The first of three reports by the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, released yesterday, was far more threatening than the interim report of two years ago but is still far too weak and offers no real solutions.
The report, The Physical Science Basis, was released yesterday by the IPCC simultaneously with a press conference.
In that press event, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, stopped short of saying something past events of this kind always included. Instead of suggesting that the ever-increasing pace of the climate crisis could be reversed, she instead referred mostly to opportunities for slowing what was already happening.
She also declared something which has rarely been said publicly in events like this. “No one is safe” from the intense heat, extreme weather, drought, wildfires, and sea level rise that the climate crisis is already bringing, she warned.
In the summary online presentation of the report, panelists called out the obvious statements that the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are at record levels and that temperatures are hotter than they have been for at least the last 2,000 years.
They took that an important step further, by demonstrating, with one graph after another, how it was virtually impossible the global climate could be in the state it is in without human beings having caused it. They systematically carved out allowances for unusual solar and volcanic activities and other natural occurrences. Then they delivered at least part of the bitter bad news most political and industrial leaders refuse to face: that the planet is on a course for a temperature rise of up to 2 to 5 degrees Centigrade (3.6 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) sometime this century. That temperature rise is enough to introduce multiple mass extinctions of species, let alone all other other known major consequences of global heating, from sea level rise to extreme weather and the acidification of the oceans.
In the summary report for policymakers, the authors continue to reference the now farcical goal of keeping global heating below 1.5 degrees C relative to pre-industrial levels, but even that they now admit that "goal" will have been plowed through in less than 20 years. Actually it was already plowed through ten years ago.
Rather than argue yet again how the world has careened past that average temperature rise for some time, and that clinging to this is an illusion that will give governments even more excuses not to act, for the moment it is far more useful to summarize some of the more important messages about how serious things are.
In the IPCC’s “Climate Change 2021, The Physical Science Basis, Summary for Policymakers,” the authors make many important points. While few are new to those close to the literature and science of what is happening, that the IPCC is finally being more straightforward about the facts:
“Observed increases in… greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations since around 1750 are unequivocally caused by human activities.”
“Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.”
“Globally averaged precipitation over land has likely increased since 1950, with a faster rate of increase since the 1980s.” While the scientists say “likely” often in these statements, it is meant in same way they refer to “error bars” in displaying data. The reality is everywhere one reads the word “likely” in this report there is hard evidence to support what they are saying.
“Human influence is the main drive of the decrease in Arctic sea ice between 1979-1988 and 2010-2019.”
Then, in a note from Figure SPM.1 of the report, the report drops one of its powerful conclusions, that — paraphrased a bit: Based on past projections from fossil data, ice core and other terrain analysis, the planet is likely warmer than it has been for the last 100,000 years.
Relative global temperature changes claimed by the IPCC scientists in the Supplementary Report for Policymakers, published on August 10, 2021. Though the report is wrong in the precise numbers on the Y-axis of these graphs -- because temperatures have risen far more than the paltry amounts noted which still support the hypothesis that we could keep temps below 1.5° C above pre-industrial times -- the observation these graphs demonstrate, that overall global temperatures have risen far more in recent decades than in the last 100,000 years, is one of the tough messages the report has dared to put in writing. The graph also demonstrates how it is unequivocally true that human beings are solely responsible. Photo: UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The report goes into significant detail about how these changes have already dramatically transformed the present. Glacial melting in the Arctic, Antarctica, and Greenland have already dumped enough water into the oceans to accumulate major sea level rise that is noticeable today. Warming of the oceans has expanded the water within, adding further to that sea level rise and accelerating the incidence of extreme weather events such as we have never seen before. Extreme temperatures are now the norm around much of the globe, with devastating impacts on all living species who are not biologically adapted to such temperatures, plus increasing wildfires.
The report also attempts for the first time to address the phenomenon of climate feedback loops. These feedback loops are self-worsening consequences of the human-caused climate crisis, ones which are near impossible to reverse and therefore which will make the planet even hotter in the future. Among these are:
The record low levels of Arctic sea ice, which may this summer be gone completely for at least a number of weeks just months from now. Lower sea ice coverage means less sunlight is reflected from the oceans, which in turn heats the ocean and causes more sea ice melting.
The Siberian wildfires, which are exposing and melting permafrost for the first time in modern human history and releasing massive amounts of CO2 and methane.
Higher temps and drought have converted most forests and wetlands from carbon sinks to carbon emitters.
The second edition of the report is expected to explore these feedback loops and other interactive impacts of specific climate-induced changes in the way the planet functions as an integrated bio-system.
With regards to clarity and breadth of coverage, the report is the best yet in telling a tale few want to hear. Even with that, what is almost certain is that when the COP 26 conference begins in November 2021 in Glasgow to review all this, few in positions of political power will have even read the summaries, let alone the entire document. Even among those who do, few will have the capacity to grasp the seriousness of what we are facing. Politicians are just that, self-serving narcissists incapable of comprehending complex issues or taking actions for the common good. Politicians are the last people who should be put in charge of anything.
The clarion call to the world even from this report, which still pulls many of its punches, is one that UN Secretary General António Guterres, hopes we get.
“[This report] is a code red for humanity,” he said in a statement released yesterday as this report was released. “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”
Climate activist Greta Thunberg was far more subdued in her evaluation of the new report.
“The new IPCC report contains no surprises,” she wrote in a tweet soon after the document’s release. “It confirms what we already know from thousands previous studies and reports — that we are in an emergency.”
“It doesn't tell us what to do,” she continued. “It is up to us to be brave and take decisions based on the scientific evidence provided in these reports. We can still avoid the worst consequences, but not if we continue like today, and not without treating the crisis like a crisis.” In this, Greta also is wrong. We can't avoid the destruction we have so diligently manufactured and continue to manufacture. The logic of linear progression dictates that the worst is now inescapable. Human civilization as it is will collapse and most life will perish.
In response to the report and the warnings from Guterres, nations are now being asked to come up with plans to cut their fossil fuel emissions further, but history shows creating plans is about all the world’s politicians have done since global warming was first understood to be real many decades ago. Sadly, this report and COP 26, despite the marathon effort the scientists have put forth to shake us all up, will not produce the major changes needed to redirect where our planet is currently heading. Humanity is too mired in its fossil fueled civilization and mindless consumption. There is simply no way to de-carbonize quickly enough or change human behavior. There would have been time had we started in earnest 40 years ago.
Whatever nations can accomplish in cutting emissions is welcome but will be too little too late and won't be enough to stop the continued collapse of our current civilization.
What is urgently needed now is to figure out how to survive on an increasingly uninhabitable planet. But, as long as humans are clinging to the delusion that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is enough, few will be focused on surviving the future. Some of those few can be found at https://www.climatesurvivalsolutions.com