What On Earth

'Don't despair. Get angry and get active.' Scientists say a livable future means getting off fossil fuels

The UN climate panel sounded a dire warning this week, with its updated climate report described as a 'code red for humanity' by UN Secretary General António Guterres. But two climate scientists say while the warning is stark, the focus must not be on despair and instead should be on action.

Renewable energy is part of the solution, scientists say

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its Sixth Assessment Report Monday — and with it — a dire warning that the world is dangerously close to runaway warming and humans are responsible. 

The report, released this week, is the most comprehensive look at climate change since the body's last report came out in 2013. 

Written by hundreds of the world's leading scientists, it places the blame for rising global temperatures on greenhouse gasses produced by human activities. It also connects the dots between rising emissions and extreme events such as record-breaking wildfires, heat waves and catastrophic flash flooding. 

Of the all report's findings, scientists Katharine Hayhoe and Simon Lewis say the most important is the potential for transformative action and change. Hayhoe and Lewis discussed the report in an interview with the host Laura Lynch, on The Current. 

"We need to get carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions down to zero to stabilize the climate, and we can only do that by ending fossil fuel use and really moving our societies and our lives to be powered by renewable energy," said Lewis, a professor of global change science at University College London.

For a deeper dive on the fossil fuel industry, and its role in Canada's climate policy, listen to these previous episodes of What On Earth

Texas Tech University atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe said such transformation is possible. 

"The choice of our future is up to us," she said. 

Hayhoe said the report makes clear "the human fingerprint" on extreme weather events in almost every part of the world, but said the updated data simply confirms what we already knew was happening. 

"At this point scientists sort of feel like they're tapping the mic asking if it's on and if anyone's listening," she said. However, Hayhoe also noted that human society has undergone major changes in the past.

"And the reason why we've changed in the past is when ordinary people decided the world can and must be different and used their voices to advocate for change," she said.

Lewis said the report contains shocking statistics, and demonstrates unequivocally that humans are changing the earth's climate and ecosystems. 

"We can adapt to a certain degree, but we also need to drive down emissions because there are limits to adaptation," he said. 

Lewis believes public action is the solution. 

"Don't despair. Get angry and get active," he said. "Every extra additional bit of warming matters, so what we do matters. So we do need to call for change and act for change. It is possible to get emissions down."

The IPCC is expected to release two more reports during the first quarter of 2022, on the impacts of climate change and potential mitigation measures.