On Monday this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their 6th and latest assessment of the state of things, with the last one (AR5) coming just back in 2019. Things are pretty bleak and getting worse, and it appears some issues are now near irreversible, but much can still be done, so hopefully this is a rallying cry for those still shockingling sitting on the sidelines when it comes to the climate crisis.
Here is the Full Report, but we thought it might help to break it down a little for you.
BACKGROUND ON THE STUDY
- The IPCC has 195 member countries
- Thousands of contributors sorted through 14,000 pieces of scientific literature to make up this report
- It is chaired by Dr. Hoesung Lee from South Korea
- It is by far the most comprehensive assessment of its kind on the state of climate change
LEVEL SET ON WHERE WE ARE AT
Let’s start by pulling out the key current data
- There are 3 critical greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (NO2)
- CO2 sits 410 parts per million, CH4 at 1866 parts per billion, and NO2 at 332 parts per billion
- For context, since 1750, carbon is up 47%, methane is up 156%, and nitrous oxide is up 23%
- Sea levels are rising 3.7mm per year from 2006 to 2018, compared to just 1.3mm per year between 1901 and 1971
- Each of the last 4 decades has been warmer than any other decade dating back to 1850 when this was measured in earnest
- Human-caused surface level temps are up 0.8 to 1.3C since 1900
- Global precipitation levels have increased steadily since 1950
- Glacier ice retreat is higher since 1950 than it has been in the last 2000 years
- Oceans are warming faster than they have since 11,000 years ago
- Ocean warming accounts for 91% of the heating overall in our climate system, with land warming accounting for 5% and ice loss for 3%
- Extreme heatwaves are happening 5 times more often today than in 1850
- In the hottest day in July of this year, enough polar ice melted to cover all of Florida with 2 inches of water
- The Arctic is now warming at 3x the rate of the global temperature increase (this was just 2x a couple years ago), all but signaling the polar ice caps melting may be irreversible at this point.
GLOBAL TEMPERATURES RISE
Overall global temperatures are up 1.1C since pre-Industrial Revolution.You may recall from the Paris Climate Accord we set a target of capping this at 1.5C, and identified 2C increase as the extreme end of what we could tolerate without severely changing society beyond recognition.
Well, it now seems we are all but guaranteed to hit 1.5C increase by not just 2050, not just 2040, but the mid-2030s. Essentially we’ve done nothing to make any progress since the Paris Accord was drafted.
Why is this such a big deal?
Well for every 0.5C increase, we see a dramatic shift in extreme weather, namely:
- Heavy precipitation and flooding in areas of high rainfall
- Extreme droughts and soil moisture loss in areas of arid or low rainfall
Extreme flooding, for example, increases 7% for every 0.1C temperature increase. And as temperature rise, with each incremental degree the weather impacts become more frequent and severe.
Many experts believe that even at 1.5C increase, which again is now all but unavoidable, we will see extreme weather that is unprecedented in observational history.
Areas like Southeast Asia and parts of Africa could flood at near constant levels if we get even close to 2C. The Amazon Rainforest would likely dry out into a Savannah at 2C. Major coastal cities around the world would be under water. Climate migration will hit breaking points. Economic damage will be continuous.
A VICIOUS CYCLE
Perhaps the most troubling of info in the report is how much these adverse effects of climate change turn around and lead to, well, more climate change.
- As Arctic ice melts, it exposes the darker land masses underneath. These land masses absorb more sun than ice, thus escalating heating and melting even further
- As wildfires increase, trees burn and the carbon they are storing gets released back into the atmosphere. This increases warming and thus, increases wildfires
- As soil loses moisture from heatwaves and droughts, it’s ability to store carbon depletes, which also releases more carbon in the atmosphere, and thus further lowers soil moisture
These vicious cycles are everywhere. This is the most alarming of the findings in this study in our opinion because of the compounding effects they have.
OCEANS ON LIFE SUPPORT
Another big piece of information in AR6 (this study) vs. AR5 (2019) was noting changes that are irreversible for up to centuries or millennia. Basically they are completely unavoidable.
