Environmental emergency, the advice of Nobel Prize winner Giorgio Parisi

 by Francesco Provinciali

The Earth, according to a UN report, is on the threshold of the sixth mass extinction in its history, the first attributed to human behavior. Here's what experts suggest, including the Nobel Prize in Physics, Giorgio Parisi. The article by Francesco Provinciali

It can reasonably be said that, if there are no corrective measures to the drift in progress, a dramatic countdown has begun for our Planet. This means that environmental compromise, even in its relations with the sustainability of the anthropological dimension, is rapidly configuring worrying scenarios for the subsistence of life itself on Earth.

Already in the 40 pages of scientific evidence, priorities and recommendations to governments drawn up from 29/4 to 4/5 2019 at the OECD, by representatives of 130 countries belonging to IPBES (the intergovernmental scientific-political platform on biodiversity and ecosystems) to examine a UN Report drawn up in 3 years of work by over 150 experts, aimed at studying and deepening the risks of biodiversity,  the sensation of an imminent global "tsunami" was grasped that could lead in a time defined as "relatively short" to the extinction of a series of living species that inhabit the seas and the Earth, up to 1/8 of those currently surveyed equal to a monstrous figure of about a million animal and plant species.

What affects the alteration of existing biodiversity are human behaviors: exploitation of soil and natural resources, such as water and wood, intensive agriculture, hunting and fishing, environmental pollution, pesticide use, urbanization and wild overbuilding. It is therefore the insane lifestyles that – according to the UN Report – have already "seriously altered three quarters of the earth's surfaces, 40 percent of marine ecosystems and half of those of fresh water". These are catastrophic data that will sooner or later lead governments to take shared legislative measures and urgent actions to curb this destructive drift of the planet and its biodiversity.

This phenomenon, so serious and gloomy in the forecasts, will end up according to the UN to condition and alter the living and survival conditions of the human species itself, in the long term, since biodiversity is a guarantee of food, environmental sustainability, drinking water, energy and drug production.

The Earth is – according to the Report – on the threshold of the sixth mass extinction in its history, the first attributed to human behavior.

Commenting on the sixth Report of 2021 drawn up by IPCC scientists on the emergency of "climate change" and approved by the 195 governments belonging to the United Nations Organization, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had used an eloquent expression: "we are at the red code", while the current president of the UN climate conference COP26 – the British minister Alok Sharma  – he was equally explicit: "The time available to stop the catastrophe of climate change is dangerously approaching the end: we cannot afford to wait another two, five or ten years, this is the time to act".

Calling the evidence that emerged from the subsequent Glasgow Conference in November 2021 frightening is closer to euphemism than to reality: sea level rise has been assessed as "irreversible for millennia to come", this trend has never been seen in the last 3000 years, and is a cause of coastal erosion and flooding.

Even the CO2 emissions measured in 2019 were the highest ever, considering at least the previous two million years, those of greenhouse gases (nitrogen dioxide and methane) at the top of the scale of values of the last 800 thousand years. And all this while the average temperature rises with an incremental trend never seen in the past (+1.09 ° between anthropogenic emissions and greenhouse gases in the decade 2011/20 compared to the 50 years ranging from 1850 to 1900): think of the consequences for the life of the inhabitants of the Earth, for agriculture, livestock breeding, environmental sustainability,  the conditions of metropolises with a very high rate of urbanization.

Consider the observations of the late biologist Edward O. Wilson – already illustrated and known for some time – on population growth: we are 7 and a half billion inhabitants on a planet where the maximum compatibility threshold has been estimated at 6 billion people. By the end of the century, a world population of 11 billion is expected.

In this environmental context on the verge of irreversible compromise, an unlimited expanding humanity becomes weakened and vulnerable to attacks by viruses that habitually dwell in animal hosts, as happened in all its variants with Covid-19 that has attacked man by zoogenetic transit. This epochal coincidence between climate compromise and pandemic emergency is therefore not accidental and can be repeated.

