News reports of long-predicted disasters are starting to sound familiar. Scientists, too, must carry on repeating calls for rapid cuts to carbon emissions Environment | Leader 15 January 2020 Pierre Huyghe’s Untitled (Human Mask), 2014Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, London, & Anna Lena Films, Paris. © Pierre Huyghe, VEGAP, 2017IN OUR issue…
News reports of long-predicted disasters are starting to sound familiar. Scientists, too, must carry on repeating calls for rapid cuts to carbon emissions
15 January 2020
IN OUR issue of 31 August last year, we ran news stories on record-breaking wildfires raging across the globe from the Amazon to the Arctic. Meanwhile, our features section highlighted the uncertain long‑term future of Arctic sea ice.
This week, Australia is burning, and new research highlights the Amazon’s higher future wildfire risk (see “Area of Amazon affected by wildfires predicted to grow by 2050”). Meanwhile, one of our features focuses on scientists studying the Thwaites glacier, a crucial and highly vulnerable part of the West Antarctic ice sheet (see “Antarctica’s doomsday glacier is melting. Can we save it in time?”). Now, as then, there are concerns that humanity could be closer than previously assumed to precipitating dangerous climate tipping points.
Our apologies if any of this is beginning to sound familiar.
The truth is, all of these stories are chronicles of disasters foretold. As we reported last week, we have known about increased wildfire risk, as a consequence of climate change, for a decade or more. And climate models disagree only on the speed of future ice‑sheet melting, not that it will happen.
As two of this week’s contributions to our culture section suggest, we are vulnerable components of a complex, interdependent natural world that will far outlast us (see “Here’s how we can learn from other animals to create a better Earth” and “Aquarela documentary reveals water’s raw power in terrifying detail”). But although we aren’t masters of it, we can be masters of our own destiny within it. More investigations such as those of the Thwaites glacier are vital for assessing and preparing for our future. So too is clear-headed assessment of schemes to reduce our impact on the natural world – for example the recent claims that food produced from renewable energy and air can replace the products of conventional farms (see “Can we really save the planet by making food ‘from air’ without farms?”).
Nothing should be off the table. Grasping the nettle of decreased fossil‑fuel dependence is vital to our future well-being – not a brake on our prosperity, but its guarantor. And cutting carbon emissions is a matter of cumulative benefit: the more we take out of our carbon budget sooner, the greater savings we accrue over the crucial coming decades. For anyone concerned about our future and that of the planet, these are facts worth repeating.
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