A Brief Timeline of Warnings About Climate Change That We Totally Ignored. Source: LX News, NBCUniversal Media.

Many scientists and researchers have pointed out that what we call climate change is really a complex interrelated set of phenomena that may result in ecological disaster, biodiversity loss, biosphere destruction, civilizational collapse, mass extinction, and beyond. Climate change is already causing significant and potentially irreversible effects to our planetary systems, including rising temperatures, sea level rise, floods, fires, more frequent and severe extreme weather events, species loss, and much more. These changes are expected to continue and worsen in the coming years and decades, which will lead to increasing social and economic impacts, particularly in vulnerable communities.

It is well-known that scientists have reached a near 100% consensus on human-induced climate change. There is no question that there is a prevailing and urgent need to take action on this issue to protect the health and well-being of the planet and future generations. Many scientists have been issuing resounding warnings for decades. Even more upsetting, 88% of science researchers expect climate change to unleash catastrophic impacts in their lifetimes. They have also begun to admit openly to feeling terrified and/or scared about the future. Well-known climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe, has said “I’m a scientist, and what I see happening scares ME.” NASA Climate Scientist, Peter Kalmus, has stated in a series of disturbing Tweets that ‘if the scientists are terrified, we should be too.’

However, according to the history and timeline, for at least 60 years the scientific warnings on climate change have been repeatedly and routinely ignored. If we go back even further, we can see that the first scientific warnings about the dangers of greenhouse gasses date back more than 100 years. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, statesman, poet, philosopher, and scientist. In 1832, he wrote:

“Man in his misguidance has powerfully interfered with nature. He has devastated the forests, and thereby even changed the atmospheric conditions and climate. Some species of plants and animals have become entirely extinct through man, although they were essential in the economy of Nature. Everywhere the purity of the air is affected by smoke and the like, and the rivers are defiled. These and other things are serious encroachments upon Nature, which men nowadays entirely overlook but which are of the greatest importance, and at once show their evil effect not only upon plants but upon his animals as well, the latter not having the endurance and power of resistance of man”.

In 1856, according to JSTOR Daily, Eunice Newton Foote became the first scientist to chart climate change physics and separately demonstrated that carbon dioxide and water vapor trapped heat and suggested that it could do the same in the atmosphere; though this history was largely suppressed until very recently. In 1896, a seminal paper by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, a very distant relative of Greta Thunberg, first predicted that changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect.

In recent decades, there are many notable and historic instances of eminent climate scientists such as Carl Sagan (1985), James Hansen (1988), and Michael E. Mann (2017, 2019) testifying before Congress in the US. In 1992, Henry W. Kendall and thousands of signatories issued the first Scientists’ Warning to Humanity on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). It was followed by even more warnings in recent years including the 2019 warning on climate change led by William J. Ripple and subsequent updates in 2021 and 2022.

In fact, scientists from all around the world have been sounding the alarm significantly in the last decade. They include eminent scientists like H.J. Schellnhuber, Johan Rockstrom, the late Will Steffen, Timothy Lenton, Bill McGuire, J.K. Steinberger, and many more. The IPCC issued a Code Red for Humanity in 2021. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has pleaded with world leaders to course correct many times now.

However, despite this ongoing century of warnings, very little has been done to actually cut emissions or to begin to drawdown CO2 in any significant way. In fact, CO2 emissions recently reached another milestone in April 2023 hitting 424 ppm. We have reached levels not seen in 4 million years. To date, the current US President, Joe Biden, has failed to declare a large-scale climate emergency, while profits soar for oil companies under the current administration. Now, why does that sound wrong?

This very brief history brings us to the current years, in which the warnings have become constant. In the last couple of years especially, we have begun to see headlines beginning with the words “scientists warn” issued in reports regularly. Yet, as a global society, our elite world leaders and the majority of their constituencies continue to be stultifyingly slow to respond in any serious way to this critical hyperthreat. As military strategist Liz Boulton and others have said, climate change is not just a threat multiplier, it is the main threat. Instead, emissions continue to go up disastrously, while the warnings are ignored and the profit margins of just a few of the wealthiest people on the planet increase. At this point, it is hard not to ask if these critical warnings have become nothing more than attention-grabbing headlines.

Why are the Scientists’ Warnings being ignored?
Researchers have been asking this question for a long time. The reasons why these many historic scientific warnings on climate change and its causes are ignored are complex and varied. Possible contributors to this state of affairs include just some of the following factors identified by analysts and scholars:

How do we overcome centuries of entrenched inaction?
First, it must be said, that if this sounds more than daunting, that is because it is. As a reminder, this is why many theorists have referred to climate change as the greatest challenge that humans will ever face. Overcoming the barriers to accepting and acting on the scientific warnings about climate change will require global engagement, cooperation, collaboration, and innovation from all stakeholders, national and international, bridging all imaginable geopolitical boundaries on a scale that has never happened before in the history of modern man.

To mitigate the worst impacts of climate change as well as prevent collapse and mass extinction, it will be necessary for individuals, governments, and organizations to take immediate and drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transition to clean and renewable energy, and develop better systems and governing frameworks. This will include working toward transitioning to an ecological civilization and an ecological economy based not on growth, but rather degrowth — a concept which is still foreign to most people. This is because it is pretty much the opposite of everything we have been doing so far as the ‘victims of progress‘ (as discussed by John Bodley, Jared Diamond and others).

We have been serving an endless growth paradigm that is informed by extractivist colonializing forces that have never fully ended even in the modern era. But now our tendencies toward violence, oppression, and war combined with our inability to cooperate could mean extinction for our species.

