The WTF: The UN Climate Change Report
In light of the new climate change report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a working group of the United Nations (UN), this week’s WTF will be focused on the most interesting and alarming aspects of the published study.
The Origins of the Evolution and the Ascent of Humanity, Part One
On Monday, the United Nations issued their 2021 Climate Report in advance of November’s COP26, and the headlines were shocking:
The news cycles and social feeds were full of stories, explainers, and what-next articles and posts that exploded in the days following, although they’ve slowed to a relative trickle as I type this on a Thursday. Perhaps we’re all taking time to digest the devastating nature of the findings, that we humans have had a MASSIVE negative impact on the quality of life for all species on this planet. Perhaps we’re wrestling with the guilt of our individual and collective contributions to the negative impacts that manifest as life-stealing wildfires, droughts, famines, and extreme weather events. And perhaps, we’re all taking this time to prepare ourselves to follow the natural course of evolution: preserve your species by doing the things and taking the actions that will allow your species to perpetuate itself into the future.
Revolutions, the few insisting upon massive change for the many, are generally very painful and frequently pyrrhic exercises. Evolutions, when the mass of change(s) forces all to follow suit, can also be painful but generally prove to have longer-lasting consequences. For us humans, some simian ancestor developed an opposable thumb, learned to use it for benefit and betterment, and, voila, it gave our family tree members an advantage to climb to the top of the food chain.
But how does this connect to our publication and global climate change in general? Read on to find out!
Climate Change – Undeniably Our Fault
“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere have occurred.”
When reading the newly published Sixth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) these are the first words you are greeted by – stark and to the point. This is a fact we have long known; however, the IPCC uses facts that even the most avid climate change denier may have a hard time arguing. For example, it is often argued that the earth is warming due to natural processes, and this is all part of a climate cycle. Well, the IPCC report shows through extensive data modeling that with only natural processes (such as a solar and volcanic activity), the earth would have warmed by a mere 0.2°C while in actuality due to human processes, it has warmed closer to 1.2°C. The same IPCC has of course warned us of the dangers of reaching an increase in temperature by 1.5°C only a few years ago (Spoiler: It’s very bad).
Thankfully, while the report is full of alarming facts, it also shows that we can still negate some of the future impacts of climate change. On our current trajectory, it is predicted that global temperature will rise by 3°C, however, if we can decrease our fossil fuel usage completely by 2050, and begin using carbon sequestration methods, it is predicted that the rise will level off at around 1.5°C.
But just how bad is the difference between a rise in 1.5°C, and that of 3, or even 4°C? For example, the report shows that if there is a 2°C rise, extreme temperature events that used to occur once every 50 years will instead occur 14 times in a 50-year span. Even more alarmingly, with an increase of 4°C, extreme temperature events occur 39 times over the same period. The difference in extreme droughts between the two is just about double as well. These, of course, will bring massive interruptions to agricultural systems and put a strain on water supplies.
For readers in Canada these climate changes will bring about warmer temperatures with higher levels of precipitation, this precipitation will not be useful for agriculture, however, as the moisture in the soil column is expected to evaporate rapidly due to higher temperatures. I am from Barbados, as such, for readers like myself who are from areas that climate change will disproportionately impact, such as the Caribbean, these changes will be seen through increased hurricane frequency and severity increased instances of extreme drought, and of course, rising sea levels. These effects can already be seen with a record-breaking fifth named storm by July 1st. If this doesn’t sound impressive (or scary!) – there aren’t usually five named storms until the end of August.
I don’t know about you, but I agree with this IPCC report – the time to act is now.
Limiting Future Climate Change
Source: Giving Compass
The report provided specific solutions to limit future climate change while being cognisant of the fact (as we have mentioned above) that much damage has already been done to the Earth by it. It is important to note, that the suggested solutions were provided in the hopes that nations all over the world would begin working on them immediately—as is a running theme in this report, climate change is very much an urgent and pressing matter in which we are running out of time to effectively combat it.
