According to new survey data from youth mental health organisation ReachOut, four in five Australian students report being somewhat or very anxious about climate change.
They are scared of the future that is being left to them as we blindly march into a mass extinction that could wipe out life on earth as we know it, or at least make things so bad we wish it did. As we saw last Friday, this anxiety is leading to action. Over 80,000 people gathered outside Parliament House for the School Strike for Climate with three simple demands: no new coal, oil or gas projects; 100 per cent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030; and funding for a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel industry workers and communities.
The school strike was the largest climate demonstration the State has ever seen. I am sure the protests will continue to grow. People are gathering in greater numbers than ever before because the existential threat to our existence is greater than ever before. They are gathering because our governments continue to ignore the science, the will of the people and the desperate pleas of children who feel they have no choice left but to leave school to try to make a change. A landmark new report at the United Nations Climate Action Summit this week paints a grim picture of the future of our planet. The report found that the world's nations need to increase their emissions targets between three and five times if we have any goals of meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement. Current plans would see global temperatures increase between 2.9 degrees Celsius and 3.4 degrees Celsius by 2100, which would spell the end for at least our civilisation, if not our species as we know it. The report established that the average global temperature for 2015 to 2019 is on track to be the warmest period in recorded history—1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.
Extreme weather events caused by climate change, such as widespread and long-lasting heatwaves, record-breaking fires and other devastating events such as tropical cyclones, floods and drought have had major impacts on socio-economic development and the environment. Sea level rise is accelerating—we have seen that recently at Stockton Beach in Newcastle—and the oceans have become 26 per cent more acidic since the beginning of the industrial era. Recently Iceland held a funeral for its first glacier lost to the climate crisis. The once-massive Okjökull glacier, now completely gone, has been commemorated with a plaque that reads:
A letter to the future
Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.
In Greenland, ice sheets are melting at a rate that was not expected until 2070. In August the single-day melt record was broken after the ice sheet lost 12.5 billion tons of water in one day. Greenland's ice sheet alone contains enough water to raise global sea levels by 20 feet. Record-breaking heat in Alaska has caused its sea ice to melt away completely, meaning there was no sea ice whatsoever within 150 miles of its shores. That has happened before, but never this early in the year. Scientists have watched on in horror with one saying they are "running out of adjectives to describe the scope of change we're seeing."
This is being repeated all over the Arctic where even in winter places such as the Bering Sea are open ocean whereas for most of recorded history it has been completely covered with ice. That is because of arctic amplification in which reflective, white sea ice vanishes and the darker ocean absorbs solar energy rather than reflecting it back into space. Arctic amplification means that temperatures are rising twice as fast in the Arctic compared with the rest of the world. The result is not gradual warming but a viscous feedback loop with exponentially faster warming leading to exponentially less ice and vice versa. The science is clear: The very existence of our civilization and our species is under threat. Since just 1990 humans have burned half of all fossil fuels. It takes at least 10 years before we begin to see the impacts of CO2 after it has been released from the atmosphere. Despite the overwhelming evidence before us by thousands of scientists and extreme weather events all around the world, we are still not doing enough. We need to listen to the children. We need to listen to the student strikers. We need to listen to the science and stop blocking action that will guarantee the children of today a safe climate.