How Bad Does it Need to Get Before We Take Climate Action Seriously?

Photo by Peter Burdon on Unsplash

War in Ukraine.

Global inflation.

Energy prices.

The pandemic.

Members of hate groups infiltrating the republican party.

Mass shootings.

Republican voter suppression, book banning, Disney banning, banning future presidential debates, banning discussions about sexuality, gender, and abortions.

There are a lot of things coming at us all at one, some of which aren’t even being reported.

The most under-reported issue we ignore it at our own peril.

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.

Last week, a study reports about a third of all aquatic animals could vanish 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.

In 2018, the IPCC warned the world had 12 years to halt coal consumption and slash carbon dioxide emissions to prevent the atmosphere from warming more than this amount.

However, we have already crossed so many tipping points, even if we limit warming to 1.5 Celsius, some long-term damage is irreversible.

Only drastic emission reductions can save us from the worst of future catastrophe, but there is no going back to the way things were.

Climate science professor at the University of Reading and a lead IPCC researcher, Ed Hawkins, said:

“We are already experiencing climate change, including more frequent and extreme weather events, and for many of these impacts there is no going back.”

The Guardian reported:

“Even if the world keeps heating below 1.6C [34.88 Fahrenheit] by 2100-and we are already at 1.1C [33.98 Fahrenheit]-then 8% of today’s farmland will become climatically unsuitable, just after the global population has peaked above 9 billion. Severe stunting could affect 1 million children in Africa alone. If global heating continues and little adaptation is put in place, 183 million more people are projected to go hungry by 2050.”

Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the working group producing the most recent report, asserted:

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well being and the health of the planet.”

Despite the bleak outlook, the window to act effectively to prevent the worst isn’t closed yet.

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.

Only governments can enact climate policies.

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.

The bad news is Joe Biden is not the consistent progressive his initial months in office might suggest.

He has always been an incrementalist.

He still refuses to ban fracking.

He has vociferously distanced himself from the Green New Deal, the non-binding bicameral resolution calling for 100 percent net zero-emission power by 2030, a federal jobs guarantee, solid union jobs retrofitting and re-building crumbling infrastructure, universal health care, and affordable housing.

Despite shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline is still operating.

Despite re-admitting us into the Paris Climate Accords from which Donald Trump removed us, Biden has issued more gas and oil drilling permits than Trump in his first year.

Historic climate catastrophes, devastating floods, wildfires, hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, acidic oceans, inundated cities, extreme and persistent heat waves, and ocean circulation and the jet stream at their weakest in over a millenia, threaten to eliminate all life on Earth.

That isn’t hyperbole.

Look at the numbers.

Listen to the scientists.

We must now implement the measures we can take to avoid a bleak, hostile future environment.

Originally published at https://theleftplace.substack.com on May 2, 2022.

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Ted Millar is a teacher, poet, and political writer for Liberal America and the Left Place blog on Substack: https://theleftplace.substack.com/.

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Ted Millar

Ted Millar

Ted Millar is a teacher, poet, and political writer for Liberal America and the Left Place blog on Substack: https://theleftplace.substack.com/.

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