The main solution suggested that we must limit human-induced global warming by targeting/limiting cumulative CO2 or any other carbon-based emissions. The hope of the report is that nations look toward reaching net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, as a first start in limiting the production of other greenhouse gases. Additionally, the report suggests “sustained reductions” in CH4 (commonly known as methane), would aid not only in decreasing the effect of global warming but also would improve global air quality.
Furthermore, the report concluded that scenarios with low or very low GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions lead within the next 20 years might dramatically restore climate impact drives to manageable states. However, it will take collaborative work from all nations in order to make these scenarios a reality.
Can you imagine, if we play our cards right, in 2040 we might have a utopia free from climatic disasters?
UN CLIMATE REPORT 2021: The Origins of the Evolution and the Ascent of Humanity, Part Two
Here at A\J, we’re working on a print issue this summer that aims to use the device of ‘climate fiction’ to project what the future will look like in 2071, the year A\J (hopefully) turns 100. And the head-space required to bridge space and time has proved helpful to this writer as he wrestles with understanding if this report will be the actual tipping point (or part thereof) that moves our species forward. The science and research and data presented in the 2021 report isn’t all that different from the 2001 report; we’ve simply lost 20 years trying to make our fellow humans understand the importance of what we’re studying, learning, and sharing. We had our then-editor, Megan Nourse, at COP21, supposedly the A-HA moment of global climate awakening and action-taking. We’re just now being shocked awake, judging by today’s headlines.
So how do we ensure that, finally, the message gets through to the mass of humanity (and, more importantly, the humans holding the power to make better decisions), allowing the natural evolution to a more sustainable future to occur in the most expedient (and least painful) way possible? Well, if we Canadians have learned anything through the Covid-19 era it’s that strong, clear, and simple public health messages repeated FREQUENTLY do hold the power to help the average citizen to comprehend and make better decisions individually and collectively.
HERE IS THE THREAT. IT IS A CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER. WE’RE NOT SUGAR-COATING ANYTHING. IT IS REAL AND YOU SHOULD BE CONCERNED, HOWEVER, WE CAN ALL DO THINGS TO MINIMIZE THAT THREAT AND YOU CAN MITIGATE THAT DANGER FOR YOU AND YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS BY (wearing a mask, social distancing, getting vaccinated, etc.). AND DOING SO WILL ALLOW US TO GET THROUGH THIS AS QUICKLY AND PAINLESSLY AS POSSIBLE.
And that message has been repeated, in iteration, consistently for the past 18 months and will likely be a presence for at least another year longer. We Canadians were confused by this novel coronavirus, we needed to be educated, informed, and alerted, and then we needed to be guided through the process to minimize the risk and to flatten the curve. And, as a whole, we did a pretty good job, at least compared to our G20 peers.
Is climate change an emergency? ABSOLUTELY. Does it hold the potential to be a MUCH DEADLIER threat than Covid-19? ABSOLUTELY. Does it threaten the life and well-being of all Canadians, let alone all species on this planet? ABSOLUTELY. Can we come together and act together to minimize the pain that will accrue in the short term (paying yesterday’s climate bill) before the sunnier days ahead? ABSOLUTELY….if we are helped along the way. And if we truly want it to happen.
The evolution of the planet is happening, regardless of what we do. Can we humans leverage our humanity to make that evolution happen for the benefit and betterment of all species?
That only time can tell!
Alex has a background in Environmental Science holding an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, and a Masters of Environment and Sustainability (MES) from Western University. Alex was born and raised in Barbados, a small island in the Caribbean, and has spent the past seven years attending school in Canada, while returning to Barbados for the summer and Christmas periods. Alex is passionate about the environment as he has been able to witness firsthand the effects of climate change on marine and tropical environments, and hopes to spread awareness about these issues.
David McConnachie is A\J’s publisher.