Climate change is now affecting every continent and ocean says the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international collaboration of more than 2,500 experts. If we don’t act soon to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control, the problems will only grow substantially worse. This isn’t a casual statement from a few fringe scientists: nearly 500 people had to sign off on the exact wording of the summary, including 66 expert authors, 271 officials from 115 countries, and 57 observers.
The report is the second of three installments of the IPCC’s fifth assessment of climate change. The first installment, released last year, covered the physical science of climate change. It stated with certainty that climate change is very real and that we are the cause. The new report focuses on the impacts of climate change and how to adapt to them. The third installment, which will come out in April, will focus on cutting greenhouse emissions.
Ice in the Arctic is collapsing, the oceans are rising, coral reefs are dying, fresh water supplies are diminishing, and the oceans are becoming more acidic, which is killing certain creatures and stunting the growth of others. Heat waves and heavy rains are escalating, food crops are being damaged, disease is spreading, human beings will be displaced due to flooding, animals are migrating toward the poles or going extinct, and the worst is yet to come.
The evidence the world is warming is indubitable.
And yet climate change deniers are still represented the world over. Most notably, the Heartland Institute weighed in on the report by focusing on the benefits of climate change. The group’s take on the matter reads like a crude April Fool’s joke.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed by Matt Ridley has also gained quite a bit of attention. An article in Climate Science Watch refers to his piece as “a laundry list of IPCC misrepresentations.” Ridley fails to cite the data presented in the latest report and even tries to claim that global warming will have net benefits.
From the sweeping opinion articles to the simple comments posted below online articles, the IPCC report is being tragically misinterpreted. One need only take a quick glance at the data to see that the world is warming and catastrophic effects are already occurring.
Climate change is global. It will not only affect the poorest nations but the world. “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC in a news conference presenting the report.
Yes this report is sobering. But it also provides an opportunity. We have the power, the intelligence, and the moral duty to protect our home planet. We cannot reverse the damage. We might not even be able to stop it. But we can minimize it. There is still time.
We can act across all scales — local to global — to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But first we must learn to adapt to a changing environment. Many governments are well past the state of acknowledging climate change and are in fact starting to find solutions.
“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something great nations do,” said Christopher Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford.
The state of New York recently ordered an electric utility serving Manhattan and its surrounding suburbs, to spend $1 billion upgrading its system to prevent future damage from flooding and other weather disruptions. In a reaction to the blackouts caused by Hurricane Sandy and the acceptance that more extreme weather is to come, the company will raise flood walls, bury vital equipment and determine whether or not emerging climate risks will demand different actions.
Utility regulators across the States are discussing whether to follow New York’s lead.
While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from other countries such as China and India. We must make greater efforts to adapt or the warming planet will be inevitable.
“There is no question that we live in a world already altered by climate change,” said Field. The time for action is now.