Climate talk is cheap. The time to act is now

These days, it’s impossible not to see the link between the proliferation of extreme weather events, what some have called quite sensibly a “climate breakdown”, and its human causes.

Science leads the way, of course, and from the IPCC to the US government’s own National Climate Assessment, the experts tell us that the window of opportunity for humanity to avert the most catastrophic impacts of global warming is closing quickly. To be fair, many people, myself included, find climate science complex and overwhelming. But complexity is no reason to reject the overwhelming scientific consensus that we are causing irreparable harm to our planet – and to humanity. It is also no reason to confuse climate and weather, as so many still do noting that a warmer summer in Europe cannot be so bad, after all. The truth is that climate change has led to increasingly erratic and unpredictable weather patterns that come at an enormous economic and social cost – a cost that disproportionately hits those that are most vulnerable.

As the world’s climate experts and policy makers gather in Katowice over the coming days for COP24, I was quite touched to hear Sir David Attenborough‘s opening plea to the delegates in the room. A lifelong observer of the natural world and perhaps the world’s most respected champion of conservation and biodiversity, he didn’t mince words when he warned of an impending “collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world”.

As a relentless optimist, I am not easily given to the rhetoric of doom and gloom. And yet, even I find the latest predictions deeply worrying, if not outright terrifying. Sir David is right: this is the most serious challenge humanity has faced in thousands of years, and we are teetering on the cliff edge. Each and every one of us needs to take personal action now.

What‘s perhaps most frustrating and yet encouraging is that the solutions exist. Most are tried and tested. Many more are starting to prove themselves. A few years back, Paul Hawken, with the help of hundreds of international researchers and advisors, published his remarkable book Drawdown. This bestseller presents a well-researched catalogue of actions and innovations that will make the greatest difference in slowing, halting, and ultimately reversing global warming. Solutions range from better refrigeration management to reduced meat production, from increased renewable energy generation and clean fuels to novel ways of drawing down excess carbon from the atmosphere. Some need changes in behaviour, others need massive increases in funding. But, when considered as a whole, the picture is striking: reversing global warming is still possible.

At Virgin, we are committed to do our part, and it continues to be a journey with a steep learning curve. Early on, we joined the We Mean Business Coalition launched by the B Team and others and signed our commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Virgin Atlantic has been working with Lanzatech in pioneering industry investment in the development of renewable jet fuel, using it for the first time in a commercial transatlantic flight in October. And when it comes to electric vehicles, the Envision Virgin Formula E team is on the cutting edge of innovation, from electric engines to battery technology.

But the change needed now will require a concerted, collective effort. Talk is cheap. Governments must step up to the plate and ramp up their efforts. Business must stop sitting on the fence. We all must come to terms with our own habits and behaviours. Climate change has reached our doorsteps, there is no escaping. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must act now.

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