Early October may be the beginning of spooky season for people across the U.S., but this year we have something far greater to be scared of, and it isn’t going away with the onset of Thanksgiving festivities. On October 5th, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth assessment on global warming. The findings are bleak and the message is clear—humans have had a significant impact on the global climate since industrialization, and unless serious measures are taken to minimize those impacts in the following years, a global crisis could be at our doorstep as early as 2040.
In other words, we as a society aren’t doing enough to reduce the effects of global warming. At the rate we’re going, we are only headed for more disaster. The authors of the IPCC report spoke to The Guardian about some of the potential effects of continued global warming at the current rate. A temperature rise of one or two degrees may seem negligible, but don’t be fooled—even a seemingly minor change can have major consequences.
“There is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius,” explained The Guardian, “beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.”
With this in mind, it is especially concerning that the U.S. government has been anything but proactive when it comes to climate change. When asked about the report, President Trump simply responded: “I want to look at who drew it—you know, which group drew it.”
While it may be unsurprising that the president has seemingly never heard of the United Nations’ panel on climate change, it is nevertheless dismaying. To be fair, I hadn’t heard about the panel until their recent findings made headlines. Then again, I’m not the leader of the world’s third most populous country.
Not only is President Trump uninformed on this issue, he is actively supporting climate change denial. As Hurricane Michael laid waste to Florida earlier this month, President Trump flew to Pennsylvania to campaign for Lou Barletta, a climate-change-denying congressman running for the U.S. Senate. The president of the United States has a duty to lead the American people in the right direction, the one backed by science. Such actions by Trump are frankly irresponsible and represent the complete opposite of what we should be doing—assuming, you know, we want the human race to survive.
Despite this hopelessness, some scientists remain optimistic. In a recent presentation at Boston College, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy argued that the U.S. is “kicking butt” in renewable energy and energy efficiency. McCarthy recalled her concerns for climate change entering the Obama presidency, fearing the administration would be heavily focused on the economy following the recession.
“He totally understood that we’re not living in a bureaucracy, we’re living in the real world,” said McCarthy. “You don’t dissect [the economy and climate change and the environment], you make them go together.”
McCarthy recognizes the current issue of politicized science and how the Trump administration is “diminish[ing] our understanding and our appreciation for real facts and real science,” but reminds us that, “it is not only the President of the United States that represents this country...it’s each and every one of us.”
The authors of the U.N. report aren’t without hope either, even though the report’s implications might suggest otherwise. The Guardian expresses the overarching theme of the report, that, “urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target [reduction in global warming], which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris Agreement pledge to keep temperature increases between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.”
Debra Roberts, co-chair of the working group on impacts of the IPCC, expressed her sentiment, “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilizes people and dents the mood of complacency.”
It is comforting to know that even the most well-informed still have some hope. Aside from the report’s findings, perhaps what makes it so alarming is the suddenness and urgency of the situation. Bill Hare, physicist and author of the previous IPCC report, explains to The New York Times, the report is, “quite a shock, and quite concerning...we were not aware of this just a few years ago.”
Regardless of whether the report is frightening or not, the consensus among experts is that we need to change how we live if we want the Earth to stop fighting our existence every step of the way. So I ask you BC: As men and women for others, are you doing your part to make this planet habitable for those around you and generations to come? The clock is ticking, but that doesn’t mean we have to run out of time.