It is necessary to master a holistic view of these phenomena in order to try now, without delay, to stem the catastrophic drift. The most immediate goal is to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to zero by 2050: the number one enemy is global warming, the goal is to stop it at + 1.5 ° compared to the pre-industrial era, as planned in the Paris Agreement (COP21-2015).

Higher temperatures would bring, among other consequences, a further rise in the seas: the current incremental trend could rise up to 50 cm at the end of the century, with a currently ungovernable forecast of 20 meters as a counterpart of 5 ° of temperature increase, nor does it console us that this could happen at the limit of the next 2000 years. (Only Trump could comment... "We're going to have a little more houses with sea views, which is not the worst thing in the world").

These themes have been taken up again in recent days in the study published in the journal of the American Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by an international group of experts led by the University of Cambridge. The scientists ask in particular the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to dedicate a report to their most extreme consequences, to motivate the scientific community and inform citizens. "There are many reasons to believe that climate change can become catastrophic, even at modest warming levels," says the study's first author, Luke Kemp of the University of Cambridge.

"Climate change has played a role in every mass extinction event, fostered the fall of empires and shaped history. Even the modern world seems to have adapted to a particular climate niche. Disaster is not only achieved by the direct consequences of high temperatures, such as extreme weather events. Knock-on effects such as financial crises, conflicts and new epidemics could trigger other calamities and prevent recovery from potential disasters such as nuclear war."

Areas of extreme heat, with an average annual temperature of over 29 degrees, where about 30 million people live today could extend to affect two billion people by 2070. The Agency ANSA.it – Science & Technology – Earth & Poli, which has prepared a detailed report on the Cambridge Study, reports an eloquent statement by a co-author of the Research, Prof. Chi Xu of Nanjing University. "These temperatures and their social and political consequences will directly affect two nuclear powers and seven maximum containment laboratories that host the most dangerous pathogens: there is a strong possibility of disastrous knock-on effects."

In short, there are arguments and evidence to be worried, of course: add that pandemics and wars add up effects of destructive acceleration. That man is consuming the Planet to the point of risking the gloom dissolves is there for all to see. The warming of the Earth not only causes the melting of the Poles as documented on TV, the slow rise of the seas, but also phenomena closer to us such as the scorching temperatures at high altitude (just think of the recent tragedy of the Marmolada), the thermal zero at over three thousand meters above sea level.

Even Prof. Giorgio Parisi, Nobel Prize for Physics, in an interview with Luca Fraioli of Repubblica on August 3 considered these issues as priorities, both for the political agenda and for the lifestyles and behaviors of ordinary people. "Climate is one of the topics that has paid for the lack of political foresight, but elected representatives and voters must change course," said the Professor. "The appeal of climatologists is important precisely to induce parties to talk about global warming and urge voters to use this argument to judge the different programs. If, for example, citizens show that the fight against climate change is much more important to them than the issue of migrants, the parties will orient themselves accordingly. Certain themes are ridden to attract votes. And as long as the climate is experienced as a topic that does not bring votes, it will remain alien to the political debate".

Statement that finds evidence about the explicit absence of this issue among those that fill the political agenda of the electoral debate and the programs for the future.

Alongside this observation, it must be considered that the issue of global warming is involving ordinary people only when we realize that it is an urgent topic, pervasive and close to us and our usual lifestyles. Science, politics and the 'collective imagination' should assume the environmental emergency in its intrinsic and all-encompassing impact on anthropological sustainability between progress and respect for nature. We need to do it quickly, starting for example from an adequate environmental education started at school and then continuing with a massive campaign to raise awareness on correct lifestyles throughout the biological cycle of existence.

Nothing can be left to chance: science illuminates the path to be taken and – as Professor Parisi says – "looks a little further". But politics must support its studies, research, indications and methods in order to achieve results. Then it is up to each of us, no one excluded, to behave with "science" and "conscience". Those who come after can be better if they have received good teachings.