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Cop28 leaves the highway to climate hell wide open

Updated: Mar 12

This letter to The Guardian by Prof Christopher J Rhodes and Stable Planet Alliance co-founder Prof Phoebe Barnard was published 15 Dec 2023. It was based on the academic paper by Merz et al. (2023) on the human behavioural crisis underlying Earth overshoot. Read the original letter, with letters by Prof Rupert Read and Profs Durwood Zaelke and Maxime Beaugrand accompanying it.

Photo credit: Phoebe Barnard's Cape Town climate rally poster, through an art filter.

Oliver Milman stresses the dangers of relying on “magical” technologies (‘Magical’ tech innovations a distraction from real solutions, climate experts warn, 10 December). But since humankind’s access to cheap, abundant energy has allowed us to threaten many planetary boundaries, simply substituting one form of energy for another won’t fix our predicament.

The root cause of climate change lies in ecological overshoot and the behaviours and systems that enable it. We must fix these. We now burn more fossil fuels than ever. And many interventions are resource-intensive, slow and founded in a flawed business-as-usual mindset.

The marketing, media and entertainment industries have manipulated human behaviours towards the wasteful hyperconsumption of natural resources. But as time is so tight, we propose the same methods be employed to reverse our acquisitiveness, to operate within the Earth’s limits and avoid ecological collapse.

Economic and political power structures and vested interests form the interlocking layers of our crises. One of our grand challenges is to recast such forces to reverse the damage done.

We call for a concerted effort to identify ways to best attain a rapid global embrace of new norms for consumption, reproduction and waste.


The authors

Christopher J Rhodes (DPhil, DSc) is a full professor in physical chemistry with over 250 peer reviewed academic papers and an extensive online collection of essays and journalism. He is currently Director of the consultancy, Fresh-lands Environmental Actions, and a Board member of Scientists Warning Europe.

Phoebe Barnard (PhD) is professor of environmental and societal futures and global change science at University of Washington, climate vulnerability research associate at University of Cape Town, founding CEO of the global Stable Planet Alliance, and cofounder of the Global Restoration Collaborative.

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