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Portraits of scared scientists reveal truth about climate change

Sometimes a picture says a thousand facts. Tired of climate change being discussed in dry facts and figures, photographer Nick Bowers decided to take an emotive approach to climate change by capturing the frightened faces of those most in the know – climatologists.

Supported by a short interview with each expert, the portraits are a striking reminder that global warming is incredibly alarming and just as telling as any IPCC report.

Mammologist, Palaeontologist
University of New South Wales,
Monash University, La Trobe University

Climate Science underestimated the pace of climate change, it was too conservative. We’re now having far more rapid change than originally projected. Change that if not slowed, will undoubtedly affect my children and my grandchildren.

There is genuine potential for a change in climate to disrupt our global civilisation. If that happens, we know human nature has a dark side, people will fight over an ever diminishing resource pool, and that is a future we want to avoid.

This decade is critical, it is our last chance to prevent our children from that type of world. We have to make significant progress and get the global emissions trajectory turning downwards. That is the urgent task at hand.

Earth System Scientist
University of Florida, University of Missouri, Australian National University

The climate is related to many parts of the Earth; the land, the ocean, the ice, the atmosphere. We’re noticing abrupt changes in all of these areas.

We’ll reach a point where we’ll lose control over the system. Right now, if we reduce our emissions, we can probably stabilise the system. If we push the climate too far, if we start losing ice too rapidly, start flipping things like the Amazon, then the internal dynamics of the climate will take over – and even if we pull emissions back, we won’t be able to stop very large changes – that’s my biggest fear.

The thing people don’t realise, is getting emissions down is not only feasible but economically promising and will actually lead to a better life. The narrative needs to change, it’s not all doom and gloom. Yes, it will be another massive transformation in human history, but it will lead to a cleaner environment, to more jobs, and an easier lifestyle.

We still have a chance to pull back climate change, but we need to act vigorously and we need to act soon.

Ecologist, Macquarie University, Sydney

My work on the potential impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems has made it clear that the human species is now threatened.

We need to acknowledge the time lag between what we do to the atmosphere and its impacts on the climate. What we do now, affects the climate decades into the future. This means we need to drastically cut our emissions, now and forever, to stabilise the climate in the second half of the century.

If you think these facts are frightening, help us change them.

Extreme weather researcher
University of New South Wales

As the background climate warms due to human activity, this increases the frequency and intensity of hot temperature events. I am concerned about how the very broad and damaging impacts of heatwaves will affect human health, infrastructure, agriculture, and natural systems. By the time we realise we need to make changes and start to put these changes in place, it might not be enough to balance out the range of catastrophes we will be facing.

Oceanographer, Climate scientist,
University of NSW, Sydney

Accelerated warming and expansion of water in the oceans, and increased melting rates of glaciers and ice caps are expected to increase sea levels by a metre or more over the next 100 years. This will pose a decisive threat to the existence of human settlements, infrastructures and industries across the world that are close to the shore lines. Those environmental degradations will aggravate global conflict as tens of millions of people migrate and their food supplies become threatened.

We need to understand that the cost of solving the problem is so much less than the cost of dealing with it down the track; that cost is going to be huge for future generations. Not dealing with it is selfish, short-sighted, narrow minded and obscene. It represents such a level of injustice as those that are going to be impacted are not playing a role in the decisions that are being made now.

Biological Scientist
University of Technology Sydney, University of Tokyo, University of New South Wales

We’ve recorded all sorts of climate change shifts in multiple areas. However, the scientific process is consistent. Every single individual study that has been done, has gone through the same rigorous process, data collection, research analysis, and qualified peer review. At the moment, we’ve at least 10 000 different papers, completed over 20 years, each using different data sets, and they are all coming to the same climate change conclusions. We’ve a weight of evidence that the average person is simply not aware of – and this frightens me.

I’d like to think that we’re not going to reach the projected four degrees of warming this century; because I can’t even imagine what that would look like. 80 years is not that long, and unless we act soon, my seven year old daughter will probably have to live through that.

Marine Ecologist
University of Technology Sydney, Deakin University

IPCC predicts that the impacts of climate change will be catastrophic. This affects everybody. Nobody is safe. We’re going to lose low lying countries, there will be a loss of live stock, potential wide spread famine and species extinction.

One thing people need to remember, is that scientists are the biggest skeptics on Earth. We’re constantly trying to disprove each other. This is the one thing we agree on. The evidence is endless. We’re not making this up, this is really serious, we’re very concerned and there’s not enough being done about it. We really need to be pushing our governments. Let’s not look back and regret what we’ve done.

PENELOPE AJANIBiological Scientist
University of Macquarie, Sydney

The scientific community know sea levels will rise, people will be displaced and food resources will diminish. But I work on the small things, the ocean’s plankton, and we are already seeing climate shifts in these organisms. How those changes will affect the global ocean is something we really can’t answer – and that scares me. For example, the fact that we’re seeing tropical species all the way down the east coast of Australia, means massive changes are occurring. However, we currently can’t predict the exact impact of these shifts.

Another example is that climate change will create winners and losers, there’ll be some species that get wiped out and some that will become prolific. Will it be the toxic algal species that are going to survive?

There will come a time when we need to have answers, when these changes will greatly challenge humanity.

Shauna Murray
Shauna Murray
Sarah Perkins
Sarah Perkins
Matthew England
Matthew England
Lesley Hughes
Lesley Hughes
Penelope Ajani
Penelope Ajani
Peter Macreadie
Peter Macreadie
Will Steffen
Will Steffen