The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its first major report in nearly a decade on Monday, turning the spotlight on the escalating climate crisis and its impact on regions around the world. The highly anticipated report, which was written by the world’s leading scientists and signed off by 195 Member States, is 3,500 pages of research from more than 200 scientists of 60 countries that cite more than 14,000 individual studies. Going farther than any previous report, the IPCC no longer brought into question whether environmental changes are “natural versus human” but rather directly placed the blame solely on human greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane. They warned that the latest projections have us exceeding the 1.5 degrees limit within the next decade or two. These irreversible changes that they predicted were centuries away are now occurring today at an alarming pace, and the impacts of the changing climate are worsening with every fraction of a degree of warming. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has since responded to the news that this IPCC report was a code red for humanity. “We must act decisively now, to keep 1.5 alive. Inclusive and green economists, prosperity, cleaner air, and better health are possible for all, if we respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage.” (UN News)
There is not one region on Earth that is safe from rising temperatures, worsening floods, severe wildfires, and blistering droughts, and the window of opportunity is closing. Devastating impacts of climate change are becoming unavoidable as events that have transpired within the past few weeks alone have demonstrated. According to a report by Down to Earth, at least 40 countries in Europe, North America, Asia, Oceania and Africa have been hit by extreme natural disasters within this season alone. Western Europe experienced up to two months worth of rain in two days, leaving extensive damage in areas of Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Northern Europe experienced an unusual heatwave across the Scandinavian countries. In North America, an extreme heatwave has contributed to scorching wildfires which have increased by 21 percent across the western U.S., British Columbia, and northwestern Ontario. California and Brazil are currently experiencing their worst drought since 800 AD, causing areas that were once full of vegetation to dry out and be more susceptible to wildfires such as the Dixie Fire, which today has grown to more than 463,000 acres or 724 square miles. The only fire bigger than the Dixie Fire was the August Complex Fire in 2020, which grew to more than 1 million acres. In the Mediterranean, Turkey, Italy, Greece, and Algeria are also experiencing some of the worst wildfires in their history, along with Russia’s northern Siberia region. Spain and Portugal are also on alert for fires amidst a heatwave. In Asia, countries such as China, India, and Indonesia have been hit with heavy monsoon rains that have caused floods resulting in landslides and dozens of deaths. This was apparently the heaviest rainfall in China in over 1,000 years, causing 376,000 residents to have to be relocated.
Scientists have also taken note of other environmental changes occurring around the globe. According to a study published in Nature and Climate Change on August 5th, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) has begun showing signs of instability due to melting ice sheets and heavy rain which disrupt the entire circulation of water from the tropics to the North Atlantic. CNN World News has claimed that a collapse in this system would result in significant sea level rises, and more extreme winters, as well as disruption to monsoon systems, the Antarctic ice sheet, and the Amazon rainforest. Niklas Boers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research published a study where they analyzed whether the AMOC circulation was weaker in the past 1000 years due to natural changes or rather a human-driven destabilization. By using eight datasets that looked at surface temperatures and salinity in the Atlantic over a span of 150 years, they concluded from the evidence that it was in fact human-driven behavior that was causing this destabilization. In June, Greenland lost an amount of ice in one day that was large enough to cover the entirety of Florida in two inches of water, which equals out to roughly 8.5 billion tons of surface mass melting in one day or 18.4 billion in one week. While this number may seem startling, Earth itself has lost over 28 trillion tons of ice since the mid-1990s, according to a scientific study published in the journal Cryosphere.
As the IPCC report demonstrates, growing pressure on the environment as a result of humanity’s unsustainable practices pertaining to levels of consumption, deforestation, and air, water, and solid waste pollution exemplify the staggering environmental vulnerabilities that correspond with human behavior. So, where did we go wrong and what is the solution? As the global population has enlarged along with consumerism after the Industrial Revolution, so has the level of human consumption and degradation of the environment. An interesting study that analyzes this correlation is from the Department of Biology and Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University called “Too Many People, Too Much Consumption”, where they measure humanity’s impact by multiplying the average affluence or consumption per individual with the measure of technology that services and drives consumption. As the population grew from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion over the course of the 20th century, CO2 emissions increased 12-fold along with rapid urban industrialized expansion across the globe. According to Scientific American, from the years 1900 to 1989, the population tripled while consumption of raw materials grew by 17 fold. U.S. citizens, in particular, consume as many resources as 35 Indian citizens and 53 times more goods and services than one person in China. This latest IPCC report claims that in 2019 atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least 2 million years, with methane and nitrous oxide concentrations being higher now than in the past 800,000 years. As a result, Earth’s average surface temperature has rapidly increased at a faster rate since 1970 than in any other 50-year span between the past 2,000 years.
The increased constraints that humans have placed on the environment over the past century display an alarming reality that humanity cannot subsist eternally with unfeasible systems, extensive loss of biodiversity, and more extreme weather patterns. Unfortunately, the societal consequences of this extensive change we are undergoing will disproportionately affect the globe – likely leading to more poverty, disease, war, and famine. While no one country is safe from the heinous consequences of the climate crisis, catastrophic events will ultimately be more detrimental to impoverished nations that have scarce resources. While greener alternatives can help alleviate the pressure on the environment, states have to be more prepared to deal with these alarming developments.
The question of whether our world is doomed or not because our world is entering code red does not have a definite answer. However, one thing is for sure: governments all over the globe have failed to fully cooperate thus far on these most urgent obstacles that deteriorate the likelihood of a promising future for younger generations. We are failing to meet the standards set within the Paris Climate Accord and other global targets. Yet, this is not the sole problem in itself. Part of the dilemma lies in the fact that individuals alone are failing to adopt greener alternatives and change their lives in ways that are more environmentally friendly because they lack encouragement, opportunity, and resources from their governments to do so. Collectively all of our actions contribute in some sense to the perilous outcomes that are unfolding right in front of us. This IPCC report is only a warning of the dangers that lie ahead if greater action is not taken.
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