Skip main navigation

What is ‘anthropogenic’ climate change?

What are the ethics of climate change? Watch Greta Thunberg, a young climate change activist, speak to the European Parliament. Share your views.
GRETA THUNBERG: A great number of politicians have told me that panic never leads to anything good. And I agree. To panic, unless you have to, is a terrible idea. But when your house is on fire and you want to keep your house from burning to the ground, then that does require some level of panic. Our civilization is so fragile. It is almost like a castle built in the sand. The facade is so beautiful, but the foundations are far from solid.
Around the year 2030, 10 years, 259 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction that will most likely lead to the end of our civilization as we know it. That is, unless in that time, permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50%. And please note that these calculations are depending on inventions that have not been yet invented at scale, inventions that are supposed to clear our atmosphere of astronomical amounts of carbon dioxide.
These calculations not include unforeseen tipping points like the extremely powerful methane gas escaping from rapidly thawing arctic permafrost, nor do they include the aspect of equity or climate justice clearly stated throughout the Paris Agreement, which is absolutely necessary to make it work on a global scale. These projections are backed up by scientific facts concluded by all nations through the IPCC. Nearly every major national scientific body around the world unreservedly supports the work and findings of the IPCC.
We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction. And the extinction rate is up to 10,000 times faster than what is considered normal with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day.
Erosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of our great forests, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, the acidification of our oceans; these are all disastrous trends being accelerated by a way of life that we here in our financially fortunate part of the world see as our right to simply carry on. [APPLAUSE]
But hardly anyone knows about these catastrophes or understand how they are just the first few symptoms of climate and ecological breakdown, because how could they? They have not been told, or, more importantly, they have not been told by the right people and in the right way. Our house is falling apart. And our leaders need to - our leaders need to start acting accordingly, because, at the moment, they are not. If our house was falling apart, our leaders wouldn’t go on like you do today. You would change almost every part of your behaviour as you do in an emergency.
If our house was falling apart, you wouldn’t fly around the world in business class chatting about how the market will solve everything with clever small solutions to specific isolated problems. You wouldn’t talk about buying and building your way out of a crisis that has been created by buying and building things. If our house was falling apart, you wouldn’t hold three emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and environment.
Well, our house is falling apart. And we are rapidly running out of time. Everyone and everything has to change. But the bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. When I tell politicians to act now, the most common answer is that they can’t do anything drastic, because that will be too unpopular among the voters. And they are right, of course, since most people are not even aware of why those changes are required. That is why I keep telling you to unite behind the science. Make the best available science the heart of politics and democracy.
The EU elections are coming up soon. And many of us who will be affected the most by this crisis, people like me, are not allowed to vote. Nor are we in a position to shape the decisions of business, politics, engineering, media, education or science, because the time it takes for us to educate ourselves to do that simply does no longer exist. And that is why millions of children are taking it to the streets, school-striking for the climate to create attention for the climate crisis. You need to listen to us, we who cannot vote. You need to vote for us, for your children and grandchildren.
And I have read that some parties do not even want me standing here today, because they so desperately do not want to talk about climate breakdown. [APPLAUSE]
Our house is falling apart. The future as well as what we have achieved in the past is literally in your hands now. But it’s still not too late to act. I ask you to please wake up and make changes required possible. To do your best is no longer good enough. We must all do the seemingly impossible. And it’s OK if you refuse to listen to me. I am, after all, just a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden. But you cannot ignore the scientists, or the science, or the millions of school-striking children who are school-striking for the right to a future. I beg you, please do not fail on this. [APPLAUSE]

In week four we look at the ethics of climate change.

Some climate change just happens naturally. The Sahara Desert was once lush grassland, until changes in the Earth’s orbit exposed it to increasing sunlight. But other climate change is caused by humans and our way of life. This is called anthropogenic (from the Greek – ‘anthropos’, meaning ‘human being’, and ‘genesis’ meaning ‘origin’) climate change.

What concerns us this week are changes to our planet’s climate that are caused by humans.

This video shows Greta Thunberg, a young climate change activist, speaking to the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment about anthropogenic climate change.

In the video she repeatedly says that ‘our house is on fire’. Here she refers to what many see as a climate catastrophe that has already started. In her speech she makes an emotional appeal for action, an appeal for a change to the ways we live.

Share your thoughts

What strikes you as the most important aspects of Greta Thunberg’s speech?

This article is from the free online

Global Ethics: An Introduction

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now