Below is an excerpt from The Economist.

But climate change is an increasingly dangerous context for all their worlds. To understand that context, it is important to understand all the things that climate change is not. It is not the end of the world. Earth is a tough old thing and will survive.

Climate change is, though, a dire threat to countless people - one that is planetary in scope if not in its absolute stakes. It will displace tens of millions, at the very least; it will disrupt farms on which billions rely; it will dry up wells and water mains. ... The longer humanity takes to curb emissions, the greater the dangers and the sparser the benefits.

I guess "planetary in scope" here means the effect of climate change is so big that it's almost affecting the entire planet. (am i right?)

but I don't understand what "in its absolute stakes" means here, especially because I can't tell what definition in the dictionary "stake" means in this context and also I'm not sure if "it" indicates climate change here.

What exactly does the phrase mean?

2 Answers 2


One meaning of the word "stake" is a value, usually a monetary value. So a "stakeholder" is someone who has something of value. A very common employment of the word is to represent a value that is at risk. If you place a bet, the amount that you may lose is your stake in the outcome.

So the sense of this passage is that what is being risked is not the planetary extinction of every species or even the imminent extinction of every human, those would indeed be "ultimate stakes" in the judgment of most people, but something lesser but still very grim.

  • thanks, but the article says "Climate change is a dire threat, one that is planetary in scope" and you said "what is being risked is not the planetary extinction of every species" and all. I'm still a bit confused.
    – dbwlsld
    Oct 12, 2019 at 6:52
  • 2
    @dbwlsld Jeff wrote "planetary extinction". The threat is of a planetary scope - this means that much of the planet (human life and nature) will be affected by climate change, but not to the extent that planet earth will be fully, absolutely destroyed. Climate change will not result in the absolute stakes, which is the extinction of all species (as Jeff says). However, the impact will be so severe that say half of the population of the world will be gone.
    – AIQ
    Oct 12, 2019 at 7:54

It means stakes in the sense of “what’s at stake” (see “at stake” in your dictionary link) or risks, see here: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/stakes

I haven’t heard “absolute stakes” used before. I think they mean “absolute” in the sense of “total”.

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