After a certain point, there’s only so much apocalyptic news I can take. I’ll admit it. Sometimes I read a headline like “GOVERNMENT INACTION PUTS WORLD ON TRACK FOR ‘CATASTROPHIC’ CLIMATE CHANGE, U.N. WARNS,” and just take a deep breath, mutter some curse words into the ether, and then scroll on to the next article… Hey, did you guys hear that Kanye West met with Donald Trump at the White House? And he talked about how Trump’s MAGA hat appealed to his “male energy,” but Hillary’s campaign didn’t make him feel like “a guy that could play catch with his son?”
…Well, anyway, while President Trump drew national attention (distraction) with media spectacles and considered replacing Air Force One with Kanye’s new iPlane (“pretty impressive,” Trump said after Ye’s rant), Florida and the Southeast U.S. were beset by Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to make landfall in this country in 50 years. When an unprecedentedly powerful late-season storm (the latest in a season fueled by uncommonly warm ocean water) levels the neighborhood, consuming a billionaire’s ranting media request to make “Saturday Night Live” more flattering to the president becomes a privilege taken for granted.
The effects of climate change – overwhelming in scope, hard to grasp concretely, and slowly unfolding over the century-and-a-half since industrialization – are already consequential, to some more than others. Soon, however, that reality will be inescapable.
That climate change is a nascent disaster, incrementally climbing in fractions of degrees celsius, square feet of coral disappearing, inches of water level rising, and parts per million of carbon dioxide increasing over the course of decades, is the message of a recently released, grim UN climate change report. This time, scientists are saying things are even worse than they thought.
“The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 [degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels],” The Guardian US reported, “beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.”
The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” Bill Hare, an author of previous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization, told The New York Times. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.”
Previously, climate scientists drew a line at 2 degrees celsius as the threshold for the most severe effects of climate change. With the new report that line has been redrawn at 1.5 degrees celsius, a marker humanity is on course to reach and exceed by 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate.
“It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now,” said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the working group on impacts, in The Guardian US. “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.”
I should repeat: We only have 12 years to significantly alter our behavior or we will exceed the target of a 1.5 degrees celsius increase, sending the Earth and its inhabitants on a path towards catastrophe.
Humans are past the point of halting climate change, the only hope is to minimize its effects for life-on-Earth’s survival. And the difference a half-a-degree celsius increase from 1.5 would make is tremendous, the report states: The population exposed to water stress would be 50 percent higher; hundreds of millions more people would be at risk of climate-related poverty; extremely hot days would be more severe and common; 99 percent of corals would be lost, while more than 10 percent could survive at a 1.5 degree increase; and sea level rise would affect 10 million more people by 2100.
There’s more doomsday forecasting in the report, but the question remains: What can we do? There are many little things we can do for climate change, including eating less meat, buying solar panels, recycling, and using less fossil fuels, but the Carbon Majors Report released last year indicates that even going vegan isn’t enough. “The report found that more than half of global industrial emissions since 1988 – the year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established – can be traced to just 25 corporate and state-owned entities,” the Guardian US said. “The scale of historical emissions associated with these fossil fuel producers is large enough to have contributed significantly to climate change, according to the report.”
Further, the report found 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 were emitted by only 100 companies. So, by all means, reduce, reuse, and recycle, but don’t forget to vote with your ballot and your wallet.
Elect candidates that want to divest from fossil fuels, support small-scale local farms that keep carbon in the soil and provide food to locals without shipping it thousands of miles on oil, remain committed to Hawaii’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045, support an ecologically mindful economy, turn towards indigenous wisdom that fosters connections between people and the land, and fund programs that will aid those who will struggle from climate change impacts such as sea level rise and natural disasters.
Or, alternatively, hope that the next disaster is the adrenaline shot humanity needs to wake up. As the Guardian US article stated, “The report authors are refusing to accept defeat, believing the increasingly visible damage caused by climate change will shift opinion their way.” So don’t let that MAGA hat distract you – maybe by the time we get our act together something will still be left standing.
Photo courtesy Flickr/shawn-Ford