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The most maddening thing about our climate change situation is that we aren’t doomed



You may have missed it, but the latest major climate change report was released on Monday. In a week in which we have been stunned by the horrors of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it would be easy to put the climate crisis on the back burner. There always seems to be a bigger story.

But is there anything more important than the planet-wide destruction and death that climate change could wreak over the course of this century?

Because, make no mistake, this is what the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes crystal clear. We are now entering dangerous climate change territory. Does that mean we are doomed? No. That’s what is so maddening about our current situation. As the new IPCC report shows, we not only have the technology but we can quickly deploy it. What’s more, as well as avoiding climate breakdown, think of all the additional benefits of a fossil fuel-free world.

We are being rocked with spiraling energy bills as the price of gas and oil goes through the roof. Millions of people suffer from the air pollution that pours out of the exhaust pipes of road vehicles. Returning to the tragedies in Ukraine, our use of Russian oil and gas directly feeds Putin’s war machine.

So why are carbon emissions still increasing? The reason we’re not cutting fossil fuel use is because a tiny fraction of humanity is resisting with all of its considerable power. Power it has accrued through fossil fuels. Just this week oil and gas giant Exxon signalled record quarterly profits from oil and gas prices. Around the world, governments continue to subside fossil fuel extraction and use to the tune of nearly $6 trillion.

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Finding all of this overwhelming is understandable. The problem is so huge you wonder what on earth any individual can do about it. For some, the answer is direct action. Last week I met a young man who wanted to talk to me about the climate and ecological crisis. His first question was: just how bad is it? This is something I am asked a lot. I said that the situation was very serious and that if we don’t see rapid reductions in fossil fuel use then we would be heading into a much more warmer and dangerous world. His second question  I couldn’t really answer: how far would I go to avoid that dangerous world? I’ve been to protests, marched and chanted along with everyone else. Sometimes I will give a speech. But would I go further?

As we continued, it became clear that he was planning on taking part in a protest that would mean his likely arrest. So I found myself talking with someone readying themselves to go and put their liberty on the line for a safe climate while I carried on with my research and teaching from the comfort of my office. In the following days I kept wondering what was he going to do. Would he be safe? On 1 April I discovered what he had been planning. He joined hundreds of other mostly young people in a series of actions that blockaded oil terminals across the UK as part of a Just Stop Oil protest.

As for me, how far would I go? Well, I’m an academic. We don’t do that sort of thing. Actually, some do. This week more than 1,200 scientists in 26 countries have taken to the streets in protest about the lack of climate action. They have read out sections of IPCC reports, held up graphs showing increasing greenhouse gas emissions, locked themselves to railings and been carted off by the police.

Is the situation really that bad? Does it merit possible arrest, conviction and criminal record? For many people across the world it clearly does. They cannot bear yet more delay, more fine words but little action while they see their futures slowly fading away. They are under no illusions that what they do is popular. With their protests Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion have drawn the ire of thousands of people. But how else can they be heard? Has any social progress from the abolition of slavery, votes for women, to the decriminalisation of homosexuality ever been achieved by asking politely?

These protestors may not be the heroes we all want, but they are the heroes we all need. We all benefit from a safe and stable climate. Listen to their demands and you find them sensible and supported by the science. You may not agree with some of their methods, but I hope like me you can acknowledge their bravery and commitment. As dire as the current situation is, we would be in a worse place without them. I salute them.

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