Drop what you’re doing right now and pay attention to the latest report on climate change: It’s not pretty.

drought by alosh bennett

Forget the election. Forget Ebola, Ferguson, #GamerGate and NaNoWriMo. Not that those things aren’t worth your attention, but the most important thing that happened in the world in the past few days was the release of the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) latest report on climate change. For those of you who don’t keep up with arcane paperwork by U.N. panels, I’ll be out with it: the “Synthesis Report,” adopted on Saturday, paints a grim and terrifying picture of your future, and all of us had better start paying more attention to it. The full report is here.

The IPCC has been monitoring climate change since the 1990s, but it has never used language like the kind contained in the latest document. Let me excerpt a few passages for you. These are direct quotes. I’m not spinning them, editing them or taking them out of context. These are the words of the most respected experts on the planet on this subject. Here is what they want to tell you.

Warming caused by CO2 emissions is effectively irreversible over multi-century timescales unless measures are taken to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

That means that just cutting down our carbon emissions–such as from power plants, cars, airplanes and homes–isn’t going to be enough. We actually have to start cleaning up the crap we’ve already put into the atmosphere.

Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development. Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts for people, species and ecosystems. Continued high emissions would lead to mostly negative impacts for biodiversity, ecosystem services, and economic development and amplify risks for livelihoods and for food and human security.

rebels in car

The new IPCC report makes clear that wars and violent conflicts, especially in the developing world, are likely to become more common and more severe as a result of climate change.

If this doesn’t sound ominous enough for you, how about this?

Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflict by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts, such as poverty and economic shocks.

Do you like world wars? If so, you’re going to love the era of climate change.

Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally.

This means what we’re doing now–which is virtually nothing–isn’t enough. The world our children inherit from us is going to be far less hospitable than the one our parents gave us.

But yes, there is some good news:

Mitigation options are available in every major sector. Mitigation can be more cost-effective if using an integrated approach that combines measures to reduce energy use and the greenhouse gas intensity of end-use sectors, decarbonize energy supply, reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sinks in land-based sectors.

Expensive? Yes. Your taxes will go up. Prices on some things–maybe most things–will go up. Lifestyle changes, even for those of us rich enough and fortunate enough to live in countries where our impacts of climate change will be considerably less catastrophic than, say, Mali, New Guinea or the Congo? Absolutely.

Look–this is the bottom line. We do not have a choice but to try to solve this problem. Denial, as a strategy, doesn’t work. Delay doesn’t work. Passing it off to the future doesn’t work. Whatever happens in the American elections today–the minutiae over this seat from Kentucky or that one from Colorado–whoever sits in those seats is going to have to deal with this problem. I don’t care what their ideology is or whether they say “I’m not a scientist!” or not. They will have to deal with it. They won’t have any choice. No one has any choice anymore.

Climate change is a disaster, but even in disaster there is opportunity. As I’ve tried to make clear on this blog over and over again, this is the time to assess what those opportunities are, and grab them. We have to do this. That’s all there is to it. I don’t mean to lecture you, but there it is. Nothing you have seen, or will see, today will be as important as this issue. Pass it on.

The header photo at the top of this article is by Alosh Bennett of Hyderabad, India and is used under Creative Commons 2.0 (Attribution) license. The picture of the rebels in Central African Republic is by Wikimedia Commons user hdptcar and is used under the same license.


  1. I have been keeping up on these reports. All these things that we care witnessing today was predicted years ago. Now we can’t say, “we’ll do something to fix it tomorrow.”. So the deniers come out in full force and day there’s no warming. And they’ll cherry pick a statistic from some corner of the world that didn’t warm. Because they don’t understand climate patterns and how they work.

    It’s sad. I fear the public are only getting more ignorant on this. I hope I’m wrong.

    1. Indeed. In 20 years we’ll be looking around and saying that the IPCC totally got it right back in 2014, or if anything underestimated the severity. I also fear that the public is not paying as much attention to this issue as they should, but the good news is that that can change very quickly. Given the right circumstances I could see climate change shooting to the top of the issues list in less than a single election cycle, if people begin to feel it. And I read a poll yesterday that something like 56% of Americans believe they have personally been impacted by climate change in some way. So there is room for optimism (along with the obvious pessimistic indications).

      1. That’s encouraging about the 56% of Americans thinking that they have been impacted by climate change.

        I hate to bring this name up, but she’s influential enough — Sarah Palin would tell you that there’s a difference between “climate change” (which is natural) and “climate change caused by humans” (which she doesn’t believe in.

        I look at this way, and it’s very simple: calculate the rough amount of carbon dioxide that has been pumped into the air by us alone since the industrial age. No matter what number you get, it’s going to be huge. So ask yourself this: where in nature does all that gas go? And what does it do?

        It’s foolish to think it would have no impact.

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