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Scientists fight catastrophic climate talk

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This is not the end of the world. It only seems so.

Climate change is going to get worse, but as grim as the latest scientific reports are, including the one from the United Nations today, scientist after scientist are pointing out that curbing global warming is not hopeless. Science says it’s not over for planet Earth or humanity. Action can prevent some of the worst if done quickly, they say.

After decades of trying to get public attention, spur governments to action, and fight organized movements that deny science, climate researchers say they have a new fight on their hands: doomism. It’s the feeling that nothing can be done, so why bother. These are young people who publicly swear to have children because of climate change.

University of Maine climatologist Jacquelyn Gill noticed in 2018 that fewer people were telling her climate change wasn’t real and more “people we now call doomers who you know believe that nothing can be done”. Gill says that’s just not true.

“I refuse to cancel or write an obituary for something that is still alive,” Gill told The Associated Press, referring to Earth. “We have not crossed a threshold or exceeded the threshold. There is no pass or fail in the face of the climate crisis. »

“It’s really, really, really hard to bring people back from that ledge,” Gill said.

Doomism “is definitely a thing,” said Susan Clayton, a Wooster College psychology professor who studies climate change anxiety and spoke at a conference in Norway last week on the issue. “It’s a way of saying, ‘I don’t have to put in the effort to make changes because I can’t do anything anyway.'”

Gill and six other scientists who spoke to The Associated Press about doomism don’t sugarcoat the growing damage to the climate caused by the buildup of emissions. But that doesn’t make it hopeless, they said.

“Everyone knows it’s going to get worse,” said Jennifer Francis, a scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center. “There’s a lot we can do to make it less serious than the worst case scenario.”

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released its third report in six months. The first two focused on the severity of the warming and how it will harm people and ecosystems, with today’s report focusing on how the scale of the disruption depends on the amount of fossil fuels burned. It shows that the world is still heading in the wrong direction in its fight to curb climate change, with new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and forests falling to make way for agriculture.

“It’s not that they’re saying you’re doomed to a future of destruction and growing misery,” said Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate secretary who helped forge the agreement. Paris on the climate in 2015 and now runs an organization called Global Optimism. “What they’re saying is ‘the way of the status quo…is an atlas of misery’ or a future of growing destruction. But we don’t have to choose that. And that’s the play, the second room, which is somehow always excluded from the conversation.

UN Environment Program director Inger Andersen said that with reports like these, officials are walking a tightrope. They are trying to get the world to act because scientists call it a crisis. But they also don’t want to send people into a spiral of paralysis because it’s too dark.

“We are not doomed, but quick action is absolutely essential,” Andersen said. “With every month or year that we delay action, climate change becomes more complex, costly and difficult to overcome.”

“The big message we have (is that) human activities got us into this problem and human action can actually get us out of it again,” said James Skea, co-chair of Monday’s report. ” All is not lost. We really have the chance to do something.

Monday’s report details that without immediate and drastic reductions in carbon pollution, the world is unlikely to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, which is the goal agreed upon by the world. The world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit). And previous IPCC reports have shown that after 1.5 degrees, more people die, more ecosystems are in trouble and climate change worsens rapidly.

“We’re not falling over the cliff at 1.5 degrees,” Skea said, “Even if we were to go beyond 1.5, that doesn’t mean we’ll give up in despair.”

IPCC reports have shown that depending on the amount of coal, oil and natural gas burned, warming by 2100 could be 1.4 to 4.4 degrees Celsius (2.5 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, which can mean big differences in disease, death, and weather disasters.

While he sees an increase in catastrophic talk as inevitable, NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt said he knows firsthand that people were wrong when they said nothing could be done: “I’m working with people and I’m watching other people and I’m seeing administration. And people are doing things and they’re doing the right things mostly the best they can. So I’m seeing people doing things.

Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann said scientists believe Earth will be locked into decades of future warming even after people stop pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. air than nature absorbs. But more recent analyzes from recent years show that it will only take a few years after net-zero emissions for carbon levels in the air to start falling due to carbon being sucked into the oceans and forests, a Mann said.

The legitimate concerns of scientists repeat and amplify like in the children’s game of the phone and “when you’re done it’s ‘we’re doomed’ when what the scientist actually said is we have to reduce or 50% carbon emissions in this decade to avoid 1.5 (degree) warming, which would be really bad. A warming of two degrees would be much worse than a warming of 1.5, but not the end of civilization,” Mann said.

Mann said doomism has become much more of a threat than denial and he thinks some of the same people, trade associations and companies who have denied climate change are cheering on people who say it’s too late. Mann is in a public fight with retired University of Arizona environmentalist Guy McPherson, an intellectual leader of the catastrophic movement.

McPherson said he was not part of the monetary system, had not received a paycheck in 13 years, did not vote and lived off the grid for a decade. He said all species are going extinct and humans are no exception. He publicly predicted that humanity would die out in 2026, but in an interview with The Associated Press he said, “I’m not as stuck in 2026,” and mentioned 2030 and habitat changes. humans due to the loss of Arctic summer sea ice.

Francis de Woodwell, a pioneer in the study of Arctic sea ice whom McPherson says he admires, said that while the Arctic will be ice-free by the summer of 2050, McPherson is exaggerating the harmful effects. Local Arctic residents will be hard hit, “the rest of us will experience accelerated warming and sea level rise, disrupted weather patterns and more frequent extreme weather. Most communities will adapt to varying degrees,” Francis said. “There’s no way in hell that humans will be extinct by 2026.”

Humans probably can’t stop Arctic sea ice from disappearing in the summer anymore, but with new technologies and emission reductions, Francis said, “we have a real chance of preventing these (other) doomsday scenarios.”

Psychology professor Clayton said that “no matter how bad things are, they can always be worse. You can tell the difference between bad and worse… It’s very powerful, very affirming.


Associated Press writer Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin.


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The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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