The world’s most authoritative body on climate change science recently published a report emphasising that climate change is happening even faster, and with more damaging effects, than previously anticipated.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report made clear that climate change will be harmful for all of us – and not only for a few remote island states or polar bears – by affecting the world’s food supply.

Although the Panel has a deserved reputation for being a conservative and careful intergovernmental body, it declared its concern in this report using bold language. Even though the report repeated many of the findings of its Fourth Assessment Report published in 2007, some commentators nevertheless called its conclusions “alarmist”.

The report has sparked a discussion as to whether such alarming assessments are useful to spur people and governments to action.

Similarly, a new nine-part documentary series on American Showtime TV, “Years of Living Dangerously”, is attracting lots of attention – akin to the reaction to Al Gore’s 2006 movie “An Inconvenient Truth”, which introduced the general public to the threats associated with climate change.

Polarising or mobilising?

Social scientists continue to disagree about the effects of such alarming publications and films, and debate whether the message is polarising, rather than mobilising, the public.

Most people assume that the effects of climate change will never affect our daily lives. The famous picture of a polar bear precariously floating on a fragment of a melting iceberg, for instance, did little to convince people – especially in the developing world – that they should divert resources from economic growth, increased consumption and an improved standard of living.

But refusal to heed earlier warnings about climate change might be overcome by this most recent IPCC report, which reframed climate change as a food security issue. “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian scientist who serves as the distinguished chair of the IPCC.

For a long time, environmentalists exhorted the public to “think of your children and grandchildren”. No more. This report warned that negative impacts on declining crop yields due to climate change could become more likely in the 2030s, just around the corner.

Meanwhile, crop yields could decline by two percent per decade, at a time when demand is projected to increase by two percent each year.

Given the World Bank’s report predicting temperature increases of four degrees Celsius by the end of the century, those gaps would widen dramatically. We should stop worrying about the world that our children and grandchildren will inherit, but think of how to protect ourselves!

‘Global implications’

Food security is an immediate concern for every human being, and ensuring it calls for fundamental changes in our daily habits. Individual and common action will be required to achieve a viable global agricultural policy and trade in a warming world.