Cli­mate re­port is hor­ror story

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Eu­gene Robin­son Colum­nist

Here is how to in­ter­pret the alarm­ing new United Na­tion­sspon­sored re­port on global warm­ing: We are liv­ing in a hor­ror movie. The world needs states­men to lead the way to safety. In­stead we have Pres­i­dent Trump, who essen­tially says, “Hey, let’s all head to the dark, creepy base­ment where the chain saws and ra­zor-sharp axes are kept. What could go wrong?”

The an­swer is al­most ev­ery­thing, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC). The im­pact of hu­man-in­duced warm­ing is worse than pre­vi­ously feared, the re­port re­leased Mon­day says, and only dras­tic co­or­di­nated ac­tion will keep the dam­age short of catas­tro­phe.

To this point, cli­mate change has been a slow-mo­tion calamity whose im­pacts, month to month and year to year, have been hard to per­ceive. Un­for­tu­nately, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, that is about to change.

The burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els on an in­dus­trial scale has raised global tem­per­a­tures by about 1 de­gree Cel­sius (1.8 de­grees Fahren­heit). That may not sound like much, but look at the con­se­quences we’re al­ready see­ing: Stronger, slower, wet­ter trop­i­cal storms. Un­prece­dented heat waves. Dev­as­tat­ing floods. Dy­ing coral reefs. A never-be­fore-seen ship­ping lane across the Arc­tic Ocean.

Mean­while, hu­mankind con­tin­ues to pump heat-trap­ping car­bon diox­ide into the at­mos­phere at a trag­i­cally self-de­struc­tive rate. The IPCC cal­cu­lates that a fur­ther tem­per­a­ture rise of about 1 de­gree — al­most in­evitable, given our de­pen­dence on coal, oil and gas — would be chal­leng­ing but man­age­able. A in­crease of about 2 de­grees, how­ever, would be dis­as­trous.

What’s the dif­fer­ence? With a 1-de­gree rise, about 14 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion would be vul­ner­a­ble to se­vere and deadly heat waves every five years; with a 2-de­gree rise, that fig­ure jumps to 37 per­cent. With a 1-de­gree rise, an ad­di­tional 350 mil­lion city dwellers world­wide will face wa­ter short­ages; with a 2-de­gree rise, 411 mil­lion peo­ple will suf­fer such drought. With a 1-de­gree rise, coral reefs will ex­pe­ri­ence “very fre­quent mass mor­tal­i­ties”; with a twode­gree rise, coral reefs will “mostly dis­ap­pear.”

Small dif­fer­ences can have huge im­pacts. Un­der the 1-de­gree sce­nario, up to 69 mil­lion peo­ple will be newly ex­posed to flood­ing. Un­der the 2-de­gree sce­nario — which the re­port es­ti­mates would boost sea-level rise by as much as 36 inches — the num­ber rises to 80 mil­lion.

Please don’t dis­miss all of this as just an­other bor­ing com­pen­dium of care­fully hedged facts and fig­ures. I have fol­lowed the IPCC’s re­search since cov­er­ing the first Earth Sum­mit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The new re­port strikes a dif­fer­ent tone that com­bines weary fa­tal­ism with hair-on-fire alarm. In dry, just-the-facts lan­guage it pre­dicts de­clin­ing fish­eries, fail­ing crops, more wide­spread risk from trop­i­cal dis­eases such as malaria, eco­nomic dis­lo­ca­tion in the most-af­fected coun­tries — and, by log­i­cal ex­ten­sion, greater po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity.

All of th­ese im­pacts are bad with one more de­gree of tem­per­a­ture rise. With 2 de­grees they are much, much worse.

The ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion is to dra­mat­i­cally re­duce car­bon emis­sions. The IPCC says that emis­sions need to de­cline by at least 40 per­cent by 2030, and to reach net zero by 2050, if we are to hold warm­ing to one more de­gree. Yet last year, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency, global emis­sions hit an all-time high.

Since 2016, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 195 na­tions — in­clud­ing all the big emit­ters — signed on to the land­mark Paris agree­ment call­ing for sys­tem­atic emis­sions re­duc­tions be­gin­ning in 2020. But Pres­i­dent Trump, who has ig­no­rantly called cli­mate change a “hoax,” with­drew the United States from the pact. Even worse, Trump is ag­gres­sively try­ing to in­crease re­liance on coal, which con­trib­utes a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of car­bon diox­ide emis­sions com­pared with other fos­sil fu­els.

U.S. car­bon emis­sions ac­tu­ally fell slightly in 2017, due to the ex­pan­sion of the re­new­able en­ergy sec­tor. But Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies are de­signed to re­verse that trend; and if they fail to do so, it will be be­cause rest of the world is al­ready mov­ing to­ward clean en­ergy — a huge eco­nomic shift that threat­ens to leave the United States be­hind.

When you read the IPCC re­port, you see that what the world re­ally needs is vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship. As the world’s great­est eco­nomic power and its sec­ond-largest car­bon emit­ter, the United States is uniquely ca­pa­ble of shep­herd­ing a global tran­si­tion to re­new­able en­ergy. In­stead, how­ever, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­jects the sci­ence of cli­mate change and ac­tively fa­vors dirty en­ergy sources over clean ones.

Hu­man­ity has no time for such fool­ish­ness. “I’m the pres­i­dent of the United States. I’m not the pres­i­dent of the globe,” Trump thun­dered at a re­cent rally. On what planet does he think this na­tion re­sides?

Eu­gene Robin­son is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

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