Dear Humanity, Time Is Running Out
Next and final chapter in IPCC climate change assessment will say window is fast closing for society to respond to worst impacts of fast-warming planet
The next chapter of the UN climate panel's scientific report on global warming is due out next week in Berlin, but a draft of the document seen by the Reuters news agency reveals that the main message for humanity and society is simply this: time is running out.
According to Reuters:
Government officials and top climate scientists will meet in Berlin from April 7-12 to review the 29-page draft that also estimates the needed shift to low-carbon energies would cost between two and six per cent of world output by 2050.
It says nations will have to impose drastic curbs on their still rising greenhouse gas emissions to keep a promise made by almost 200 countries in 2010 to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times.
This third chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report will move away from the causes and scientific consensus of climate change (covered in the first chapter) and the impacts of global warming and changing climate patterns (covered in the second), and focus on the possible steps that can be taken to avoid the very worst case scenarios that scientists have set forth.
To avoid these dangers, the report will say, society will not only need to rapidly reduce use of fossil fuels, but also revolutionize the structures of its economies, food systems, and energy grids.
"Climate change is global-scale violence, against places and species as well as against human beings." —Rebecca Solnit
What this next chapter will highlight is that for all the alarming warnings generated by the scientific community and confirmed by the IPCC's comprehensive analysis of that science, is that world government's and the powerful private sector have done next to nothing to meet the challenge now before humanity.
“So far, world leaders have sorely lacked the political will to make the shift to low-carbon societies," said Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth International Climate Justice and Energy coordinator, as she responded to the latest IPCC draft.
According to Agence France-Presse, which also saw a draft of the chapter, the panel suggests there is a 15-year window for affordable action to safely reach the UN's warming limit of two degrees Celsius.
“Scientists confirm that we must take urgent steps to avoid triggering catastrophic climate change and its irreversible impacts on humans and ecosystems. Real solutions to the climate crisis are already available. We need community-based energy solutions, energy efficiency and reduced consumption levels, not dangerous energy sources like fossil fuels or nuclear power,” said Inga Roemer of Friends of the Earth Germany / BUND.
Roemer was responding to potentially controversial aspects of the IPCC recommendations, which may include the use of nuclear energy to offset the imperative of scaling back reliance on fossil fuels. Environmentalists have largely rejected those in the scientific community who have suggested that nuclear power —even if "done right" and safer—is a realistic and responsible solution to the carbon-based energy system.
For all the warnings, however, what environmentalists and climate activists are calling for is the paradigm shift that the science—and the economic implications of the fossil fuel industry—have long been showing is necessary.
As green activist and author Rebecca Solnit writes at the Guardian on Monday, the consistent and current refusal by governments and industry to address the crisis of human-caused climate change should be called what it is: violence against humanity and planet Earth itself.
Climate change is anthropogenic – caused by human beings, some much more than others. We know the consequences of that change: the acidification of oceans and decline of many species in them, the slow disappearance of island nations such as the Maldives, increased flooding, drought, crop failure leading to food-price increases and famine, increasingly turbulent weather. (Think Hurricane Sandy and the recent typhoon in the Philippines, and heat waves that kill elderly people by the tens of thousands.)
Climate change is violence.
So if we want to talk about violence and climate change – and we are talking about it, after last week's horrifying report from the world's top climate scientists – then let's talk about climate change as violence. Rather than worrying about whether ordinary human beings will react turbulently to the destruction of the very means of their survival, let's worry about that destruction – and their survival. Of course water failure, crop failure, flooding and more will lead to mass migration and climate refugees – they already have – and this will lead to conflict. Those conflicts are being set in motion now.
What comes next, Solnit says, is entirely up to humanity's capacity to admit the problem, call it by its true name, and then systematically and aggressively address it.
"That's a tired phrase, the destruction of the Earth," admits Solnit. "But translate it into the face of a starving child and a barren field – and then multiply that a few million times."