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Facing Up to the Climate Crisis

by Barbara Gottlieb

The world must cap the rise in global temperatures more tightly and much faster than previously recognized—and doing that will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” by countries around the world.

This was the urgent wake-up call from the October 8 report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report calls for limiting global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030. To keep temperatures under that ceiling, global net emissions of carbon dioxide would have to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” around 2050.

It will not be easy.

We will need sweeping societal action on a scale never before seen. Countries around the world will have to make urgent transitions in energy generation and consumption, plus land use, transportation systems, buildings, infrastructure and industrial systems, the IPCC warned.

If we fail, we will face catastrophic conditions in our lifetime. We are already seeing drought, wildfires, floods and storms.  These will become more extreme and more frequent. Hundreds of millions of people will face food shortages. Sea level rise will inundate shoreline communities.

Coral reefs, the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth, habitat and nursery grounds for important fish species and a source of food for millions, will face an almost complete die-off.

Yet the IPCC notes that we can still reduce future climate-related risks if we scale up and accelerate actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions—what they call “far-reaching, multi-level and cross-sectoral climate mitigation”—and additional and “transformational” adaptation.

In short, we need urgent action. The current presidential administration is going in the wrong direction, but PSR is absolutely right in continuing to push for our nation to rapidly:

  • Slash our extraction and use of fossil fuels. Besides coal and oil, this includes methane (“natural” gas), as the IPCC specifically notes.
  • Transition rapidly to clean, safe renewable energy sources, especially solar, wind, and geothermal. PSR opposes the use of nuclear power, which may not generate greenhouse gases but is neither clean nor safe.
  • Rework our cities, our buildings, and our transportation systems to be carbon-free and maximally energy-efficient.
  • Adapt our agricultural system, eat lower on the food chain, and plant more forests.

We knew that climate change was a crisis. But now we know that the window of opportunity to protect our climate, environment and our lives is closing faster than we had thought. We need to take action now, and boldly.