Few Americans are aware of all the recent climate news because of all the headlines about the White House “palace intrigue,” the Florida high school massacre, and the fate of the Dreamers. Warning: The climate news isn’t good.
Let’s start with the leaked draft of a United Nations climate science report. It warns there is a “very high risk” the planet will pass a key warming marker, creeping above 1.5 degrees Celsius in the 2040's, The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney reported February 14. The document also says the possibility of maintaining the planet’s temperature below that level in this century is “already out of reach.”
What’s most striking, Mooney wrote, is the radical nature and rapidity of the changes that would be required to somehow preserve a world below 1.5 degrees. The document finds that the world has 12 to 16 years’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions left, from the start of 2016, if it wants a better-than-even chance of holding warming below 1.5 degrees.
If this news distresses you, here’s a caveat: Duke University climate expert Drew Shindell, one of the draft’s authors, noted that the draft summary was a very early version of the full report, due out in October. “It’s much rougher and much more preliminary than even the underlying document,” he said.
A report published February 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reinforced the outlook that average global sea level is likely to go up at least two feet by the end of this century compared to 2005 levels. “At that rapid pace of change, vulnerable communities might not be able to keep up,” according to a February 12 story by Bob Berwyn in InsideClimate News. “Storm surges will increase erosion and damage homes, businesses and transportation infrastructure in some areas. In other places, seawater will intrude on freshwater aquifers.”
The study, based on a detailed analysis of satellite observations spanning a quarter of a century, confirms that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), NASA and the European Environmental Agency were correct when they found that the rate of change had increased in recent years.
The Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, issued February 13, made news mostly for its pronouncements on cybersecurity and terrorism. But it has plenty of warnings related to climate change. Here’s are two excerpts:
Challenges from urbanization and migration will persist, while the effects of air pollution, inadequate water, and climate change on human health and livelihood will become more noticeable. Domestic policy responses to such issues will become more difficult—especially for democracies—as publics become less trusting of authoritative information sources. (p. 4)
The past 115 years have been the warmest period in the history of modern civilization, and the past few years have been the warmest years on record. Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages. (p. 16)
Are you ready for one more dose of reality? Weather and climate threats are among the top risks that will have the biggest global impact in the next 10 years, according to a report by the World Economic Forum. As the Forum’s January press release put it: “[A]s in 2017, the environment was by far the greatest concern raised by experts.”
The report is an assessment by 1,000 experts and decision-makers on the likelihood and impact of 30 global risks over a 10-year period. Right behind weapons of mass destruction in the top spot are extreme weather events, natural disasters, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and water crises.
“Environmental risks, together with a growing vulnerability to other risks, are now seriously threatening the foundation of most of our commons,” said Alison Martin, group chief risk officer for the Zurich Insurance Group. “Unfortunately, we currently observe a ‘too-little-too-late’ response by governments and organisations to key trends such as climate change. It’s not yet too late to shape a more resilient tomorrow, but we need to act with a stronger sense of urgency in order to avoid potential system collapse.”
Does all of this disquieting news conjure up images of Nero and his famous fiddle? Please tell the people whose job it is to represent your interests in Congress that you expect them to do something about climate change. Now. And there’s no better “something” than a carbon fee. Almost every economist who has studied this issue has concluded that this market-based approach is the quickest, most efficient, and least expensive way to tackle climate change.