Principal Marc Light looks at the camera, he is wearing a grey suit and smiling. The King David School's logo is behind him, silver on a wood background.

Code red for humanity

One day, Honi was walking along the way and he saw a man who was going to plant a carob tree. Honi said to him: how many years until it will bear fruit? The man answered: 70 years. Honi asked: is it clear that you will be alive in 70 years? The man answered: I found this world complete with carob trees that my ancestors planted. So too I will plant some for my children. (Babylonian Talmud, 450-550 CE).

As well as striving for educational excellence, the School’s mission prioritises the promotion of the safety and wellbeing of children and the responsibility to protect our children from harm and the threat of harm. Thus it is incumbent for us to speak out when the future lives and lifestyles of our children are placed at risk.

The release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report 6 (AR6) this week should have been earth-shattering news that rocked us all to our cores. The report is bleak and scary. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called the report a “code red for humanity.” He stated that “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”

The report suggests that the interventions implemented globally to reduce dangerous emissions have gone nowhere near far enough and that we are hurtling towards dangerous temperature rises that will negatively impact all of humanity.

In the era of the rapid news cycle, articles about the IPCC report appeared and then quickly disappeared. We should not be so dismissive of its findings.

In 2015, as part of the Paris Agreement, the 195 participating countries agreed that it was imperative to prevent global temperatures rising by 2℃ this century, that ideally it would be limited to 1.5℃ and that every effort should be taken to ensure that this is not exceeded. The Paris Agreement acknowledged that a 2℃ increase would make many parts of the planet incompatible with human life and that 1.5℃ would also lead to very dangerous consequences.

The IPCC AR6 was co-authored by 234 climate scientists and synthesised more than 14,000 pieces of research. It finds that the Earth’s climate has already warmed by 1.09℃ since pre-industrialisation, of which 1.07℃ is due to human activity. Indeed, the report aims to put to bed any dispute about the human causes of climate change. It states that “[It] is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”

It explains that the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere in the last 30 years is equal to that released throughout the entirety of previous human history. It states that carbon dioxide levels are now higher than they have been in at least two million years.” Guterres said that the report should “sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet”.

Unfortunately the AR6 finds that this 1.5℃ threshold is likely to be reached between 2028 and 2035 depending on how our governments respond.

The ramifications of this increase are a surge in catastrophic weather events such as bushfires, floods, intense cyclones and drought. Crop failure, unlivable temperature conditions, and sea level increases would also become the norm.

Glen Mullins, Former Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner wrote: “The IPCC issued a stark warning: the steps we take from today to phase out coal, oil and gas – the biggest drivers of climate change – and to achieve net zero emissions, will determine whether our children have a livable future, or one that is incompatible with a functional human society.” Economists also loudly warn that every day we don’t accelerate action, the costs of inaction further dwarf the costs of action. Not only in the rising costs of natural disaster damage, but in missing the obvious opportunity to capitalise on the crucial industries and new jobs that will get us to a zero emissions world – employment pathways that are crucial to all of our kids.

The IPCC report broadcasts an existential challenge and states that, thus far, our international leadership have failed to arrest the damage.

As the eminent Prof Leslie Hughes, professor of Biology at Macquarie University and councillor at the Climate Council, stated: “We’ve really got to change most of the ways that we do things. But we know how to do it and there are ample opportunities to do so.”

This is reaffirmed by the Climate Council which stated that: “Every choice and every fraction of a degree of avoided warming matters. The right choices will be measured in lives, livelihoods, species and ecosystems saved. The benefits of stronger action will be realised well within our lifetimes, and even more so for our children and grandchildren”.

As a community that embraces Tikkun Olam as a core value, it is imperative that we do what we can to make the necessary changes so that we become part of the solution. We all value the fact that The King David School is more than a school – we are a community made up of thousands of past and present families, parents, grandparents, cousins and alumni. Our values don’t just reside in the classroom, they permeate our homes. If we are to support our children’s flourishing, enabling them to reach their every potential and dream, all members of the KDS community have a role to play in responding to this Code Red.

Alongside this we are committed to educating the next generation of changemakers who are armed with the requisite passion, knowledge and courage to fight this vital fight – the fight for our planet.