Most of these changes lie in our oceans. Ya know, the things that currently sequester the most carbon, provide the most oxygen, and account for 91% of our heating climate.
Here are some of the things that the report cited as irreversible for this time period:
- Rising ocean temperatures
- Rising ocean acidification
- Lowering ocean oxygen levels
- Loss of permafrost and polar glaciers
In the best case scenario where we dramatically reduce emissions to negative net emissions by 2030, ocean levels rise 1 to 2 feet by 2100. In scenarios where we remain on the course we are on, they rise by up to 16 feet.
In addition, the report notes that every region in the world will see unavoidable increases in heat, flooding, droughts, and cyclone storms. Basically all the bad things that cause so much damage, especially to marginalized communities, are now inevitable from now until 2050.
Another way of looking at things:
- If we reach that 1.5C increase (although lets be honest, it’s now when we reach it), in a 10-year window extreme heat and weather increases 4.1 times and droughts double in intensity. On a 50-year window, these increase 8.6 times.
- However if we get to that 2C mark, extreme heat and weather increase 5.6 times on a 10-year window and 13.9 times on a 50-year window.
Think about the last 6 months alone – the floods in China and Germany, the Texas Freeze, the California and Oregon wildfires – now imagine these things happening 14 times more frequently and much stronger. It’s hard to fathom.
TIME TO GET OUR S*&% TOGETHER
While this might feel like a bit of a Doomsday Report, imagine what it will look like in another 2 to 5 years if we continue to sit on our hands and argue about how to address our emissions crisis rather than actually addressing it. So here are some suggestions:
- Let’s call it an Emissions or Pollution Crisis rather than a Climate Crisis for the near term. Of course it is a climate crisis and of course there are many factors beyond emissions contributing, but emissions are the biggest driver and we need to make this issue actionable and not abstract in the public domain
- There is no way of capping us at a 1.5C increase without getting to net-zero carbon emissions and no way of doing that if we keep burning fossil fuels at the rate we are. We must get off them faster. Which for us, means we also must embrace nuclear and invest in small nuclear reactors as a bridge between fossil fuels and renewables, which still need battery and grid optimization long term to become more reliable
- Stop supporting carbon offset programs as they are being designed right now. Every company doing this is just using accounting to hide their emissions and check a PR bucket. But actual climate science does not work on clever accounting, it works on, ya know, actual emissions. Require companies to get to net zero on their own products and services∫, rather than continue to pollute and offset it with investments in things like future unproven technology.
- Cut back BIG TIME on methane. There is far less methane than carbon in the atmosphere, but methane traps heat at a rate 25x higher than carbon. It’s also relatively short lived, i.e. it lives in the atmosphere for 10–20 years vs. hundreds of years of a unit of carbon. Meaning we can materially change its volume much faster. What produces methane beyond fossil fuels? Waste/landfills, deforestation and livestock agriculture are the major culprits. We need big food companies to stop buying from suppliers driving deforestation and instead buy from agroforestry and other regenerative practices. We have to stop throwing away 40% of our food here in America and we have to make composting services stronger financially incentivized in every city. Oh and those cows….not only do they give off high volumes of methane, they also are primarily fed with deforested-led soy. For the love of all things good, STOP EATING BEEF. You don’t have to go vegan, but stop eating beef, and cut back on dairy as well. That industry is just a tidal wave of awfulness for this planet.
- We need to escalate the importance of saving our oceans. Did you know the Green New Deal barely mentions ocean conservation? We need a Blue New Deal, popularized by Elizabeth Warren but fallen by the wayside by liberals and conservatives alike.
- Soil health is collapsing. This is such an important carbon sink, and another vicious cycle. As soil health erodes, we need more augmentation like fertilizers which hurt the atmosphere even more. Start buying produce from local, organic and ideally regenerative farmers as much as you can. Stop buying produce from mass market suppliers.
- We need to elect the right global leaders. Populist regimes completely handcuff our ability to work as a global cooperative in addressing emissions. Many countries such as the US are going to have to bend and capitulate a bit to more severe protocols than others, and rightfully so, we have created more emissions than any other nation in the world since our arrival in 1776. The greatest problems we face need global cooperation, not nationalist competition.