Hastening Pace of Decline
Terry H. Schwadron
March 22, 2023
Another, increasingly dour United Nations report this week underscores that international delaying and dallying are failing to put off the increasing certainty that we’re headed for climate troubles a lot faster than we had feared.
Indeed, the report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the world is now likely to surpass its aspirations of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures — in less than 10 years.
It is another scientific plea for immediate transition away from fossil fuels and bad environmental practices that will fall to transitional politics and global struggle for profit over all other motivations.
Still, the voice of doom sounded a bit more brittle.
As The Washington Post noted, “Though much of the synthesis report echoes warnings scientists have issued for decades, the assessment is notable for the blunt certainty of its rhetoric. The phrase ‘high confidence’ appears nearly 200 times in the 36-page summary chapter. Humanity’s responsibility for all of the warming of the global climate system is described as an unassailable ‘fact.’ “
The world’s biggest polluting countries remain focused elsewhere on internal political score-settling, on international power skirmishes and around the war in Europe, on the never-ending desire to control economic dominance. While this administration in the United States has taken important climate-related moves, others, including China and India, lag substantially in global promises.
Climate is not on the front of political tongues as must-address. Rather, concern even in the United States about the surely coming effects of climate are still subject to partisan ridicule and denouncement as shifting attention away from the possibility of more tax cuts or smaller government role.
Will, Not Science
The most significant parts of the report, then, are not science related.
It is the promise that without attention, disasters will continue to worse to the point of becoming so extreme that people will not be able to adapt. “Basic components of the Earth system will be fundamentally, irrevocably altered. Heat waves, famines and infectious diseases could claim millions of additional lives by century’s end,” offered one summary.
We’re seeing more dramatic weather and storms globally, with higher propensity for much more damaging hurricanes and cyclones, more extreme droughts, and the periods of famine to follow. Even if we don’t think the effects of ice melting will make a substantial difference on our shoreline cities in this country, we absolutely are refusing to look at what will happen to migration from the areas of the world that will become uninhabitable.
Basically, the IPCC assessment is that human activities already have transformed the planet at a faster than anticipated pace and that irreversible damage is on track to build. The current carbon-cutting efforts are simply insufficient.
The report details dwindling fish populations, less productive farms, increases in infection diseases and the vulnerability of human systems to natural powers. The effects are biggest in the world’s smallest countries and low-lying nations, raising political questions about the extra responsibilities being heaped on the wealthiest nations.
But we see the issue upside-down, as being forced to pay attention to others rather than to ourselves.
We’ve told ourselves that economic growth is our more important job, that keeping the prices at the gas pump down matters more than looking at the wider picture. We are refusing to look at the bigger social, economic and survival issues as a matter of practicality for ourselves.
Politics and Economics Dominate
It was in this context that the Biden administration’s decision last week to abridge climate-related campaign promises to endorse more oil drilling in Alaskan waters landed with such a thud. The decision may probably politically wise for the ballot box but seems to fly in the face of the obvious calls of this kind of UN report demanding immediate world actions.
We accept that our well-being relies on “winning” against adversaries, and that we need to make our national decisions without regard to others. It’s true for climate politics just as we saw it to be true for covid vaccine availability or access to fuel.
Multiply similar effects around the world for the full variety of domestic or economic concerns and you can see why the tone of this report was more screechy than past environmental warnings.
Look at limits on power needs and the economic insistence that we develop yet more ways for consumers to spend their days dependent on constant sources of electricity. We’re overdue for a Back to the Future arrival of safer, widespread power alternatives.
By 2025, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that two thirds of the global population may be facing drinkable water shortages. That group estimates that 1.1 billion people lack access to clean, safe water and 2.7 billion experience water scarcity at least one month every year.
With planetary heating, that trend clearly is rising. Again, you could look at different areas of agriculture and food supply and easily draw conclusions about effects on transportation, immigration and pressures on countries that already feel vexed.
It’s impossible to understand how sitting back in denial in this country or others, essentially abasing the emergent problems as “woke” distractions is going to address any of the issues we face.