Emergency on Planet Earth
Written by Dr Emily Grossman with the support of the XR Scientists community. Fact-checked and reviewed by a wide range of experts in relevant fields - both from within the XR Scientists community and external to it.
This guide is also available on the Extinction Rebellion UK website. See here for a selection of key facts from this guide. To save this guide as a PDF, select File -> Download -> PDF Document.
Last updated 1st September 2020
The science is clear
We are facing an unprecedented global emergency
We must act now
“We are in a planetary emergency.”
Professor James Hansen, Former Director NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
“This is an emergency and for emergency situations we need emergency action.”
Ban Ki-Moon, Former UN Secretary-General
"The climate emergency is our third world war. Our lives and civilization as we know it are at stake, just as they were in the Second World War."
Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Economist, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
“Based on sober scientific analysis, we are deeply within a climate emergency state but people are not aware of it.”
Professor Hans Schellnhuber, Founding Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
“There is sufficient evidence to draw the most fundamental of conclusions: now is the time to declare a state of planetary emergency. The point is not to admit defeat, but to match the risk with the necessary action to protect the global commons for our own future.”
Professor Johan Rockstrom, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
“Climate change will lead to battles for food.”
Jim Yong Kim, Former President of The World Bank
“Climate change is the greatest security threat of the 21st century,”
Maj Gen Munir Muniruzzaman (Retd.), chairman of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change
“You have to understand, this is also a crisis for the world. The fact is that if the poor are suffering today, then the rich will also suffer tomorrow.”
Dr Sunita Narain, Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment
“Climate change is moving faster than we are - and its speed has provoked a sonic boom SOS across our world. We face a direct existential threat.”
António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General
"We have all the resources we need to deal with this. There is nothing magical about reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We just don’t have the political or economic will to do this.”
Professor Stephan Harrison, Professor of Climate and Environmental Change, University of Exeter
“Listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer the most. The urgent need for interventions can no longer be postponed.”
“The future of the human race is now at stake.”
Rowan Williams, Former Archbishop of Canterbury
Humanity is facing a crisis unprecedented in its history. A crisis that, unless immediately addressed, threatens to catapult us towards the destruction of all we hold dear, our planet’s ecosystems and the future of generations to come. This crisis has been caused by human activities and we have to stop making it worse or we will face catastrophe that we cannot think our way out of, invent our way out of or buy our way out of. In one way or another, it will affect every one of us and everything we love.
The science is clear: the world is heating and the breakdown of our environment has begun. Even now, warmer temperatures are wreaking havoc, causing an increase in extreme weather, floods, storms and droughts - along with rising sea levels, heat stress in our oceans and degradation of our soils. Extreme weather events are having devastating impacts on agriculture and destroying homes, costing taxpayers billions of dollars and leaving millions of people in need of humanitarian aid.
If we keep going as we are, the coming years will bring more wildfires, unpredictable super storms and scorching heatwaves. Rising sea levels and droughts could render vast tracts of land uninhabitable through flooding and desertification, putting food supplies at risk. Receding glaciers threaten to cut off fresh water supplies for millions. Mass migration and famine are likely to take us towards civil unrest and ultimately war, raising the terrifying possibility of societal collapse.
But that’s not all. Around the world, biodiversity is being annihilated at a terrifying rate. Population sizes of thousands of species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have fallen by 60% since the 1970s. We are losing our crop-pollinating insects and soil-rejuvenating earthworms. Species are going extinct 100 to 1,000 times faster than they would be doing naturally. Many scientists say we are now entering the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction event, with one million species threatened with extinction - many within decades. Only this time it’s our fault. The consequences will be catastrophic if we do not act swiftly.
Millions of our trees are being felled to feed the ever-increasing demands for palm oil, clothes and meat. Our soils are being degraded through deforestation and intensive agriculture. We are running out of raw materials and using up our resources. Our rivers are being poisoned and our seas are acidifying and filling up with plastic. The air is so toxic that it kills millions each year.
As Sir David Attenborough put it: “We are facing a man-made disaster on a global scale.”
These climate and ecological crises can no longer be ignored or denied. Yet in spite of promises from governments, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise steeply and biodiversity loss shows no sign of slowing.
In November 2019, a group of more than 13,000 scientists from 153 countries declared “clearly and unequivocally that the Earth is facing a climate emergency” and that without deep and lasting changes, the world’s people face "untold human suffering".
The time has come to take radical action. The future of our children, and our grandchildren, is at stake.
This horrifying narrative sounds almost too unbelievable to be true. Can it really be as terrifying as all that?
We hear so many conflicting opinions and reports – how do we know for sure what is true? Can we really be sure that the world is warming any more than it has in the past? And even if it is, are we certain that humans are to blame? Are species really going extinct at such high rates? And even if they are, why does this matter to us? Are things really going to get worse? If so, how much worse? And how soon? And what can we do about it?
Over the following sections, we, an expert group of science writers, climate scientists and ecologists, most of whom are members of the Scientists for Extinction Rebellion community, explain simply what’s really going on on our planet today. We present clear and unequivocal evidence - backed up by the latest research - that we are indeed in a state of planetary emergency, that human activities are to blame for this crisis, and that the arguments often used by skeptics or deniers to contest this fact are simply not true and are designed to avoid action.
We also provide clear evidence that our governments are not doing nearly enough to address the crisis. And we explain why, without bold and radical action within the next few years, the impacts of this emergency will be catastrophic and irreversible, leading to incalculable suffering and loss of life.
We show that the time has come to take radical action. That the future of our planet is at stake. And that we cannot afford to wait another second.
Emergency on Planet Earth 1
Part 1: Back to the start… How did we get into this climate mess and is it really that bad? 9
How can we be so sure that the Earth is heating? 9
Why should we care about a few degrees of heating? 12
Hasn’t the Earth been hotter in the past? 13
What exactly are greenhouse gases and what is the greenhouse effect? 15
Can we be certain that humans are causing global heating? 17
Haven’t natural fluctuations in carbon dioxide affected the Earth’s temperature? 19
What’s happened in the past few thousand years? 21
What’s happened in the past 150 years? 21
What are greenhouse gas emissions like today? 23
We have been warned over and over! 24
Part 2: It’s getting hot in here… What’s already happening to our planet as a result of global heating and why? 27
What is already happening to our weather? 27
More extreme weather 27
Longer and more intense heatwaves 29
Longer and harsher droughts 31
More forest fires 32
More extreme storms and floods 33
Stronger hurricanes 37
What is global heating doing to our oceans, coastlines and wildlife? 38
Melting ice and rising seas 38
Loss of homes due to rising seas 41
Impacts of heating on ocean life 42
Impacts of carbon dioxide on ocean life 43
Impacts of heating on land-based wildlife 43
Part 3: The lie of the land… What other damage are we doing to our planet? 46
How are we damaging our land and our waters? 46
Loss of natural resources 46
Intensive agriculture 48
Livestock farming 49
Soil degradation 51
Loss of grasslands, mangroves, wetlands and peatlands 52
How are we polluting our waters? 53
How are we polluting our air? 54
How are we destroying our wildlife? 55
Why should we care about the loss of our wildlife? 55
Loss of species 56
Loss of fish, whales and dolphins 58
Loss of insects 59
Loss of wildlife in the UK 61