The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the state and future impacts from global warming was leaked last week. As report co-author James Renwick, head of the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, told us on the Earth911 podcast in January, the report will paint a bleak picture after earlier reports looked away from the worst. Unfortunately, the fact that climate change will be bad is not news — we keep pointing ahead when we need to look at what can be done today.
In particular, the leaked report, which will be published in early 2022, focuses on up to 12 tipping points in environmental systems that will amplify the impacts of climate change, challenging the ability of species — including humans — to adapt. We will lose current shorelines to rising seas, agricultural land will become barren in extreme heat, and permafrost will melt releasing millennia worth of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Listen to oceanographer John Englander describe the economic and human cost of sea-level rise if the ice in Greenland melts — it’s happening.
“The climate emergency has arrived and is accelerating more rapidly than most scientists anticipated,” Dr. William Ripple of Oregon State University told us in April 2021. We will all be dealing with the continuing revelations before the report; however, the evidence has already been published in scientific journals, over and over. The IPCC report is a trailing indicator of the state of the climate and public debate. It’s time to look forward and make changes.
In a dark future, only we can be the light
According to Agence France-Presse, which received the leaked report, it says the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed by 2 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.1 degrees Celsius. “The worst is yet to come, affecting our children’s and grandchildren’s lives much more than our own,” the 4,000-page report states. “Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems,” it continues. “Humans cannot.” Rising inequality could lead to 130 million people falling into deep poverty due to changing weather patterns this decade.
If temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, which is expected to happen in at least one year during this decade, 350 million urban dwellers will suffer extreme water shortages. The severe drought in the American West this summer is a taste of that scenario.
Climate change is here, what can we do? There are three sets of actions we can each begin to take as individuals and in our communities. None of them is a silver bullet but all of them can contribute to reducing our emissions and restoring the environment, a project that may take centuries.
Change our habits
Small changes by hundreds of millions of people can help contribute to lowering CO2 emissions. Start with your diet, cutting meat from at least breakfast and lunch to lower your diet’s carbon footprint by 40% to 50%. Bike instead of drive to the store to remove up to 90% of your travel impact. Consider offsetting CO2 emitted by the products you purchase.
Vote for the environment
The U.S. has been on an environmental roller coaster ride over the last decade, but the facts are sinking in. More than four out of five Texans surveyed in late 2020 said they agree that climate change is a fact. Only a few years ago, one in four agreed. Now states are beginning to impose extended producer responsibility regulations requiring collection and recycling of packaging and products. This is a step toward a circular economy that will reduce the need for mining of raw materials, as well as requiring fewer landfills and leading to less pollution in our waterways and the ocean. And we need to keep equity in mind, providing retraining — and better educational services at every stage of life — to the people whose jobs may be at risk as we shift to renewables, as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development argued in 2017. This is a problem so big that we need the world, not just the United States, working to solve it.
Adapt in the face of climate change
The future is here, climate change is not coming in a few years, so it is time to make changes in our lives to adapt to new circumstances. That requires inventing a circular economy and infrastructure, as well as how we judge a good life. We must help other species, too, but humans are the most adaptable of animals, as our global dominance shows — this challenge is entirely on us. Among many things, it’s time to rethink flood insurance, where we build homes and commercial buildings, and the role of consumers in shaping product designs and packaging to reduce waste and emissions. Just like the world must work together, it’s time to look beyond historical divisions from a different time so business and customers, government and citizens, and local nonprofits and communities can solve problems and adapt more quickly.
The IPCC report ends the debate. There’s no time to argue about the reality of climate change, the questions now revolve around what we can and must do. Earth911 is here to help. We urge you to take the opportunity to use the IPCC report and widening debate about the climate crisis to make changes in your home, community, and world.