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11,000 scientists warn: climate change isn’t just about temperature

Published today in The Conversation

Exactly 40 years ago, a small group of scientists met at the world’s first climate conference in Geneva. They raised the alarm about unnerving climate trends.

Today, more than 11,000 scientists have co-signed a letter in the journal BioScience, calling for urgently necessary action on climate.

This is the largest number of scientists to explicitly support a publication calling for climate action. They come from many different fields, reflecting the harm our changing climate is doing to every part of the natural world.


Read more: 40 years ago, scientists predicted climate change. And hey, they were right


Why no change?

If you’re thinking not much has changed in the past 40 years, you might be right. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, with increasingly damaging effects.

Much of the focus to date has been on tracking global surface temperatures. This makes sense, as goals like “prevent 2℃ of warming” create a relatively simple and easy-to-communicate message.

However, there’s more to climate change than global temperature.

In our paper, we track a broader set of indicators to convey the effects of human activities on greenhouse gas emissions, and the consequent impacts on climate, our environment, and society.

The indicators include human population growth, tree cover loss, fertility rates, fossil fuel subsidies, glacier thickness, and frequency of extreme weather events. All are linked to climate change.

Troubling signs over the past 40 years

Profoundly troubling signs linked to human activities include sustained increases in human and ruminant populations, global tree cover loss, fossil fuel consumption, number of plane passengers, and carbon dioxide emissions.

The concurrent trends on the actual impacts of climate change are equally troubling. Sea ice is rapidly disappearing, and ocean heat, ocean acidity, sea level, and extreme weather events are all trending upwards.

These trends need to be closely monitored to assess how we are responding to the climate emergency. Any one of them could hit a point of no return, creating a catastrophic feedback loop that could make more regions of Earth uninhabitable.


Read more: What climate tipping points should we be looking out for?


The need for better reporting

We urge national governments to report on how their own results are trending. Our indicators will allow policymakers and the public to better understand the magnitude of this crisis, track progress, and realign priorities to alleviate climate change.

Some of the indicators could even be presented monthly to the public during news broadcasts, as they are arguably more important than the trends in the stock exchange.

It’s not too late to act

In our paper we suggest six critical and interrelated steps that governments, and the rest of humanity, can take to lessen the worst effects of climate change:

  1. prioritise energy efficiency, and replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewable energy sources,
  2. reduce emissions of short-lived pollutants like methane and soot,
  3. protect and restore the Earth’s ecosystems by curbing land clearing,
  4. reduce our meat consumption,
  5. move away from unsustainable ideas of ever-increasing economic and resource consumption, and
  6. stabilise and ideally, gradually reduce human populations while improving human well-being.

We recognise that many of these recommendations are not new. But mitigating and adapting to climate change will entail major transformations across all six areas.

How can you help?

Individuals can make a difference by reducing meat consumption, voting for political parties and members of government bodies who have clear climate change policies, rejecting fossil fuels where possible, using renewable and clean sources of energy, reducing car and air travel, and joining citizen movements.

Lots of small changes will help inspire larger scale shifts in policy and economic frameworks.

We are encouraged by a recent global surge of concern. Some governments are declaring climate emergencies. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change.


Read more: Why attending a climate strike can change minds (most importantly your own)


As scientists, we urge widespread use of our indicators to track how changes across the six areas above will start to change our ecosystem trajectories.

PhD Opportunity – SEEKING APPLICANTS

The Ecological Effects of Animal Mass Mortality Events

We are seeking a PhD student to work on an exciting new project assessing the ecosystem effects of animal mass mortality events.

Animal mass mortality events (AMMEs) involve the rapid, catastrophic die-off of organisms. These events can produce many of tons of dead biomass in a single event, and they appear to be on the rise globally. In the past few years, Australia has witnessed a number of AMMEs, including the death of a million fish in the Murray Darling Basin due to algal blooms, thousands of cattle dying after floods in Queensland, the deaths of feral horses in central Australia from drought, and thousands of flying foxes dying from heat stress in New South Wales and Queensland. Humans also effectively simulate AMMEs when they undertake large scale culling of overabundant species. But while the causes of these events are known (e.g. poor water quality, drowning, drought, heat, and direct killing), we know very little about the consequences of AMMEs for ecosystems. For example: can vertebrate and invertebrate scavenger assemblages consume and disperse the vast quantities of carcasses that become available? Do carcasses attract and get scavenged by pest species? Do unconsumed carcasses result in unusual and excessive nutrient loads in surrounding areas, and does this affect plant growth, weed invasion, or have cascading effects on herbivore grazers? This PhD project will answer these fundamental questions by simulating and monitoring AMMEs in the field. A key focus of the project will be the responses by scavengers including dingoes, red foxes, feral pigs, eagles, ravens, blowflies, and European wasps.

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The project has financial support from the Hermon Slade Foundation and in-kind support from a major NSW Environment Trust project led by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The field work will be in and around Kosciuszko National Park, and the student will work with local land managers and NSW Government Departments, including NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, and South East Local Land Services. The student will have an opportunity to work with colleagues in southern USA replicating similar experiments in systems where vultures and coyotes are the dominant scavengers. Support will also be provided from Dr. Philip Barton at Australian National University, Prof. Richard Duncan at University of Canberra, and Dr. Alex Carthey at Macquarie University.

Australian candidates must be competitive to receive funding under the Research Training Program. However, a top-up scholarship of up to $6,000 per annum will be offered to the successful applicant. A variety of scholarships are available for international students.

The student will be based at The University of Sydney in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences Ecology, Evolution and Environment Cluster, within the Global Ecology Lab

For more information and to submit an expression of interest, please contact Dr. Thomas Newsome at thomas.newsome@sydney.edu.au

The expression of interest should include a cover letter and CV. Please include details of your degrees (including average marks), work and research experience, field experience in remote locations, publications, and ability to use programs like GIS, and statistical packages like R. You must have a current manual drivers license. The project can commence either in late 2019, or early 2020, and will run for at least three years.

Expressions of interest will close July 30th 2019

You can download a copy of the flyer HERE

Further details on enrollment at The University of Sydney can be found below:

How to apply

Entry requirements