That is no overstatement. If we, as a species, cannot get off our collective asses, as the saying goes, our ass will be grass and Gaia ( “the ancestral mother of all life: the primal Mother Earth goddess”) will be the lawnmower.
A lot of what our invasive species, Homo Sapiens, has wreaked upon the planet will be gradually more and more noticeable over the next 20 years. Even more, like the loss of species, will come to pass without notice, without outcry - unless you are living on a small island nation barely above the rising sea level.
In early 2015 I reported on how our human action, and political inaction, was contributing to the impending global disaster, one sign of which is the disappearance of species, a cataclysmic event called the “sixth extinction.” I wrote about The One-Sixth Extinction: Global warming is the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse for many disappearing species, and followed on with the Signs of the sixth extinction: What happens when apes rule the earth.
Statistically, it is unlikely that I shall live for another 20 years and thus it unlikely that I will experience the full horror of the effects of climate change on our planet and the extinction of its inhabitants. Most likely, I will not be around to see Hellscape 2040 (as Judd Legum called it in popular.info).
The latest predictions from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), The Dire Warnings of the United Nations’ Latest Climate-Change Report, are the most dire yet reports Carolyn Kormann at the New Yorker. Here are parts of story. (Unless otherwise noted, quoted excerpts are from the New Yorker.)
What will happen is happening now
… after a week of deliberation, the I.P.C.C. released the new findings. The summary tells a nightmarish tale—one much worse than any of those in the I.P.C.C.’s previous reports—surveying the climate-change impacts we’re already experiencing with one degree of warming, and the severity of the impacts to come once we surpass 1.5 degrees of warming. Ten million more people would be exposed to permanent inundation, and several hundred million more to “climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty.” Malaria and dengue fever will be more widespread, and crops like maize, rice, and wheat will have smaller and smaller yields—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. Security and economic growth will be that much more imperilled. “Robust scientific literature now shows that there are significant differences between 1.5 and 2 degrees,” Adelle Thomas, a geographer from the Bahamas and also one of the report’s lead authors, told me. “The scientific consensus is really strong. It’s not just a political slogan: ‘1.5 to stay alive.’ It’s true.”
The report marks the start of the I.P.C.C.’s latest assessment cycle, the sixth since the organization was formed by the U.N. Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization, in 1988. Its importance is hard to overstate. The thirty-three-page summary for policymakers—which is based on more than six thousand cited studies, and written by ninety-one authors from forty different countries—is a collective scream sieved through the stern, strained language of bureaucratese. Unique ecosystems will vanish and species will go extinct by the thousands. With two degrees of warming, three times as many insects (eighteen per cent), and twice as many plants (sixteen per cent) and vertebrates (eight per cent), will lose their geographic range, when compared with warming of 1.5 degrees. Nearly all the coral reefs (more than ninety-nine per cent) will be dead, including the Great Barrier Reef, an ecosystem some twenty-five million years old, which is visible from space and is already in severe decline. The global annual catch from marine fisheries will decrease by three million tons. The likelihood of a sea-ice-free Arctic summer will increase from once per century to once per decade. “The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the I.P.C.C. Working Group II, said. (There are three working groups: one focussed on the physical science of climate change; the second on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerabilities; and the third on mitigation.)
The NY Times Evening Briefing provides an example of the new normal.
Hurricane Michael is a monstrous storm, and the forecast keeps getting more dangerous,” Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, warned residents.
The storm, swirling northward through the Gulf of Mexico, was upgraded to Category 3 and is expected to make landfall on Wednesday with powerful winds, torrential rains and a potentially devastating storm surge.
Residents of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida are being urged to evacuate or to fortify their homes. Above, a resident of Mexico Beach, Fla., boards up a shop.
Forecasters predicted Michael would veer northeast after landfall — through Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina — before heading into the Atlantic on Thursday night.
What can we, should we, do … or not
To keep warming at 1.5 degrees, governments and private businesses must make unprecedented changes—on a sweeping global scale—in energy systems, land management, building efficiency, industrial operations, shipping and aviation, and city-wide design. Within the next decade, human-caused carbon-dioxide emissions need to fall forty-five per cent below 2010 levels. By 2050, net carbon-dioxide emissions must equal zero. “It’s a goal that we can aspire to, but maybe not meet,” Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who studies Arctic warming and its impacts on global climate, said. “So it’s useful, even if it isn’t all that realistic.”
… The longer countries take to reduce energy consumption and transition to renewable energy sources like solar and wind, the more they will have to rely on technologies such as carbon removal, which are currently too expensive, experimental, and small-scale to do the job.
… faster rates of sea-level rise allow much less time to adapt—to restore natural coastal ecosystems and reinforce infrastructure. “Above 1.5 it becomes even more difficult for small islands to plan and recover economically from any damage,” Thomas said. “There are issues of migration and reduced social cohesion after repeated extreme events.” At the U.N. talks in 2010, rich countries had promised to provide financial support of as much as a hundred billion dollars collectively (or one per cent of their total G.D.P.s), to developing nations by 2020, to help with the transition to a low-carbon economy and with adapting to climate impacts they already experience. Rich nations have not followed through on that promise; this year, both the United States and Australia declared that they would no longer be contributing any money at all.
Wired.com considers geoengineering options in WE NEED MASSIVE CHANGE TO AVOID CLIMATE HELL.
The starkness of the report may also spark talk of more elaborate strategies for fighting climate change than cutting emissions. Scientists are also toying with the notion of geoengineering. This could entail carbon capture techniques or solar geoengineering to bounce the sun’s radiation back into space by spraying aerosols in the atmosphere or by brightening clouds.
“There will be some pressure from some corners to increasingly look at options like solar geoengineering,” says Pasztor. “That’s a fact of life. That doesn’t mean necessarily that we will have to use solar geoengineering, but if you want to prudently manage global climate risk, then it’s fair to say that one needs to look at all the options.”
Geoengineering, though, comes with a slew of potential problems. You might spray foam on the ocean surface to reflect light back into space, but that could also change the weather. And the issue with such solar radiation management, or SRM, is that even in the best case, it doesn’t address the underlying problem. “Once emitted, CO2 stays in the atmosphere for millennia,” says Seneviratne. “Any approach related to SRM only mitigates some of the symptoms of climate change, but not its root cause, which is the elevated CO2 concentrations.” That means issues like ocean acidification, which is inflicting wide-ranging harm on marine life, would remain unaddressed.
So, wired.com concludes: “… we aren’t going to geoengineer our way out of this mess—cutting emissions is our number one priority. But as this new report makes abundantly clear, the disease we’ve unleashed on this planet is only getting worse, and we aren’t doing nearly enough to find the cure.”
“You have to think in terms of the survival of human society,” Benjamin Horton, a British geographer who is currently leading the creation of a sea-level-rise adaptation plan for Singapore …
Heads of state and international leaders will meet in Poland, in December, for the next round of U.N. climate-change talks. They have been given a map of the scale and urgency of the risks that island nations, and the rest of the world, now face, and also specific, feasible pathways to reduced emissions. The science is settled. The only question now is whether the world can find the political—or moral—will to do anything about it. “The report is an assessment of the current scientific understanding,” Solecki, who co-authored the first chapter, told me. “The tone of the report paints a challenging picture, but one that also can be viewed as an opportunity.”