U.N. warns of a com­ing climate catas­tro­phe

The Week (US) - - News 5 -

What happened

Climate change could cause dev­as­tat­ing food short­ages and wild­fires, sub­merged coast­lines, and a mass die-off of co­ral reefs within two decades, un­less hu­man­ity dras­ti­cally cuts its fos­sil fuel use, a ma­jor United Na­tions sci­en­tific re­port warned this week. Au­thored by 91 sci­en­tists from 40 coun­tries who an­a­lyzed more than 6,000 sci­en­tific stud­ies over three years, the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Climate Change re­port says that if green­house gas emis­sions con­tinue to rise at cur­rent lev­els, the planet could warm by 2.7 de­grees Fahren­heit over pre-in­dus­trial lev­els by 2040. At that level of warm­ing, sum­mer heat waves will get hot­ter and longer, in­tense droughts more com­mon, and ex­treme rain­fall events such as hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Florence more fre­quent. If warm­ing hits 3.6 de­grees, twice as many crops in the trop­ics will per­ish as in a 2.7-de­grees-hot­ter world, the num­ber of peo­ple af­fected by wa­ter scarcity will dou­ble, and the size of global fish­eries will drop by 50 per­cent.

To pre­vent 2.7 de­grees of warm­ing, the re­ports says, green­house gas emis­sions will have to de­crease 45 per­cent from 2010 lev­els by 2030, and be en­tirely elim­i­nated by 2050. The amount of elec­tric­ity de­rived from coal will have to fall from nearly 40 per­cent to­day to as low as 1 per­cent by 2050. At the same time, re­new­able en­ergy sources such as wind and so­lar—which cur­rently ac­count for 20 per­cent of en­ergy gen­er­ated—will have to rise to 67 per­cent. The re­port is “like a deaf­en­ing, pierc­ing smoke alarm go­ing off in the kitchen,” said Erik Solheim, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the U.N. Environment Pro­gram. “We have to put out the fire.”

What the editorials said

“We’re cooked—and a lot faster than we thought,” said The New York Times. The cost of our con­tin­ued coal and oil habit “will be mea­sured in tril­lions of dol­lars and in sweep­ing so­ci­etal and en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age,” in­clud­ing mass mi­gra­tions as peo­ple flee flooded and scorched lands. Yet our pres­i­dent says he’s smit­ten with “clean beau­ti­ful coal” and has re­versed Obama-era poli­cies in­tended to slash coal plant emis­sions. “This is un­be­liev­ably reck­less.”

World lead­ers need to be more am­bi­tious, said Bloomberg.com. The 2015 Paris Climate Agree­ment, which Pres­i­dent Trump fool­ishly quit last year, asks gov­ern­ments to keep global aver­age tem­per­a­tures from ris­ing more than 3.6 de­grees. But we now know that level of warm­ing is too much. To keep warm­ing be­low 2.7 de­grees, gov­ern­ments must “tax car­bon emis­sions at a rate suf­fi­cient to dis­cour­age use of fos­sil fu­els and raise de­mand for re­new­ables.” The longer such a levy is put off, “the harder it will be to limit the dam­age.”

What the columnists said

Many climate ac­tivists “op­pose doomand-gloom rhetoric,” said Emily Atkin in TheNewRepub­lic.com. They be­lieve that if peo­ple lack hope, “there will never be action.” Yet with Trump dis­man­tling U.S. climate pol­icy, and the U.N. giv­ing us no rea­son to be op­ti­mistic about hu­man­ity’s sur­vival, that logic “feels in­creas­ingly de­luded in prac­tice.” But hope is not the same as courage. “Pes­simism just might con­vince enough peo­ple about the ur­gency of climate change, and en­cour­age them to find the re­solve to join the fight.”

“Con­trary to com­mon rhetoric,” said Wil­liam Mur­ray in Wash­ing­tonEx­am­iner.com, most conservatives “agree hu­mans are mak­ing the planet warmer.” What we don’t ac­cept are the “trans­par­ent wealth-re­dis­tri­bu­tion schemes,” such as car­bon taxes, which the Left claims are “the only so­lu­tion to climate change.” What’s truly needed is pri­vate and pub­lic in­vest­ment in “adap­ta­tion and re­siliency projects” like sea walls, dikes, and raised road­ways—as well as “post-car­bon tech­nolo­gies.” Col­lab­o­ra­tion and trust be­tween conservatives and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists is pos­si­ble, and it would ben­e­fit us all.

“If the hu­man species spe­cial­izes in one thing,” said Au­den Schendler and An­drew Jones in The New York Times, “it’s tak­ing on the im­pos­si­ble.” The chal­lenges are im­mense. We need to cut green­house gas emis­sions by 6 to 9 per­cent—“ev­ery year, in ev­ery coun­try, for half a cen­tury.” We’ll have to leave coal, oil, and nat­u­ral gas in the ground, de­priv­ing com­pa­nies and coun­tries of vast amounts of wealth. Solv­ing climate change will be “harder, and more im­prob­a­ble, than win­ning World War II.” But if his­tory is any guide, “we know what hap­pens when enough peo­ple take up a cause as prac­tice: Cul­tural norms change.” Sav­ing civ­i­liza­tion is worth the ef­fort.

Coal plants will have to close to cool the planet.

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