Climate change: This simple guide to the scientific evidence explains the urgent need for action – Dr Emily Grossman

A new, free and rigorously fact-checked book, Emergency on Planet Earth, provides an easy-to-understand guide to the science of climate change, writes Dr Emily Grossman.

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 10:13 am
Extinction Rebellion protesters make the point that their calls for greater action are backed by scientists (Picture: Luciana Guerra/PA Wire)

It was a warm spring afternoon in 2019 and my partner was singing songs on a pink boat in the middle of Oxford Circus. As sat on the ground and listened, as proud as I was of him I felt a deep sense of unease. Around me were Extinction Rebellion protesters holding banners reading “mass extinction”, “societal breakdown”, “ecosystem collapse”. I felt incredibly uncomfortable. But not because I was worried that the lives of “billions of people” were at risk if we didn’t “take radical action now”, but because I didn’t actually think it could possibly be true.

As a science communicator, with a degree in natural sciences from Cambridge University and a PhD in cancer research, of course I knew that climate change was real. I had learnt about global warming back at school and I knew that there was no doubt that the Earth was heating up and that it was our fault. But had things really gotten that bad? Were we really headed for “catastrophic” and “irreversible” damage to our planet? To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure.

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If it was really that bad, surely climate change would be on the front page of every newspaper, top of the bill on every news report? If it was really that bad, surely governments would be doing something to stop it? How naïve I was. I decided to go on a deep dive to find out the truth about what was happening on our planet and whether the terrifying claims that Extinction Rebellion were making were true. What I was about to discover would change the course of my life.

As a trained scientist I knew how to research information: what sources to trust, what peer-reviewed articles in reputable journals to read, what experts to speak to. Over the following months, I learnt that not only was everything I had heard during the protests true, but things were actually a whole lot worse.

The amount of heat that we’re adding to our atmosphere is the equivalent to five atomic bombs going off every second, and all this extra heat is causing more extreme heatwaves, forest fires, droughts, storms and floods. We’re losing ice at the rate of 300 double-decker-bus-sized chunks every second, sea levels are rising, and if we don’t take radical action now the homes of hundreds of millions of people are likely to be flooded yearly by 2050. Melting glaciers threaten the fresh water supplies of the 1.9 billion people living downstream, outside air pollution is killing nearly five million people every year, and our farming practices have damaged a third of our fertile soils. Meanwhile, the Brazilian rainforest is being felled at the rate of three football fields every minute, wildlife populations have plummeted by an estimated 60 per cent since the 1970s, and one million species are at risk of extinction – many over the next few decades. In fact, a devastating loss of pollinating insects is already threatening our ability to grow crops.

But it didn’t stop there. I learnt that rising temperatures are causing increased spread of infectious diseases and increasing the risk of transmission from animals to humans. It became clear that, unless we change course now, hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people could be forced to leave their homes and mass migration, food price rises and civil unrest could threaten the very fabric of society.

More than 11,000 scientists have declared “clearly and unequivocally that the Earth is facing a climate emergency” and without deep and lasting changes, the world’s people face “untold human suffering”. Yet I was horrified to discover that, in spite of this, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and the UK Government’s own climate change advisors have reported a staggering lack of progress in making the necessary emissions cuts or preparing us for what’s to come.

I knew I had to do something. I joined with a small group of scientists, all as terrified as I was about the unfolding nightmare that we are facing, and we formed the group Scientists for Extinction Rebellion. We wrote a declaration stating how, over the past four decades, scientists had tried every other method of drawing attention to the crisis and that non-violent direct action was now the only option we had left. Within a month it had been signed by more than 1,700 scientists across the globe.

Yet I realised we needed more people on board if we were going to force governments to listen. With so much confusing and conflicting information out there, so much dangerous propaganda disguised as fact, so much covering-up and deflecting from the truth, how could we convince people of the urgency of the situation? While the climate and ecological emergency is the single biggest issue affecting us and our planet today, I couldn’t find a full overview anywhere that was really accessible and easy to follow.

So we brought together a team of expert contributors from all the different areas relating to the climate and ecological crisis, and one year on, we have produced a free online book, Emergency on Planet Earth, that I promise tells you the truth.

It is written in a way that’s easy to understand – no matter your level of scientific experience – has been rigorously fact-checked, referenced and reviewed by a wide range of experts, and has already been endorsed by some of the leading voices in the field. Emergency on Planet Earth is available as an open-access Google Doc and Extinction Rebellion has adopted it as their website’s science section.

One of the best feelings is how easy people have been finding it to extract facts from the book to share with family and friends. I know many people need no convincing about the seriousness of our planetary crisis, yet struggle in the face of sceptics. It’s certainly difficult to hold your own in a conversation with a climate denier who may be scientifically more literate than you, but typically doesn’t have all the information.

I really hope that Emergency on Planet Earth will not just allow readers to educate themselves and to share what they learn with those around them, but that they will experience the same sense of empowerment and togetherness that I did in writing it. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the climate crisis, but arming ourselves with the facts is the first step towards driving positive change.

So, I beg you, please read it. Please share it. And then, please, let’s take action. Before it’s too late.

Dr Emily Grossman is a science writer, public speaker and TV personality, and author of the best-selling children’s book Brain-fizzing Facts. @DrEmilyGrossman

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