Overcoming these complex challenges will require a multifaceted and coordinated approach. Possible strategies that could be used to help overcome the barriers to finally taking action on the scientific warnings about climate change will require just some of the following strategies.

  1. Educating the public and increased science communication. Providing accurate and accessible information about the science of climate change, its impacts, and potential solutions is key to helping individuals understand the importance of addressing this issue.
  2. Engaging with diverse stakeholders. Climate change affects different groups of people and regions in different ways, and it’s important to engage with a wide range of stakeholders to understand their perspectives, needs, and priorities.
  3. Addressing economic and social inequality. Addressing inequality, poverty, and social justice issues could help build support for climate action and ensure that the costs and benefits of addressing climate change are equitably distributed.
  4. Fostering collaboration and cooperation. Addressing climate change requires a coordinated effort across multiple sectors, including government, business, and civil society. Encouraging collaboration and cooperation, sometimes called mutualism, between these sectors can help build momentum for change. For the future we want, we will need a society based on cooperation, not oversimplified and sociopathic notions of competition (and even Darwin has been abused on this account) as it has been so far.
  5. Countering disinformation. Addressing disinformation in the ongoing misinformation crisis will be necessary in order to build a more informed public that is better equipped to understand and act on this issue. But this is no simple task. Some of the most powerful and wealthiest of elite shadow entities and world leaders are still funding this and the corruption that it begets. Halting the horror show of denial is a wicked problem as ridiculously hard as solving the climate crisis itself.
  6. Promoting innovation with nature-based solutions. Developing and promoting new nature-based and biophilic technologies, policies, and approaches to addressing climate change can help build momentum for change and create new opportunities for sustainable growth and development. This means saying no to climate denialism and eco-fascist doomism. It also means avoiding geoengineering scams like the MEER project, net-zero schemes, and techno-fantastical futures in space that serve only elite billionaires. There is no Planet B.
  7. Developing new narratives and stories. We will need stories of the future that show us how we can live well with less and that provide examples of smart cities. Paul Chatterton has done some great work on re-imagining how cities might be built. Combining literature and aesthetics, solarpunk approaches are a fun way for all ages to get inspired to take action on climate change. Other great examples of those creating new narratives in “cli-fi,” short for climate fiction, include Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, and Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, and other symbiocene-related speculative fiction works.
  8. Civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is more than just “a public, non-violent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in law or policies of government.” It is a powerful means of combating unjust laws, and freeing society from oppressive restrictions. Learn more about ‘designing the revolution‘ with social change leader, future thinker and expert Roger Hallam.
  9. Healing the trauma and collective schism. To be clear, the problem is not that we don’t know the science, or that we don’t understand the problem, or even that we don’t have the solutions. It is that we cannot cooperate globally to act in a meaningful way. This is largely due to a post-truth worldview of individual competition for which the horrendous collateral damage presents in terms of subconscious and hidden psychological trauma gone wrong that is so entrenched that it could kill us. We are becoming increasingly mentally ill, sociopathic, and traumatized in the current world order. Dr. Gabor Maté as well as indigenous leaders like Rev. Dr. George E. “Tink” Tinker, Sherri Mitchell, and others are discussing this problem.

    So, how do we restore harmony and balance so that we can cooperate globally to heal the Earth? First, we have to ask this question to the people with the right answers. They are telling us in no uncertain terms that we have to move away from hierarchy and colonization. Ask Prof. Tink Tinker (Osage Nation) who discusses “Individual Salvation vs. Cosmic Balance: An American Indian Perspective.” George “Tink” Tinker (Osage Nation) is an American Indian scholar, scientist and philosopher who taught for more than three decades and has focused his scholarship on the decolonization of American Indian Peoples. In this lecture at Yale Divinity School in 2018, he talks about how the extractivist, colonialist hierarchy is creating a sick, sociopathic, unwell, and imbalanced world in which we cannot respond to climate crisis or any other crisis. He says, ‘we have created a world that is not able to work in harmony. We have created a world in which community doesn’t function and cooperation fails.’ We must learn new ways of being and new world views in order to heal.

  10. Establish a well-being or ecological economy. This is hardly new, people have been saying it for years. We need to move away from GDP and toward GNH (Gross National Happiness) and/or some degrowth or ecologically-based economic system. We need an ecological, regenerative, well-being and/or sharing economy (video) or some combination therein. These concepts are now emerging in public discourse. In this video, the well-being economy is explained along with the notion of gross domestic well-being. Many theorists are now discussing en ecological civilization and economy and presenting us with the road maps for how to get there. Others have begun to discuss the symbiocene and are following the solarpunk or simplicity movements along these lines. In short, simplicity theorists argue that just climate action doesn’t have to mean living in scarcity, it instead shows us how beautiful the world could be when we live with appropriate abundance.

Ultimately, addressing the challenges associated with climate change will require an ongoing, coordinated, and sustained effort across multiple fronts like we have never seen before using systems thinking, advanced science synthesis, super-computing, and AI technologies to implement nature-based solutions, and critical theory to account for the challenges inherent in wicked complexity.

By taking a multifaceted approach that includes science, technology, science communication, education, engagement, collaboration, and innovation, it may be possible to overcome some of the barriers to accepting warnings about climate change and to finally take action to build a livable socioeconomic framework that would allow us to avoid collapse, the ‘death project,’ and the daunting math of climate change which predicts 1000M refugees if we fail to act. But failure is not an option.




~For All Life on Earth~
Author: Scientists’ Warning Foundation, Science Communicator Shani Cairns
Date: May 7, 2023