The human impact on the environment is growing and requires our attention immediately, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC’s latest climate change report, released on August 9, shows that climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying.”
However, the prognosis is not entirely grim. The IPCC report says we may be able to curb the effects of climate change if we can reduce greenhouse gases over the next decade.
The report, which the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called “a code red for humanity,” comes in a year where we’ve already seen record-breaking and life-threatening temperatures, wildfires, and floods. For example:
- Death Valley hit an average daily temperature of 118.1 degrees Fahrenheit on July 11 and the highest reliably recorded temperature on Earth, 130 degrees Fahrenheit on July 9.
- California’s Dixie Fire, the state’s second largest wildfire ever, started on July 13 and has burned over half a million acres. As of this writing, it continues to burn.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects up to 20 named storms for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season with up to 10 of those becoming significant hurricanes.
According to the IPCC, human-induced climate change is the driving force behind these higher temperatures and more severe hurricanes as well as the drought conditions that increase the likelihood of wildfire. And these extreme weather events do more than impact homeowners insurance rates. They are likely to affect everything from our food supply to our healthcare system. Most importantly, more people will find themselves in harm’s way.
Key Findings of the IPCC Climate Change Report
The IPCC looked at the atmosphere, ocean, and cryosphere (or the frozen areas) for key indicators of climate change and our impact on it. Many of its key findings reveal changes to the earth’s climate accelerating at a rate that outstrips previous eras:
- Greenhouse gas levels: We have not seen atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations this high in the past 2 million years. Methane (CH4), which is much more effective at trapping heat, is at its highest levels in 800,000 years.
- Rising temperatures: The past 50 years have warmed faster than any period of the past 2,000 years. The IPCC predicts global temperatures will continue to rise, increasing heat waves and causing longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons.
- Melting ice: The earth’s increased surface temperature is causing more ice melt in the Arctic sea. In fact, the ice coverage in the Arctic is less than it has been for the past 1,000 years.
- Rising sea levels: As ice melts, sea levels rise, and the current levels are the highest they’ve been in 3,000 years. And the rate the seas are rising is increasing significantly. Between 1901 and 1971, sea levels rose 1.3mm per year. Compare that to the 3.7mm per year they rose between 2006 and 2018.
- Ocean acidification: Carbon dioxide adversely affects more than just land life. As it dissolves in seawater, CO2 causes oceans to become more acidic which damages sea life.
Climate Change Report Says Humans Are to Blame
The key findings above squash any notion that climate change isn’t happening. But the most important takeaway from the climate change report is the argument that human-caused greenhouse gases are the reason for our climate woes.
The two biggest problems are our reliance on fossil fuels and deforestation. Burning fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal is how most American get their energy, producing heat and electricity and powering cars. But it also produces carbon dioxide which is the greenhouse gas that’s the primary reason earth’s temperatures are rising.
Forests are supposed to filter out CO2 from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, more than 10 million hectares of forest per year were taken down between 2015 and 2020. While this is down from 16 million hectares each year in the 90s, the number is still alarming. More importantly, the reduction in forests means there are fewer filters in the world to pull CO2 emissions out of the air and release oxygen back into the atmosphere.
Stabilizing the Climate
According to the IPCC climate change report, we can take steps to stabilize the environment. Specifically, the authors mention:
- Rapidly reducing methane emissions.
- Limiting cumulative carbon emissions.
- Reducing other greenhouse gases.
The 2015 Paris climate agreement sought to achieve many of these things and to keep global warming under 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Currently, most of the world’s major economies are falling behind in their efforts. However, if dramatic changes can be made, we can limit greenhouse gas emissions and limit the effects of global warming. If that happens, the IPCC postulates that earth’s climate could start to cool in a few decades.
Humans have to understand that without hard work and a change in our mentality the ramifications of climate change will be with us through this century – or longer.