What follows is the text of an open letter by the climate scientists Peter Kalmus, Kate Marvel, Michael Mann, Katharine Hayhoe and Kim Cobb. declaring their support of a worldwide student strike, scheduled for March 15, which calls on the word’s leaders to take serious action against climate change—a problem these leaders have been warned about literally for decades:
Today’s elementary and high school students have lived their short lives on a planet measurably different than any other generation in the history of human civilization. Every year of their lives has been one of the warmest 20 years since records began, and they’ve also witnessed increasingly frequent, disruptive, and costly extreme weather events.
They recognize the battle for their future. Without aggressive action to reduce humanity’s carbon emissions, these students can expect to bear witness to a world we can’t fully imagine yet: one where irreversible changes to our water and food systems, our infrastructure and our economy, shape a planet and a society very different from what we see today, a world characterized by greater insecurity, uncertainty, and inequity that directly threatens their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.
It has already been more than 50 years since U.S. scientists formally warned the U.S. president of the dangers of human-induced climate change. Yet rather than being paralyzed by despair, these brave students are demanding bold, urgent action now to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and limit future warming to below 1.5°C.
This goal and the need for immediate action is consistent with the most current scientific assessment of the challenge that climate change poses today. The world, including the U.S., is presently on an emissions trajectory that could see the planet warm by well over 3°C within most of their lifetimes. It is still possible to avert this future; but this can only be achieved by reversing our current trend of increasing emissions and decarbonizing the global economy at the pace and urgency of a moon race. And as Earth scientists, we know that the longer we wait, the worse it will be. Every year we delay serious action ensures additional costly and even potentially dangerous impacts.
Yet a different and better future isn’t as far away as it might seem. The cost of renewables is falling quickly, in the US and around the world. Texas leads the US in wind energy production; California, in solar. Storage technology is becoming economically viable. Electrification of transport is already underway in some markets.
Our scientific understanding of currently observed and projected future climate impacts clearly calls for the transformation of our energy systems and our society at all scales and across all sectors in order to rapidly decarbonize our economy. Those who oppose specific policies have an obligation to offer viable and effective alternatives at a scale commensurate with the problem. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away.
Students’ demands for bold, urgent action are fully supported by the best available science. They need our support, but more than that, they need all of us to act. Their future depends on it; and so does ours.