Climate crisis

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The term climate crisis describes the ecological, political and social crisis in connection with man-made global warming . Similar to climate catastrophe , it is increasingly being used in public discourse instead of more harmless-sounding terms such as climate change in order to clarify the significance of global warming.

Scientific background

Climate scientists assume a CO 2 budget which, if exceeded, would have incalculable consequences, which are described by the term greenhouse earth . The two-degree target set in the Paris Agreement could therefore already have negative effects on life on the planet . With an average emissions of around 40 gigatons of CO 2 equivalent per year in 2017 (GtCO 2 e / a), if there is no change in emissions, humanity will have around 20 to 30 depending on the assumed CO 2 budget Years until this budget is exhausted; thereafter, because of the very long-term absorption of greenhouse gases by the earth system, no greenhouse gases should be emitted for millennia. In order to keep the climate system for the human species within an appropriate framework in the long term, it is therefore necessary to quickly abandon new greenhouse gases and remove existing greenhouse gases through negative emissions . Surveys, for example as part of the Emissions Gap Report 2018, show, however, that greenhouse gas emissions worldwide have not decreased recently, but increased again, and the technical solutions for negative emissions on a large scale are so far not very promising, so that there is a long-term risk of a climate disaster .

An editorial published in Science in 2019 states that the scientific statements are clear: the climate crisis requires a social transformation of a magnitude and a speed that has rarely been achieved historically, the last such transformation was due to the global economic crisis and the Second World War triggered. At that time, the action was triggered by a perceived existential threat and broad social support. Today society is again hit by such a threat, but the growing wealth gap and selfish interests are hindering the necessary changes. Solving the climate crisis therefore requires a strong commitment to fairness and justice, for indigenous peoples and future generations, and for global change. Society can only solve the climate crisis and avoid catastrophic climate change if it works together across all rifts and makes the climate crisis a top priority. At the same time, it could make the 21st century fairer and more sustainable. Stopping greenhouse gas emissions as the cause of climate change must have top priority, while more emphasis must be placed on synergies between climate protection and adaptation to global warming .

Use of terms

The use of the term “climate crisis” follows the idea that other terms such as “climate change” play down the situation. Nathaniel Rich describes in his bestseller Losing Earth how the term “climate change” was deliberately brought into circulation for this purpose. The US political advisor Frank Luntz had strategically advised the Republicans in 2002 on how to steer the almost lost environmental debate in the interests of one's own interests. So says Rich:

“In the beginning we called it the 'CO 2 problem' - that doesn't sound particularly terrifying: we breathe out CO 2 every second. Later, an advisor to George W. Bush introduced the word 'climate change': because 'change' sounds less dangerous than 'warming'. These words are like protective gloves for an open wound. We distance ourselves from the problem. "

- Nathaniel Rich

The environmental scientist Nils Meyer-Ohlendorf shows that the term “climate change” suggests a natural process and that the term “change” usually denotes a slow and linear process; accordingly, the term depoliticizes and is a “victory for everyone who does not want to change anything”. As an alternative, he suggests the term "climate crisis":

“'Climate crisis' or 'Earth overheating' are more precise terms. They make the cause and urgency of the problem clearer. In other policy fields we are quick to use the term 'crisis' - euro crisis or refugee crisis - but avoid it when we talk about fundamental upheavals in our planetary system. That says a lot about the political significance of the various policy areas. "

- Nils Meyer-Ohlendorf

The British newspaper The Guardian is regarded as a pioneer in changing the language , whose decision to consciously change the use of language was presented as part of a catalog of measures known as the “climate pledge”. It says:

“We will use language that recognizes the severity of the crisis we are in. In May 2019, the Guardian updated its Style Guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises the world is facing by adding 'climate emergency, crisis or breakdown' and ' global heating 'instead of' climate change 'and' global warming '. We want to make sure we are scientifically accurate while communicating clearly with readers about the urgency of this issue. "

- The Guardian, October 15, 2019

A climate emergency is a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage. The corresponding English word climate emergency was named Word of the Year by the Oxford Dictionaries in 2019 .

Interpretation of climate change as a crisis

The contradiction between a clear factual situation in climatology , from which an urgent need for action can be derived, and the lack of reaction in large parts of global society, politics and economy, as well as the resulting endangerment of the human species are increasingly described as a crisis situation. Former US Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore warned in his 2006 book An Inconvenient Truth “of the potentially worst catastrophe in the history of human civilization: a global climate crisis that is intensifying and rapidly becoming more dangerous than anything we have ever experienced ". James Lovelock , one of the proponents of the Gaia hypothesis , interpreted in his work The Revenge of Gaia , the English-language original of which is subtitled Earth's Climate in Crisis and the Fate of Humanity in some editions , the ecological challenges of modern times as “the greatest test of humanity ".

