“Humanity is on thin ice—and that ice is melting fast… Concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest levels in at least 2 million years. The climate time bomb is ticking… Today’s IPCC report is a how-to guide to defuse the climate time bomb… It is a survival guide for humanity.” VideoUN Secretary General António Guterres
During the last few years I have often quoted UN Secretary General António Guterres in these articles. As the leader of the UN he should inspire people and countries to take notice of grave humanitarian and ecological situations. He advises us to act on impending crises. His voice is one for solidarity and the courage to face existential threats.
But who listens to him? Certainly not global north societies. This is a source of great sadness for me and many others who have recognized for decades the looming encirclement of a multitude of crises that are now at the point of being unleashed full-blown upon this world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that was released a week ago is being called a “survival guide.” This is NOT hyperbole. “The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years,” the IPCC declares.
The recent first water conference given by the UN in 50 years points us to the immediate task of giving urgent relief to the accumulative wrongs wrought against the most needy. The IPCC points out the extreme scenarios that are gaining higher and higher scientific confidence, whereby the global south finds it increasingly difficult to cope with the many cascading crises, including sea level rises, that will upend already fragile communities.
The IPCC report published this month links achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals to the immediate reduction of carbon dioxide levels: “Climate change has reduced food security and affected water security due to warming, changing precipitation patterns, reduction and loss of cryospheric elements, and greater frequency and intensity of climatic extremes, thereby hindering efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goals.” Goal 6 targets clean water and sanitation. Places like Africa cannot meet clean water and sanitation goals unless the rich nations get their act together. The report is a must-read!
Bill McKibben’s book The End of Nature, published in 1989, was the first book aimed at raising public awareness of the catastrophic direction in which the accumulation of carbon dioxide pollution would take us: where we are now, on the cusp of ecological and societal collapse. (Tellingly, the secretive scientific papers written by fossil fuel companies had laid out the dangers back in the 1970s.)
Now that McKibben is over 60 years old, he has co-founded Third Act (thirdact.org), the purpose of which is to bring the wisdom and huge financial clout of the richest living generation to put pressure on governments and financial institutions to stop loaning obscene amounts of money to the oil and gas industries that in turn accelerate new levels of production. It is well known that institutions such as Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of America are financing climate destruction. Recent protests have brought older people to the banks to demand the cessation of those loans or else lose the billions of dollars that the over-sixties generations control. As McKibben recently said in an interview with Democracy Now!, “If we can get that message through, if we can remind people today of the connection between cash and carbon—literally, somebody who has $125,000 in those banks is producing more money, because it’s being lent out for pipelines and frack wells… Five thousand dollars in the bank produces more carbon than flying back and forth across the country. So we need these banks to start acting responsibly. And we need it—well, the IPCC said we’re in the last act of this drama unless we stand up and move fast. That’s one of the things that Third Act is really about.”
The UN report just published ties together all the IPCC’s other reports to show that it is now or never that humanity must act to ensure wellbeing for all creatures on Earth. The last part of the report includes a strategy for achieving a vast reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in order to make the second half of this century tolerable—for there is the means for us to do so. If we fail in this, we face a grim and harrowing future. Please see the graphics included in the report.
One of the scientists who worked on the IPCC 6th Assessment Report is Joëlle Gergis, who has just published Humanity’s Moment: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope. In a recent conversation with The Revelator, Gergis said: “The 2020s will be remembered as the decade that determined the fate of humanity. We can each choose to be part of the critical mass that will change the world. And when we do, it will bring profound meaning and purpose to our lives… We know exactly what we need to do, we just need governments all over the world to urgently implement policy to avert disaster… The IPCC has very clearly laid out a path towards stabilizing the Earth’s climate. For that to happen we need ordinary citizens to vote for politicians who will take real leadership, and also be prepared to do whatever we can in our own lives to live more sustainably on the planet.”
The famous investigative journalist Daniel Ellsberg, a lifelong activist against nuclear weapons, was interviewed recently for a New York Times piece, “The Man Who Leaked the Pentagon Papers Is Scared.” In the interview he expressed his fear that we are living in the most dangerous time for humanity. He questioned the ability of governments to stop nuclear war as well as climate chaos. Guterres’s role is to shine a beacon of courage and activism at the UN and the world, but without all of us in the west saying enough is enough, nothing will change.
The secretary general tells it as it is, and the IPCC deals in unadorned language too: “The likelihood of abrupt and irreversible changes and their impacts increases with higher global warming levels… Climatic and non-climatic risks will increasingly interact, creating compound and cascading risks that are more complex and difficult to manage.”
In a stark graphic, the IPCC shows the levels of generational climate risk. A person born in 1950 has had nowhere close to the existential risk of a person born in 2020. The IPCC shows us unequivocally by how much every ton of CO2 is estimated to increase global heating.
It’s vital for each of us to think about our individual carbon budget, which crucially reflects our ecological footprint. For example, if you are a 50-plus-year-old North American and have been flying, in keeping with your financial abilities, since you were 20, you have probably busted your carbon budget. The mindset of North Americans to shamelessly pollute has no equal in the rest of the world. Carbon budgets are not only for governments to rein in. Massive consumption levels by North Americans are increasingly out of line. Are we purposely undereducated and incurious?
It is interesting to note that the graphs that accompany the report include both Canadians and Americans as North Americans, who contribute to the largest carbon levels. Canadians are the equal to American profligacy. Please read the IPCC report and transform your everyday activities and goals to reflect what is at stake: everything.
“At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realise I am fighting for humanity.”Chico Mendes