There are so many reports and announcements, from so wide a range of sources, that knowing what’s real can be confusing – especially as it involves predicting our likely future. The U.N. assembled a large and diverse number of the world’s best scientists to do a collective assessment. They just produced the “IPCC Report.” Reuters, the employer of journalists around the world – from whom most of our new services get their news – just produced this summary. I’ll add “What to do” comments afterwards.
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Key takeaways from the
U.N. climate panel’s report
Aug 9, 2021
Here are some of the report’s main conclusions:
- HUMANS ARE TO BLAME – FULL STOP
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) used its strongest terms yet to assert that humans are causing climate change, with the first line of its report summary reading:
“It is unequivocal that human influence has
warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”
The stark language marked a shift from previous IPCC reports, which had said it was “extremely likely” that industrial activity was to blame. IPCC co-author Friederike Otto, a climatologist at University of Oxford, said:
“There is no uncertainty language in this
sentence, because there is no uncertainty
that global warming is caused by human
activity and the burning of fossil fuels.”
- TEMPERATURES WILL KEEP RISING
The report describes possible futures depending on how dramatically the world cuts emissions. But even the severest of cuts are unlikely to prevent global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures. Without immediate steep emissions cuts, though, average temperatures could cruise past 2C by the end of the century.
The scientists also looked at events considered less likely but still possible, and they could not rule out big impacts from so-called tipping points, such as the loss of Arctic ice loss or the dieback of forests.
- WEATHER IS GETTING EXTREME
Weather extremes once considered rare or unprecedented are becoming more common — a trend that will continue even if the world limits global warming to 1.5C. read more
Severe heat waves that happened only once every 50 years are now happening roughly once a decade. Tropical cyclones are getting stronger. Most land areas are seeing more rain or snow fall in a year. Severe droughts are happening 1.7 times as often. And fire seasons are getting longer and more intense.
Scientific advances in the last decade are also helping scientists detect whether climate change caused or worsened specific weather events.
IPCC co-author Michael Wehner, a climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said:
“In the past, people would say ‘you can’t
say anything about any individual event,’
But now we can actually make quantitative
statements about extreme weather events.”
- ARCTIC SUMMERS COULD SOON BE FREE OF ICE
Summertime sea ice atop the Arctic Ocean will vanish entirely at least once by 2050, under the IPCC’s most optimistic scenario. The region is the fastest-warming area of the globe – warming at least twice as fast as the global average.
While Arctic sea ice levels vary throughout the year, the average lows during summer have been decreasing since the 1970s and are now at their lowest levels in a thousand years. This melting creates a feedback loop, with reflective ice giving way to darker water that absorbs solar radiation, causing even more warming.
- SEAS WILL RISE NO MATTER WHAT
Sea levels are sure to keep rising for hundreds or thousands of years. Even if global warming were halted at 1.5C, the average sea level would still rise about 2 to 3 meters (6 to 10 feet), and maybe more.
Sea level rise has picked up speed, as polar ice sheets melt and warming ocean water expands. Already, associated flooding has nearly doubled in many coastal areas since the 1960s, with once-in-a-century coastal surges set to occur once a year by 2100.
Scientists could not rule out extreme rises of more than 15 meters by 2300, if tipping points trigger runaway warming. IPCC co-author Bob Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, said:
“The more we push the climate system …
the greater the odds we cross thresholds
that we can only poorly project.”
- RUNNING OUT OF TIME
Meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5C will require sticking to a “carbon budget,” a term describing how much additional carbon can be pumped into the atmosphere before that goal is likely out of reach.
The world is now on track to use up that budget in about a decade.
With 2.4 trillion tons of climate-warming CO2 added to the atmosphere since the mid-1800s, the average global temperature has risen by 1.1C. That leaves 400 billion tons more that can be added before the carbon budget is blown. Global emissions currently total a little more than 40 billion tons a year.
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When I see this kind of data, global in view and about as reliable as we can get, I have to wonder what I can do, personally, to (1) help reduce the negative impacts that our lifestyles are creating, and to (2) still enjoy as rich a quality-of-life experience as I possibly can.
When we enjoy all the goods and services we could imagine, we have no reason to protest, or to harm others … as it might be killing the goose that lays the golden egg. When we can’t get things we need – healthful food, comfortable shelter, water, money, etc. – we often look for someone to blame for getting us into such a mess. I think it’s fair to say that anger, fear and protests, are increasing (like wildfires) all over the world.
Is “fossil fuel” the problem?
As much as I’d like to say so, I can’t. Centuries ago, we heated homes with peat bog bricks or wood.
Then coal came along – which enabled the industrial revolution, but filled the air with black smoke, chimneys with soot, piles of toxic ash, and coal miners with lung disease. But coal enabled railroads and steamships, so it expanded our ability to see the world.
Then oil and natural gas came along – which enabled cars, trucks, and planes that enabled us to even more easily experience the world. They also enabled greater agricultural production – and a larger population. But it’s also led to global warming.
Nuclear power claims to be less expensive and pollution-free. But that’s without addressing the cost and problem of dealing with dangerous spent materials.
For each gain, there’s a price.
And the transition to each new energy source was met with resistance, (sometimes violent,) and fear. Ned Ludd destroyed newly automated looms, hence resistance to change is known as “Luddite.”
Now, systems for wind power, solar power, and even tidal power are growing. I know, from 20 years of personal experience, that heating & cooling and powering both home and car with solar power is a lot less expensive in terms of initial costs, operating costs, and maintenance costs. And while the change is gradually happening, it’s beginning to look like a race between our ability to live in harmony with Earth and our ability to actually survive.
When I completed my last book, I was searching for a title. D suggested “The Challenge of Change.” As a species, we continuously produce inventors who advance our ability to do things our great-grandparents can’t even imagine. Between the supporters and resistors, change to a new technology gradually happens. Our problem:
We can’t do this change “gradually.”
Recalling the climate protesters’ sign, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” Your action is required … now.