I read the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that came out on Monday with tears of frustration and anger in my eyes.
Drawing on the data and conclusions of 14,000 different studies, the IPCC's report was about as clear as you could get. The 1.1 C increase in the average global temperature we've already seen, it says, is "unequivocally caused by human activities" and is predicted to reach 1.5 C by 2030. As far as the insane weather we've had in the past two years -- it's due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Full stop.
The effects have included:
- Unheard-of heat in western North America, including temperatures of 48 C (118 F) in normally temperate and mild Vancouver, British Columbia.
- Out-of-control wildfires in California, Montana, Idaho, Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Siberia.
- Catastrophic flooding in too many places worldwide to list, including a mind-boggling three-day downpour that dropped 62 cm (almost 25 inches) of rain on Henan Province in China, displacing a million people and killing at least 63.
- A combination of heat, humidity, and poor air quality -- much of the latter due to wildfire smoke -- in eastern North America, resulting in dangerous conditions for anyone with respiratory issues.
- Acceleration of the melting of the Antarctic Ice Shelves and the Greenland Ice Sheet.
If the quantity of [carbon dioxide] in the air should sink to one-half its present percentage, the temperature would fall by about 4°; a diminution to one-quarter would reduce the temperature by 8°. On the other hand, any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the earth's surface by 4°; and if the carbon dioxide were increased fourfold, the temperature would rise by 8°.
Others tried to bring the scientific consensus to public awareness. James Burke's prescient documentary After the Warming presented the case in terrifying terms in 1989. Al Gore's 1992 book Earth in the Balance and his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth did the same.
The result by politicians was: silence.
That, or outright scoffing by anti-science knuckle-draggers like James Inhofe, Dana Rohrabacher, and Lamar Smith, aided and abetted by Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Fox News in general. Climate change is a hoax, they said. Any warmup we're seeing is purely natural -- "the Earth has been warm before." Inhofe, in fact, demonstrated not only his lack of comprehension of climate science but the fact that he evidently failed ninth grade Earth Science by bringing a snowball onto the floor of Congress and using that as proof that climate change wasn't happening. (Stephen Colbert's response to this stunt was, "It's cold out, so there's no such thing as global warming. And in other good news, I just had dinner so there's no such thing as world hunger.")
Oh, but things are gonna be different this time, we're told. "You’ve got the politicians being squeezed by the science, which is confirming a sense of alarm and fear, you’ve got the science now in the public mind," said Tom Burke, co-founder of E3G, a European climate think tank. "You’ve got capital markets saying this is beginning to really threaten the future value of our investments. So you’ve got enormous pressure building up on the politicians."
But the signs are already there that this pressure will, yet again, come to nothing.The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is scheduled for November, in Glasgow, Scotland. Already the word is that India and China plan on "holding out for coal" -- i.e., refusing to play ball unless they can keep international law out of their coal-burning practices. At an earlier conference, only thirteen countries in the G20 agreed to the necessity of zero-net-carbon energy production. It's looking all too likely that -- once again -- any possibility of addressing climate change will get stalled by squabbles over short-term expediency.
The worst part is that there are climate scientists who are saying that we've basically missed our window for mitigating the warm-up. "You’ve been telling us for over three decades of the dangers of allowing the planet to warm," UN Environment Program Executive Director Inger Andersen said to scientists Monday, after the release of the IPCC report. "The world heard, but it didn’t listen. The world heard, but it didn’t act strongly enough. As a result, climate change is a problem that is here, now. Nobody’s safe, and it’s getting worse faster."
It all brings to mind the Greek myth of Cassandra, who was blessed by the gods with the power of foresight but cursed to never be believed. The Cassandras of the last fifty years of climate science have been screaming themselves hoarse that for fuck's sake, we need to do something, and the response has been one of the following:
- No, we don't.
- Even if we reduce fossil fuel use, it won't make a difference because this is a natural warming trend.
- Relax, it'll be fine. We've weathered these kinds of ups and downs, regardless of what's causing them.
- Reducing fossil fuel use will destroy the economy. Switching to renewables is way too expensive to be feasible.