Climate scientists also explicitly point out the crisis situation. In their book The Climate Crisis , the climatologists David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf show that despite the overwhelming scientific facts on global warming, efforts to contain the problem are not nearly sufficient to bring about a promising solution. In the political discussion, there is also talk of a failure of the environmental protection movement when it tries to find a solution to curb man-made climate change. In her work The Decision , the globalization critic Naomi Klein describes the climate crisis as a choice between the capitalist economic system and saving the climate .

Climate researchers like Bronwyn Hayward now speak openly about the frustration of not being heard in time, and about the resulting psychological stress and grief in the face of the approaching catastrophe, but also about the hope that remains. The German-Australian climate scientist Katrin Meissner put it this way in 2019: “The developments make me sad and also scare me. At least climate change is a topic people are talking about today. Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement achieved something that we scientists failed to do for years, namely finally creating a public discussion and widespread awareness of the situation. […] Still, it's really hard to stay positive in my job. The prognoses are clear, precise and devastating. "

The journalist Ross Gelbspan pointed out that there was sufficient scientific knowledge as early as 1997 and emphasized:

“The climate crisis is no longer about scientific questions. The fact that the future rate of increase in warming has not yet been determined - or the effects in different regions - is politically and socially irrelevant. Science has long since told us what we need to act. "

See also



  1. ^ Damian Carrington: Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses about the environment . In: The Guardian . May 17, 2019, ISSN  0261-3077 (English, [accessed May 26, 2019]).
  2. Vicki Duscha, Alexandra Denishchenkova, Jakob Wachsmuth: Achievability of the Paris Agreement targets in the EU: demand-side reduction potentials in a carbon budget perspective. In: Climate Policy. Vol. 19, No. 2, 2018. doi: 10.1080 / 14693062.2018.1471385
  3. Will Steffen , Johan Rockström , Katherine Richardson , Timothy M. Lenton , Carl Folke , Diana Liverman , Colin P. Summerhayes, Anthony D. Barnosky , Sarah E. Cornell, Michel Crucifix, Jonathan F. Donges, Ingo Fetzer, Steven J. Lade, Marten Scheffer, Ricarda Winkelmann, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber : Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . August 6, 2018 doi: 10.1073 / pnas.1810141115
  4. ^ Jonathan T. Overpeck, Cecilia Conde: A call to climate action . In: Science . tape 364 , no. 6443 , 2019, p. 807 , doi : 10.1126 / science.aay1525 .
  5. a b We could have stopped climate change. Bayerischer Rundfunk, April 10, 2019, accessed on November 3, 2019 .
  6. ^ A b Nils Meyer-Ohlendorf: Framing Check: “Climate Change”. In: Süddeutsche. December 14, 2018, accessed November 3, 2019 .
  7. ^ A b The Guardian's environmental pledge 2019. In: The Guardian. October 15, 2019, accessed November 3, 2019 .
  8. a b
  9. Own translation; in the English original: "the worst potential catastrophe in the history of human civilization: a global climate crisis that is deepening and rapidly becoming more dangerous than anything we have ever faced." In: Al Gore : An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. 2006, p. 10.
  10. James Lovelock: The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate in Crisis and the Fate of Humanity. 2006, p. 146 ff.
  11. ^ David Archer , Stefan Rahmstorf : The climate crisis: An introductory guide to climate change. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  12. ^ Felicity Barringer, Paper Sets Off a Debate on Environmentalism's Future . In: The New York Times . February 6, 2005, ISSN  0362-4331 (English, [accessed June 29, 2019]).
  13. Naomi Klein : The Decision: Capitalism vs. Climate. 2015.
  14. ^ Paul Gorman : National Portrait: Bronwyn Hayward - Accidental Activist . In: stuff . Fairfax Media , December 22, 2018, accessed January 7, 2019 .
  15. Thomas Hummel: Devastating forest fires in Australia: "The political reaction is shocking". Süddeutsche, November 22, 2019, accessed January 7, 2020 .
  16. ^ Ross Gelbspan: Der Klima-GAU. Oil, Power and Politics . Munich 1998, p. 169. (Original edition in English: The Heat is on . Addison-Wesley, Reading, 1997).