The public must resist apathy when it comes to climate changePhoto credit: Daniele Zanni on

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last week released their latest report on the impacts of climate change. Since their previous such report eight years ago, it has become increasingly possible to attribute extreme weather events to climate change. We have seen the implementation of the Paris Agreement of 2015, which adopted the global target of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. We have also seen the recent COP26, after which the 1.5°C target was widely touted as being kept alive, albeit on life support. Headline quotes pulled from this newest UN report include the by-now-familiar references to ‘irreversible’ impacts and a ‘rapidly closing window of opportunity’ in which to make a meaningful attempt at mitigating the worst that climate change will cause.

The latest IPCC report, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, highlights that the worst impacts are already falling on the world’s poorest communities. For the first time, there is explicit mention of the mental health impacts of living through extreme weather events, leading to trauma through loss of culture and livelihoods. 40% of people are now projected to be ‘highly vulnerable’ to climate change, mainly through the impacts of drought, heavy rainfall, and fires. As mentioned, the report stressed that many impacts are now ‘irreversible’ and spoke of a ‘rapidly closing window of opportunity,’ and was also scathing of adaptations thus far, which it described as ‘fragmented’ and ‘incremental.’

“Responsible, considered journalism is required if we are to avoid apathy of the masses”

All of this follows the ‘code red for humanity’ given by the IPCC report released last August—the first installment of this same report by the IPCC, focused on the physical basis for climate change rather than its impacts. We can expect the third installment, on mitigation, later this year, and a synthesis of all three parts still later in 2022.

How are we to take stock of this lengthening list of targets, reports and final warnings? Each one is undoubtedly a triumph of international collaboration, research and diplomacy; but are we getting any closer to achieving the systemic, radical change to our economic and political systems which most now grimly acknowledge we need? Responsible, considered journalism is required if we are to avoid apathy of the masses. While younger generations are clearly engaged and galvanised, there is a growing danger of eye-rolling in response to recurrent final warnings. Since it is the huge swell in public pressure that we have to thank for recent progress, desensitising the populace to this ever-accelerating threat must be avoided.

It would be easy to write a cynical piece mocking the number of so-called ‘final warnings,’ but scientists are not prone to sensationalist language. The repetitive nature of these headlines is not the fault of these reports’ authors lacking a thesaurus. The blame must be pinned on those consistently failing to heed these final warnings, and journalists must make sure that they remain the focus of climate reporting. Sadly, given that the majority of media outlets have some sort of political leaning, playing such a truly all-party blame game is unattractive—it always involves blaming politicians usually backed by a given outlet, so punches are pulled. Climate journalism must wrench itself away from ideological leanings and make blind accountability its aim. Ultimately, though, it falls on voters to remember politicians’ track record and hold them accountable at the ballot box.”

“Once it does finally reach the point of being undeniable, even for the politicians, it will be too late”

Perhaps, now that these same decision-makers are faced with the immediate face of human suffering in Ukraine, they will move more quickly. Boris Johnson has already said that the invasion of Ukraine has heightened our need to ‘wean ourselves off Russian gas’ and, ultimately, off fossil fuels—a statement that most would have been surprised to hear under normal circumstances, let alone in the midst of a humanitarian and geopolitical crisis. Immediate human suffering, undeniably attributable to climate change, is something that it has so far been all too easy for politicians to avoid seeing. Climate change has, until now, resulted in a gradual, albeit accelerating, accumulation of human suffering—something this report warns will soon ramp up a gear. Once it does finally reach the point of being undeniable, even for the politicians, it will be too late.


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Evidence-based, impartial reports are vital. They represent huge pieces of research and international collaboration. They also represent continued faith in our political and legal systems, which they are intended to advise. Journalists must choose headlines that reduce the chances of eye-rolling, and the public must resist apathy. It is up to voters at polling booths to hold decision makers accountable for their consistent failure to act and to provide bold leadership. Ultimately, if we repeatedly see final warnings being given but do not vote against those who repeatedly fail to heed them, we have only ourselves, as voters, to blame. Next time the headline ‘Report issues final warning on climate change’ appears, read ‘Last chance to halt climate change lies with voters.’