Waste-Ed's Summary of the IPCC Report
Unless you have a couple days devoted to reading, sifting through the IPCC’s 2021 Climate Change report is impossible. At nearly 4,000 pages, there isn’t a question left unanswered. To save you some time, we had one of our writers do the reading to give you an overview.
Starting with the Obvious
At this point, if climate change doesn’t worry you, there’s a good chance this article is just a figment of a comatose dream, in which case wake up! Your family’s worried about you.
Unlike previous reports that waffled on pointing fingers, this year's report starts like so: It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.
That about sums it up. Since 1750, greenhouse gas emissions have led to each decade getting hotter and hotter — no exceptions. On land or at sea, temperatures are up by about 2°F, and there’s no sign of slowing because climate change isn’t linear; it’s exponential. As Earth gets hotter, it absorbs more heat and accelerates the rate of global warming. So yeah, it’s not looking too great.
Did Humans Do This?
Absolutely. While climate change skeptics have quit any hope that Earth isn’t heating up by shifting the goalposts to “sure, but humans aren’t responsible,” the IPCC disagrees. Citing thousands of studies and metastudies, the obvious conclusion is that the skyrocketing changes in Earth’s surface temperature can’t be explained by normal weather patterns. Instead, it coincides with rising emissions that follow industrial advances. We did it. Period.
What we’re experiencing is unprecedented. Growing seasons increase by about two days per decade. Acidification of the oceans has left less oxygen for marine life, resulting in atmospheric CO2 concentrations that are higher than at any point in the last 2 million years!
Weather Will Keep Getting Worse
Remember when we didn’t read reports each year about somewhere having its hottest summer ever? Well, expect more of that. Sea ice is melting while sea level is rising, leading to disrupted ocean currents that cause bizarre, unpredictable weather. Heat waves have doubled in frequency since just the 1980s, and virtually every region on Earth has been affected.
When there are heat waves, there are low air pressure systems that lead to catastrophic weather events where they don’t usually happen. Fires are four times more intense than they were in 1983, and there’s a good chance the frequency of those fires will increase.
If that weren’t enough to send chills down your spine, all this added heat is leading to droughts, prompting politicians to warn of wars over water.
What Can We Do?
The IPCC makes it clear that even with the most aggressive greenhouse gas reductions, we’re going to see more global warming. Ice melt and ocean rise are inevitable at this point. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to stop things from getting worse.
Part of why this report was published in the first place was to give governments a roadmap of what to do. Yes, the situation looks grim, but by tackling the issues that need to be addressed, we can slow the damage and make sure future generations have a habitable planet.
Reaching net-zero emissions is the first and most important step. The aerosols pumped out by our fossil fuel consumption are what keep the planet getting warmer, and the only way to fix that is to stop letting it happen. There is a carbon budget to consider and observe, and it must be treated like gold or any other limited, precious resource.
In fact, with the right greenhouse gas restrictions, the IPCC sees a very real possibility of turning things around within about 20 years. That’s something you can find hope in.
Can’t the UN Force Governments to Obey?
For better or worse, there is no world police to enforce climate change initiatives. While the UN is no stranger to calling out nations that don’t do their part, their influence ends there. Consider how the Amazon Rainforest was intentionally burnt down in many areas —that would have been a great time to level some sort of consequence against the government that sat back and watched. Nothing happened. The forest is still on fire.
This is up to us now. Protest, donate, volunteer or talk to your loved ones, because the clock is winding down on our window to make a difference.
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