impacts increase rapidly with warming. At 1.5 degrees – which we will probably reach in the early part of the 2030s – impacts will be much worse than today. If we continue to warm the climate further beyond that then the impacts will get worse very rapidly. The physics is very simple: to stop warming requires us to reach net zero emissions of carbon dioxide and greatly reduce emissions of remaining greenhouse gases. If we had started reducing emissions when we knew there was a problem in the latter half of the 20th Century we would still have a vast array of options open to us to avoid warming beyond 1.5 or 2 degrees. Instead, we stand today at almost 50 per cent more emissions per year than in 1990 and with global emissions still rising.

So now the only option open to us to avoid the worst of climate change is: everything, everywhere, all at once. The good news is that we have the tools, technologies and headroom in the global financial system to make this happen. But we need literally every decision at all levels from individuals to governments to be focused on relentlessly making the climate-smart choices. We are quite literally writing our climate futures through our actions and our inactions today. The impacts of these decisions will reverberate for thousands of years into the future.

Peter Thorne is a professor in physical geography (climate change) at Maynooth University and director of the Irish Climate Analysis and Research UnitS group (ICARUS)


‘Few options available to avert catastrophe’

It is almost impossible to overstate the urgency and gravity of the climate emergency. Quite simply, this is the defining moment for humanity. The choices this generation make will, one way or another, shape the kind of world our descendants inherit.

While the science of climate change has long been clear, rather than this translating into concerted action we have instead witnessed decades of dithering, denial and political buck-passing. All easy options for a “soft landing” in terms of slowly cutting emissions have now been squandered.

Today, the few options still available to avert complete catastrophe are as unpalatable as they are unpopular. This was made clear with the recent publication of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesis report. Humanity’s pathway to keeping global temperatures below the 1.5 degree danger line has all but disappeared.

We are now facing into an era of unprecedented turmoil, as extreme weather events intensify, stressing the global food system and forcing hundreds of millions to abandon their homelands due to unbearably high temperatures and lethal droughts.

But, like with the persistent ringing of an alarm bell on a neighbour’s house, the public and much of the media seem to have become inured to the warnings and have managed to tune out the sirens and dismiss them as background noise.

It’s a scary time to be alive, yet also one of unique opportunities. No future generation is ever likely to have the chances open to us to still make a difference. Now is the time to prove ourselves to be good ancestors.

John Gibbons is an environmental journalist, commentator and founder of the climatechange.ie website

‘We need a groundswell of voices to pressure our politicians’

We all know the meme. A dog sits by a table with a cup of tea, surrounded by flames. “This is fine,” the dog says, with unsettling indifference. The image is irresistible as a portrayal of our predicament: a rapidly warming planet that threatens current and future lives and wellbeing, and a lacklustre response that seems entirely disconnected from the urgency of the crisis.

It is a compelling analogy, but from a psychological perspective, it needs a tweak: our failure to act is not an individual response, but a collective one. Each of us sits in a house aflame, not alone, but surrounded by others, all saying, “this is fine”. This modified image illustrates a fundamental feature of human psychology – our social nature. We look to other people for how to act, and we tend to do what others do. And at the moment, the usual sources of trusted information about what to do in an emergency – our political leaders and the media – are failing to signal any urgency. By contrast, climate scientists are shouting from the rooftops, issuing the most severe final warnings.

Why this disconnect? In large part, it is because the solutions – the most important of which is to rapidly ramp down fossil fuels – threaten the profits of the most powerful corporations in our global economy.

Those vested interests have dedicated more than 30 years and billions of euro to sow doubt about the science and to lobby governments to delay and water down action. Their efforts have been hugely successful – research tells us that while 85 per cent of Irish people are worried about climate change, reticence to speak up reinforces a false social reality in which we think the majority don’t care, which further suppresses action.

While our social nature explains why we continue to sit in a burning house, it also offers a means to convert collective inaction to action. Other research shows that it only takes a handful of voices in a crowd to spark a social tipping point, empowering and emboldening the rest to speak up and act. So, there is hope for action – and it starts with knowing that if you stand up and shout, “Our house is on fire, we need to act now!!” you won’t be alone. With enough voices, perceptions will shift from “I’m the only one who cares” to “Everyone cares!” – finally enabling the groundswell of voices required to pressure our politicians to take action now to ensure a liveable future for all.

Professor Clare Kelly is an associate professor in the school of psychology, Trinity College Dublin

‘Leaders do not appear to get the problem’

Climate change is causing an increase in natural disasters, political instability, and inequality. It is also impacting young people’s mental health, costing peoples livelihoods and it damages our natural environment which we are dependent on. While there are solutions, our climate action finally needs to increase to a scale that is sufficient to combat the climate crisis.

Scientists have researched for decades, and they regularly present findings and possible pathways to us all, such as those compiled in the IPCC report. While young people seem to comprehend and suffer from the impacts around them, many “leaders” do not appear to get the problem. We saw this when several government representatives including the Cop28 president failed to raise their hands when asked if they had read the policy report.

Even though climate policies are being established, urgency in their implementation is missing. Ireland is on the way to having the highest per capita emissions in Europe, when we know that we need to stop burning fossil fuels. It is more than clear that we need to start acting if we want to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming, and that we need to phase out fossil fuel infrastructure, let alone install new liquefied natural gas ports or gas power plants. Civil movements and states of emergency have shown us that sudden change is possible in the past, and we have to do everything in our power to protect each other.

Magdalena Sedlmayr is a music student and political activist fighting for climate justice

Danielle Barron

Danielle Barron is a contributor to The Irish Times