“A code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening and the evidence is irrefutable.” This is UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s description of the most recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The August 9th report is “a comprehensive summary of what is known about the drivers of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and how adaptation and mitigation can reduce those risks” compiled by 234 scientists from 66 countries, who reviewed over 14,000 studies from thousands of scientists around the world.
Their findings include :
- Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are higher than at any time in at least 2 million years, and concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide are higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.
- The extreme heat, floods, droughts, wildfires, and sea-level rise that are now being experienced in the US and Europe as well as in much of the rest of the world are primarily the result of climate change. They are the cumulative effects of humans burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, and other harmful practices. These disastrous effects will continue and increase for the next 20-30 years even in the best-case scenario.
- There is still a narrow, but rapidly closing, window of opportunity for humans to limit global warming by dramatically reducing emissions. To avoid the most dire effects of climate change these reductions must begin immediately and be far greater in the next ten years (and beyond) than anything yet achieved.
It Is Not Too Late
Secretary-General Guterres also said “Inclusive and green economies, prosperity, cleaner air and better health are possible for all, if we respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage.” He noted the relevance of the report to the upcoming COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November where every nation in the world will be expected to raise their commitments to eliminate emissions and slow and reverse global warming. This will be the most crucial COP since the one in 2015 in Paris.
Guterres called on all nations, especially the advanced G20 economies, to provide credible, concrete, detailed plans, rather than just setting distant goals. The net-zero-by-2050 goals that some nations are setting won’t make the needed difference unless dramatic reductions in emissions are achieved by 2030, and more by 2035.
The United States And Other Developed Nations Must Change
Despite some climate progress in the United States, the U.S. government is still approving permits for fossil fuel projects and subsidizing fossil fuel production. U.S.-based fossil fuel corporations are continuing to explore and drill for oil and gas and seeking to expand their production. Not only is the U.S. the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases at home, we are also the world’s largest exporter of oil and second largest exporter of “natural” methane gas. All of this must change with dramatic speed if the world is to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°. (Significant changes are needed in other developed nations, as well.)
As I’ve written before, the only way we can get the needed acceleration in climate action by governments and corporations is for more and more people to be actively demanding it. At least two-thirds of voters in the U.S. already support government taking greater climate action, but many, many more need to speak up, show up, and be loudly insistent.
New Conversations, Raise More Voices
This new IPCC report provides an opportunity for each of us to start many new conversations with people everywhere. We can start by asking people if they’ve heard about the report. We can share one fact from it (see above) and our own personal concern. We can listen to their feelings about it–including fear, disinterest, hopelessness, anger, despair–and invite them to join us in finding a way to add our voices to help build a national (and global) uproar. The uproar in the U.S. is still not big enough – we can help it grow. Each additional voice swells the sound.
For those who are particularly discouraged or despairing you might want to share the following findings of the report.
Some Details About The Positive Effects Of Prompt Action
Large, sustained global reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases–will produce immediate gains in air quality and public health, resulting in far fewer global deaths from air pollution right away. This report also finds that within about 20 to 30 years after these reductions (if they are large enough) the world will see the global temperature stabilize. We can’t stop the rise in global temperatures immediately, but if we take dramatic action now, we can stabilize it within a few decades. Sea level-rise is now inevitable, but how much it rises and how quickly is dependent on how quickly we reduce emissions.
An African Perspective
I went walking this morning with a friend. I was ready to bring up the IPCC report in our conversation when he spontaneously started talking about it. He shared his concerns about its findings and said he had been talking about it to lots of acquaintances. He has kept encountering people who don’t think they can do anything about it. Then he said, “Russ, I’m from an African nation. In Africa we know that change always comes from the people. It doesn’t start with governments or industries. Change comes from the people, collectively.”
Action by each of us, joining with others, can make a difference. For some suggestions on taking action you could read or re-read one of my recent posts “The Only Path to Climate Success.” It offers 7 actions you can take and links to many more.
We are living in a unique time in history. Let’s not miss this opportunity.
Russ Vernon-Jones was the Principal of Fort River Elementary School from 1990 to 2008. He is a co-facilitator of the Coming Together Anti-Racism Project in the Amherst area. He chairs the Racism, White Supremacy, and Climate Justice working group of Climate Action Now of Western Mass., and blogs regularly on climate justice at www.RussVernonJones.org.