With knowledge comes responsibility

220 Health Journals Call for Action to Reduce Emissions

Society now knows that climate change is caused by humanity and its consequences are extremely alarming (IPCC report 2021). When the wider scientific community publish this kind of evidence, it is simply shocking to see how governments, groups and individuals can simply ignore it.

Generally, scientists are a reserved bunch of individuals, but all around the world they are beginning to act based on the principle that ‘with knowledge comes responsibility’. On September 6th this year, some 220 health journals from around the world simultaneously published an editorial calling on world leaders to collaborate and work together to respond to the climate emergency.   The editors demanded urgent action to keep average global temperature increases below 1·5°C, particularly to avoid the dire consequences for human health – already heat-related mortality is increasing by more than 50% in people over 65 years. They were also clear that we cannot wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to end before acting.

While individual Health journals have previously called for action on climate change to protect health and biodiversity, this was the first time so many have joined together to publish the same urgent message. Particularly pleasing was that their message also recognised that equity must be at the centre of the global response, acknowledging that ‘the consequences of the environmental crisis fall disproportionately on those countries and communities that have contributed least to the problem and are least able to mitigate the harms.’

Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty

2,185 scientists + academics have just called for a fossil fuel non proliferation treaty. Backdrop: an industrial plant spewing smoke from a chimney.
Logo in corner: The Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty.
[Photo Credit: fossilfueltreaty.org]

Also in September, an open letter went live, with scientists, researchers and academics from 81 different countries calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty – a global initiative to phase out fossil fuels and support a just transition to renewable energy. Just as 50 years ago the world needed a treaty to defuse the global threats posed by nuclear weapons of mass destruction, the world today needs a Treaty to stop the expansion of fossil fuel production. The open letter, which was delivered to world leaders on the eve of the UN General Assembly, noted that the burning of coal, oil and gas is the greatest contributor to climate change and that, ‘air pollution caused by fossil fuels was responsible for almost 1 in 5 deaths worldwide in 2018’. Signatories included scientists and academics from a range of disciplines, as well-known individuals such as Michael E. Mann, David Suzuki, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and the Dalai Lama. They propose an end to new expansion of fossil fuel production (Non-Proliferation), a fair phasing out of existing fossil fuel production, and investment in a transformational plan to ensure 100% access to renewable energy.

Stop Shell Greenwashing

During the Impossible Rebellion, multiple actions to highlight ‘Greenwashing’ were on display including the occupation of the London Science Museum overnight by 70 XR scientists. Rebels wanted to draw attention to the hypocrisy of having Shell, a major fossil fuel company, sponsor the museum’s flagship climate change exhibition ‘Our Future Planet’. Although initially involving the police, the museum chose not to press charges, presumably as this would have attracted a lot of negative press.

The Science Museum took to Twitter to defend their position, saying they would take the opportunity to ‘challenge’ Shell to do better. It is difficult to see how they were going to do this, however, since as reported by Channel 4 News the Science Museum’s Sponsorship deal included a ‘gagging clause’ to avoid damaging Shell’s reputation.

Illustration by Imogen Foxell, portraying protest outside Science Museum
Illustration by Imogen Foxell

Aside from raising awareness, XR is often asked what the point of these targeted actions is and usually we cannot say. But sometimes, our actions have a snowball effect, starting small and then gathering momentum. Since the ‘night at the museum’ action, former Science Museum Director, and respected climate scientist, Professor Rapley, who originally endorsed the Shell sponsorship, has now changed his position. He has just resigned his seat on the Advisory Board, saying that ‘with the need to abolish fossil fuels as quickly as possible’…he questioned ‘the commitment of the oil and gas companies to do so’.

While the public often miss or ignore the important science on the climate emergency, we need more of these actions to draw attention to the message. The public holds scientists in high regard for their honesty (at least more so than politicians) so actions performed by scientists, and backed up by data, are becoming more difficult to ignore.