The United Nations released a brand new landmark report about the current conditions of the Earth’s climate and the potential for serious consequences in the future. The news is substantial and concerning, and may leave you with questions. Here is key information you should know about the report.
Who wrote the report?
The report was written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), which is a group established by the United Nations International Programme and the World Meteorological Organizations. Created in 1988, the panel’s job is to “provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.” According to their website, there are 195 Member countries of the IPCC, and the work they do is produced by thousands of scientists. As such, when this body produces documentation on climate change, it is taken seriously.
This report, the first of its kind since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, was written and edited by over 90 scientists from 40 countries, using analysis from more than 6,000 scientific studies.
What did the report say?
The Paris Agreement has the specific goal of preventing the climate from warming more than 3.6 degrees above pre-industrial levels (in other words, temperatures before the Industrial Revolution, when humans began the burning of fossil fuels). Scientists believe that 3.6 degrees represents the tipping point for the most severe social and economic consequences of climate change on continents. However, small island nations, which experience social and economic consequences already because of the rising seas, requested scientists examine effects on the planet at 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
What the study finds is significant: without aggressive action right now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the atmosphere will hit the 2.7 degree-mark by 2040 (within our lifetimes) and severe consequences to the environment and human life will occur. Rising sea levels, intensified coastal storms, and coral reef die-off will significantly impact coastal communities. Intensifying droughts, poverty and famine will plague continental areas already suffering under intensified and longer-lasting drought conditions. Major city regions that are located on the water, like the City of Boston, face significant concerns. Water scarcity in places like New Mexico will mean a lot for local populations and the crops the entire country depends on.
These are warnings that you’ve probably read before. What makes this report different than others is its urgency: where warnings of consequences have always been far in the future, scientists are telling us that warming is accelerating faster than anticipated and consequences are coming sooner than we imagined. It’s likely that you will witness the severe consequences of our warming climate, and so will your children and/or grandchildren.
What’s being done?
According to the New York Times, while European nations have taken leadership positions on getting governments to respond to climate change, other nations have not been so quick to follow. Indeed, the United States plans on leaving the Paris Agreement. Some individual states are taking their own actions. The massive burning of coal, often used for powering electrical plants, has been named time and again as a major culprit of our current emissions crisis. Organizations, lobbying firms, and private individuals with significant financial interests in fossil-fuel industries have used significant resources to fight this idea.
What’s to be done?
Personal choices about your own consumption is a great place to start in the face of this report. Consider how much fossil fuel it takes to run your life right now. Are you comfortable with your personal contribution to emissions? Buying a new car or moving to a more efficient house or otherwise making significant financial investments may not be possible for you right now. However, there are always small changes you can make: starting with considering what companies you purchase from and why. Looking up positions of your government leaders on climate change and asking questions of what they can do to make a difference. Planting trees and other plants on your property (instead of just maintaining a simple lawn) can be a small, beautiful, and CO2-reducing act you can do. In the face of overwhelming news like this, small, thoughtful choices can make a big difference over time.
The news is dire, but never without hope: we all have the capacity and the power to make needed change. Consider how you can help. Make a conscious choice today. Read the report, ask questions of yourself and others, and take the first step right now, today. As Captain Planet used to say, “The power is yours!”
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