The UN's International Panel on Climate Change is an interdisciplinary expert body comprised of leading scientists who study climate change; they issue periodic reports summarizing the best peer-reviewed science on climate change and making recommendations as to what must be done to avert the most catastrophic outcomes; their latest report is the gravest yet, where even the most optimistic projections of the panel predict disruption and hardship for tens of millions of people, within our lifetimes.
That is the most optimistic projection, based on the assumption of an immediate, drastic retooling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which will hold warming at 1.5' C. A median projection, with temperatures rising to 2' C, involves trillions more in damage and hundreds of millions more people having to migrate, facing extreme weather events and pandemics, and suffering through famines and water shortages.
I have had stories about this report in my feed for days and haven't been able to bring myself to write about them, not even to read them in depth. It's hard not to read this and be gripped by despair.
But something I heard recently made me feel hope. On the latest Intercepted podcast, NYU history professor Nikhil Pal Singh finishes an address on the history of American empire by saying that Trump — and the looting, reckless, destructive ideology he embodies — may not be the beginning of a new, bloodier era of American carnage, but the last blast of the dying regime, the turning point for a better world.
That's not an automatic thing: the existence of a despicable, oligarchic politics committed to all forms of rape — individual, planetary, workplace — does not automatically lead to an uprising and a better world. Turning points aren't historical, they're human. They're made up of people taking action, sacrificing, paying attention, holding to account.
We have a month until the midterms. There is no midterm outcome that will, on its own, avert climate change. But a midterm result that puts the entire political and ruling class on notice, that emboldens the people, might be the turning point that we look back on and say, "That was the day things started to change."
A key point to remember is that while we talk about climate change in terms of averages, buried in those averages are extremes: more frequent and intense heat waves. More damaging storms. Higher oceans. These events can have a compounding effect that costs society far more than lost lives and damaged property from the disasters themselves. Coastal flooding can create a refugee crisis which in turn can drive armed conflicts, for example.
That's why, as my colleague David Roberts explained, 2°C of warming is way worse than 1.5°C. It would increase sea levels by another 4 inches (10 centimeters) on average. It would knock down global wheat production by 7 percent. It would increase the intensity of severe rainfall events by 2 percent. "Adaptation is expected to be more challenging for ecosystems, food and health systems at 2°C of global warming than for 1.5°C," according to the IPCC.
Zooming in to specific regions, 2°C would cause freshwater availability drop by twice as much in the Mediterranean as it would under a 1.5°C warming scenario. Some of the most densely populated regions of the world like Southeast Asia face far greater crop declines with an additional 0.5°C of warming. By 2100, limiting the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C would avert 150 million premature deaths.
GLOBAL WARMING OF 1.5' C [IPCC]
A major new climate report slams the door on wishful thinking
(via Naked Capitalism)