Five Years May Be All We Have Left to Avoid a Major Climate Tipping Point

Ted Millar
6 min readMay 18, 2022


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Last month, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres darkly pronounced “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this… atlas of human suffering” after reading an International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warning of “widespread and pervasive” impacts on all living things from frequent and intense heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods.

This prompted his call for the installation of global extreme weather early warning systems.

Later that month, temperatures in eastern Antarctica spiked 70 degrees higher than normal.

Within days, satellite data revealed the Antarctic Conger ice shelf, about the size of Rome, Italy, collapsed.

Then reports broke of a study confirming various bird species nesting and laying eggs nearly a month early.

Two weeks ago, a study reported about a third of all aquatic animals could v anish within three centuries unless we dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The journal Nature warns wild climate change-fueled animal migrations risk introducing more novel viruses into the human population, like the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

One in five reptile species face extinction as we continue destroying ecosystems.

Recent studies published in a special issue of the journal Paediatric [sic] and Perinatal Epidemiology find a rapidly warming environment is associated with poor health in fetuses, babies, and infants.

Last August, the IPCC released a report warning Earth faces uncontrollable global warming unless nations take drastic measures to eliminate greenhouse gases, “unequivocally” blaming humans for the crisis.

It concludes that, based on carbon emissions presently in the atmosphere, average global temperatures will likely rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius -2.7 degrees Fahrenheit-above pre-industrial levels by 2040.

However, according to a recent World Meteorological Association (WMO) “Decadal Climate Update,” we may not even have until then.

Five years may be all we have left before crossing the long-dreaded 1.5-degree Celsius cap set for post-Industrial Revolution global warming delineated in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords.

While this is certainly foreboding news, some prominent climate scientists insist it is still not time for despair.

According to WMO report leading climate scientist Leon Hermanson, a single year of warming above 1.5 degrees doesn’t mean all is lost.

The report does warn, however, the world is “edging ever closer to a situation where 1.5 degrees could be exceeded for an extended period.”

Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann, author of The New Climate War and The Hockey Stick & the New Climate Wars, argues, “There is huge potential for misunderstanding here, particularly when it comes to avoiding dangerous planetary warming thresholds. When we talk about the need to avoid 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming in a climate change context, we’re talking about the long-term trend, not the values for individual years.”

“What we’re concerned about, when it comes to climate change impacts, is when the trend line crosses 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that likely won’t happen for decades.”

WMO’sClimate Programme Director Maxx Dilley explain s:

“The global annual mean temperature trend is towards increasing temperatures, with each decade currently being warmer than the previous one. As the upward trend in temperatures continues, at one point, in the not too distant future, the global annual mean temperature will reach 1.5 degrees. After that, if greenhouse atmospheric concentrations continue rising, the global annual mean temperature will reach or exceed 1.5 degrees more often.”

Director of NASA ‘s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Climatologist Gavin Schmidt, said:

“The Paris Agreement targets are all about the long-term stabilized temperatures, not a single year.”

Schmidt warns, though, “Regardless of what is predicted here, we are very likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade or so…It doesn’t necessarily mean that working to reduce further change is not worthwhile.”

But while we shouldn’t panic, we also shouldn’t assume the smash-and-grab business- as-usual approach the fossil fuel corporations continue to enjoy isn’t killing us.

A investigation uncovered the world’s most powerful fossil fuel corporations are planning a myriad of “ carbon bomb” oil and gas projects that threaten to drive the climate past 1.5 degrees.

The investigation finds:

  • “The fossil fuel industry’s short-term expansion plans involve the start of oil and gas projects that will produce greenhouse gases equivalent to a decade of CO2 emissions from China, the world’s biggest polluter.
  • “These plans include 195 carbon bombs, gigantic oil and gas projects that would each result in at least a billion metric tons of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes, in total equivalent to about 18 years of current global CO2 emissions. About 60 percent of these have already started pumping.
  • “The dozen biggest oil companies are on track to spend $103 million a day for the rest of the decade exploiting new fields of oil and gas that cannot be burned if global heating is to be limited to well under 2C.
  • “The Middle East and Russia often attract the most attention in relation to future oil and gas production but the US, Canada, and Australia are among the countries with the biggest expansion plans and the highest number of carbon bombs. The US, Canada, and Australia also give some of the world’s biggest subsidies for fossil fuels per capita.”

As long as we continue gifting the fossil fuel polluters $600 billion a year, we are literally subsidizing our own demise.

As progressive talk show host and author Thom Hartmann warns in his piece “ Why are Americans Subsidizing Our Own Extinction?:”

“The world’s largest fossil fuel companies right now have drilling and mining operations underway that, if completed, will push the world well past a catastrophic 2.7 degrees Celsius, the level that some scientists estimate could lead to a dinosaur-level extinction.”

Every person in the United States-man, woman, and child-contributed about $2,000 last year in fossil fuel subsidies.

Many argue we are “unable to get off fossil fuels” because “it’s too expensive,” or the system would collapse because we are so entrenched in fossil fuel markets.

But that’s not the reason.

Out problem is not our ability.

It’s our will.

As long as some politicians keep dancing to fossil fuel interests’ tune, kicking our addiction will be too slow.

Money in politics is the cancer on American democracy thanks to four Supreme Court decisions that state corporations are people and money equals free speech.

But where would giving up get us?

Again, all is not lost.

Alice Bell, writing for The Guardian, said:

“The best antidote to climate fear is always climate action, so roll up your sleeves and get to work. Not sure where to start? Do something that brings you joy. You’ll be at your most powerful and your most infectious. Climate change is grim, plain and simple. But taking action on it can be an absolute ball. You’ve got a range of options-you can work to help us quit fossil fuels, or shift what we eat and buy to get greenhouse gases down. We can call on governments to act faster to get us to net zero through moving to renewable energy and making our homes and transport more energy-efficient. We can plant trees and pursue other nature-based solutions.”

She added:

“We will also need to live with the changes that are already here. That means campaigning on a whole host of issues that might not immediately seem climate-related, too: migration, housing, poverty and mental health provision.”

Former UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres, presently with the Global Optimism group, said:

“We can prevent and protect ourselves from extreme weather, famines, health problems and more by cutting emissions and investing in adaptation strategies. The science and the solutions are clear. It’s up to us how we shape the future.”

But individual actions, while important, can only go so far.

While some Democratic politicians-and 100% of republican ones-are sponsoring legislation written to prop up fossil fuels interests, the tide is turning.

Last summer, the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes $7.5 billion each for electric vehicle charging stations and zero- and low-emission ferries and buses, including school buses.

$73 billion is intended for power grid infrastructure.

$46 billion is to be put toward flood, drought, and wildfire damage.

We’ve seen over the past few years how absent American example and leadership causes other countries to shrug off their environmental commitments.

Since his first day in office, President Biden has been working to either reverse or reviewthe former guy’s” all-out assault on the environment, including establishing the most progressive climate policy in history, demanding the federal government pause and review oil and gas drilling on federal land, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and electrifying the government’s vehicle fleet.

Despair is not an option.

Originally published at on May 18, 2022.



Ted Millar

Ted Millar is a teacher, poet, and political writer for The Left Place blog on Substack: Twitter: @tedmillar