Featured News Climate techno-fixes keep the planet on ‘palliative care’

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Tue, 6 Dec 2022
Power lines and smoke stacks against a smoggy sunset
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Researchers say as the world warms and large-scale social and ecological losses loom, radical solutions that tackle the drivers behind fossil fuel consumption and land-clearing are urgently needed.

Professor Tiffany Morrison from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University is the lead author of a new article published in Nature Climate Change which examines the current interventions that claim to limit the impacts of global warming.

Professor Morrison says most of today’s climate interventions are not deep or fast enough to slow the rate of climate change—and they don’t help humanity build resilience for what’s to come.

“Most of these fixes are not ambitious enough,” Professor Morrison said.

Co-author Professor Neil Adger from Exeter University says urgent and radical interventions are needed that address the underlying root drivers of climate change. “And we need to implement these in a more rigorous and systematic way,” he said.

The main causes of climate change are fossil fuel consumption and land-clearing. Though, co-author Professor Maria Carmen Lemos from the University of Michigan cautions, we can’t effectively transition away from fossil fuels without also addressing the economic structures of over-extraction and over-consumption, or effectively transitioning workforces.

“The existing power relations and socio-economic structures would still remain in place,” Professor Lemos said.

“It’s the underlying drivers, such as capitalism and materialism fuelling the exploitative extraction of natural resources, that need to be more fully considered.”

“We’re now at three decades of climate action—and so far, we’ve failed to stem global emissions because we’ve ignored these root drivers of climate change.”

Part of the study looked at geoengineering and biotechnological innovations that address the symptoms but not the causes of climate change. Cloud seeding, growing artificial coral reefs and cryopreserving temperate forest species are ‘solutions’ that the authors say distract attention from systemic problems. All while receiving substantial support from fossil fuel nations, industries and organisations—effectively keeping the planet in a state of ‘palliative care’.

Climate impacts are already being felt across the globe: wildfire, heatwaves, sea level rise, ocean acidification, flooding, storm surge, human and animal migration, ecological disruption, as well as water, food and energy insecurity.

The rate of climate change is already shifting some regions towards being unrecognisable and increasingly uninhabitable. Communities across the islands of the Pacific and the Caribbean, the South and Southeast Asian deltas and within the conflict and drought-affected areas of Africa and India are most vulnerable. As are the disadvantaged communities and indigenous peoples of Australasia, Eurasia and the Americas.

Professor Morrison says there is already considerable work being done by governments, NGOs, industries and communities—but notes that the job ahead is still epic.

“Social and political ambitions to intervene more effectively are emerging—but these need greater scientific and policy support—and now.”