That’s all we have left to preserve a habitable planet Earth.
This week, Hurricane Michael wrecked havoc on the South only two days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an alarming report stating the world has 12 years to halt coal consumption and slash carbon dioxide emissions to prevent the atmosphere from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius–2.7 degrees Fahrenheit–over pre-industrial levels.
Even a half-degree increase puts us on track to experience more hurricanes like Michael, coastline inundation, floods, wildfires, drought, food shortages, mass human and animal migrations, and ecocide.
The world produces more than 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year.
To prevent further significant warming, the IPCC report states all nations must develop herculean “negative emissions” programs to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Co-chair of the IPCC working group assessing climate change mitigation, and professor at Imperial College London, Jim Skea, said:
“Frankly, we’ve delivered a message to the governments. It’s now their responsibility…to decide whether they can act on it. What we’ve done is said what the world needs to do…Limiting warming to 1.5C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes.”
The technology to accomplish this exists, but many scientists are skeptical about the time to produce and implement it.
That’s because we are way off target.
According to Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and co-author of the IPCC report, “It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5C target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that.”
To achieve it, Shindell admits there would need to be a significant drop in greenhouse emissions, requiring an immediate shift away from fossil fuels, specifically coal; widespread implementation of solar and wind technology; and the elimination of vehicle emissions.
Even if those steps occurred, we would still need carbon-capturing technology to stop emissions at their sources and bury them underground or scrub carbon from the atmosphere.
According to Michael Mann, esteemed Pennsylvania State University professor and director of the Earth Science Systems Science Center, the IPCC’s assessment is actually conservative, underestimating the amount of warming that has already occurred.
We actually have less carbon left to burn if we wish to avoid the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold the IPCC report cites.
Dr. Mann stated:
“If you look, for example, at the Northern Hemisphere, which is where most of us live, and you ask the question when do we cross the 2 degree warming- 2 degree Celsius warming- threshold for the Northern Hemisphere if we continue with business as usual burning of fossil fuels? I showed in an article several years ago in Scientific American we crossed that threshold before 2040, in the late 2030s. So we are on the way, on our way to blowing past the 1.5 degree Celsius mark and crossing the 2 degrees Celsius threshold in a matter of, you know, depending on how you define it, it really doesn’t matter. Is it two decades, is it three decades, it hardly matters. In order to avoid crossing those thresholds we need to bring our emissions down dramatically. Arguably more dramatically than implied in this latest IPCC report.”
Daphne Wysham, environmental activist and director of the Climate Justice Program at the Center for Sustainable Economy, told The Real News Network:
“This [IPCC] report was commissioned to determine just how feasible it would be to keep the temperature from increasing beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. And essentially what we’ve learned as a result of this report is that it’s an enormous wake-up call.I think people were somewhat complacent, both about, ‘Well, 1.5 degrees probably isn’t going to be that cataclysmic for the planet, and besides it’s not really feasible.’ Well, this report actually says the opposite, that 1.5 degrees Celsius will in fact result in very serious harm to the to the planet, to endangered species, to people in developing countries as well as here in the United States, and that we cannot afford to be complacent. We must take action now to bend the greenhouse gas emissions curve downward. Essentially, in order to reach 1.5, we would need to reduce pollution by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
The historic 2015 Paris Climate Accords (from which Donald Trump withdrew the United States last year) solidified among most major nations a commitment to limit this century’s global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But with a president of the United States who calls climate change a “Chinese hoax,” and former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt’s insidious reversals of the previous administration’s progressive climate policies, it looks as though we’re doomed, right?
Obviously the rest of the world recognizes the existential threat climate change poses to survival.
One scientist, Heleen de Conick, a coordinating lead author on the IPCC report, is hopeful.
She told The Real News:
“There’s [sic] many issues that we need to deal with, but I just hope that this [IPCC] report gives some tools and some actionable information for policymakers to start dealing with those big questions that are coming their way…I have heard a lot of their responses to this report, and some of them are very positive, and also basically leads people and communities and countries to get into the action, to get into gear.”
We can work at the state and local levels to enact progressive climate policies armed with the understanding that the rest of the world is behind us.
We can contact our lawmakers and demand they support renewable energy jobs instead of continuing to prop up the fossil fuel industry.
This is what New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in his annual State of the State Address on January 3, and what California Gov. Jerry Brown supported when he signed legislation last year to extend California’s cap-and-trade program.
Since November mid-term elections will in less than a month, we can also commit to voting for candidates that take a firm pro-environment stances. Make sure you know what their positions are on climate change legislation by visiting their campaign websites or calling their campaign offices. If a staffer is unable to articulate a candidate’s position, ask him or her to inquire of the candidate and call you back.
We can also write letters to our local newspaper editors (LTE), in which we specifically call out incumbent officeholders’ records on climate policy, and urge them to either continue positive action or change course. Politicians care about publicity because it directly impacts their images which impact subsequent votes.
We literally have everything to lose if we do nothing.
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