Betrayal: The threat to life on Earth

It has been overlooked that, under current policies, global warming would render aboriginal lands in central and northern Australia unliveable.

In his classic book The Fate of the Earth speaking for humanity Jonathan Schell describes the horror of a full-scale nuclear holocaust where human beings and animals would die if twenty thousand megatons of bombs, more than a million times the Hiroshima bomb, explode.

The consequences of a global nuclear exchange belong to the unthinkable. Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Both on the scale of the devastation they cause and uniquely persistent genetically damaging radioactive fallout, they are unlike any other weapons. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of people. The use of tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs would disrupt the atmosphere world-wide, causing widespread famine.

From the 1970th the full implications of climate change were only beginning to be realized, through a growing string of cyclones, fires, droughts and floods increasing in frequency and intensity above the recent historical record (Figure 1). At that time few could forecast the climate trajectory like NASA’s chief climate scientist (Hansen et al., 2012), who stated:

Burning all the fossil fuels would create a different planet than the one that humanity knows. The paleoclimate record and ongoing climate change make it clear that the climate system would be pushed beyond tipping points, setting in motion irreversible changes, including ice sheet disintegration with a continually adjusting shoreline, extermination of a substantial fraction of species on the planet, and increasingly devastating regional climate extremes”  and “warming according to the IPCC Business As Usual’ (BAU) scenario would lead to a disastrous multi-meter sea level rise on the century timescale” and “We’ve reached a point where we have a crisis, an emergency, but people don’t know that

According to Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Germany’s chief climate scientist “Climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences” …

fig1 jpg

Figure 1. Extreme geophysical, meteorological, hydrological and climatological events during 1980 -2012

Figure 2. A. The five mass extinctions in the Earth’s history. B.  Past mean temperatures (200 AD to 2000 AD), current warming and future temperature projections (Steffen, 2012)

Within a century or less the Earth’s mean temperature has risen from the mean levels of the Holocene (the last 11,700 years) and the Pleistocene (11,700 years ago to 2.58 million years ago), to levels of the Pliocene (2.58 million years ago to 5.333 million years ago) to the Miocene (5.33 to 23.03 million years ago), 3 – 4oC warmer than the Holocene, at warming rates. This is faster than any identified in the Cenozoic (66 million years until the present) geological record (Glikson, 2022-23). It is difficult to find in the geological record an event increasing the global greenhouse level at a rate as extreme as the current global heating (Figure 2).

A nuclear war would represent the ultimate outcome of tribalism, nationalism, racism and war, the human propensity for mutual and self-destruction. There was a time when kings and generals would fall on their sword when they were defeated, or when their faith in their gods collapsed. Nowadays oblivious or non-caring world powers continue to proliferate nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert, mine coal and pump oil and gas, starting a greenhouse chain reaction. Leaders, so-called, opportunistically betray the defence of their own people and the future of their children. The voices of anti-nuclear and climate scientists have become subdued, ignored or betrayed. There may not be too many historians to document the 20-21ˢᵗ centuries crimes against humanity and against nature.

An explanation of the collapse of human society (Figure 3), dragging multiple species down with it, arises from Fermi’s Paradox, where the combination of technological achievements and an inherent killer instinct of some leads to collapse.


Figure 3. The acceleration of human activities from the end of the 19th century. Earth steward: Will Steffen’s contributions to Earth System Science, governance and law

A/Prof Andrew Glikson, Earth and paleoclimate scientist, University of New South Wales

[email protected]

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