UN Report: ‘A Code Red for Humanity’ If We Ignore Urgent Climate Action

It’s bad.

Really bad.

Some phrases climate experts are using now are “record-shattering,” “out of time,” “unprecedented,” and even “irreversible.”

Several previously optimistic about our ability to mitigate the worst of the climate emergency are now becoming more cynical.

Today we have a “code red for humanity,” according to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres after the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading authority on climate science, released a major report warning Earth faces uncontrollable global warming unless nations take drastic measures to eliminate greenhouse gases.

The report unambiguously explains humans are “unequivocally” to blame for this crisis responsible for “widespread and rapid changes,” concluding that, based on carbon emissions presently in the atmosphere, average global temperatures will likely rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius–2.7 degrees Fahrenheit–above preindustrial levels by 2040.

In 2018, the IPCC released a report warning the world had 12 years to halt coal consumption and slash carbon dioxide emissions to prevent the atmosphere from warming more than this amount.

However, we have already crossed so many tipping points, even if we limit warming to 1.5 Celsius, some long-term damage is irreversible.

Only drastic emission reductions can save us from the worst of future catastrophe, but there is no going back to the way things were.

Climate science professor at the University of Reading and a lead author for the IPCC, Ed Hawkins, said:

“We are already experiencing climate change, including more frequent and extreme weather events, and for many of these impacts there is no going back.”

All we need to do these days is step outside to see, smell, and feel the destruction of climate change accelerating.

Smoke from West Coast wildfires, for example, stretched as far as New York and New Jersey last month, degrading air quality for millions thousands of miles away.

The Northern California “Dixie Fire” has become the largest single fire in the state’s history.

Wildfires are ravaging Greece.

Lake Powell’s water level is the lowest it’s been in half a century.

The beginning of last month saw temperatures in Portland, Ore. spike to 116 degreeshotter than it has ever been in Dallas, Miami, and New Orleans–and temperatures are expected to spike again there this week.

British Columbia, Canada saw record temperatures hotter than those typically found in the Sahara desert: 47.9 degrees Celsius118.22 Fahrenheit–that buckled power cables and melted roads.

The Siberian town Verkhoyansk–normally one of the coldest places on Earth–hit 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit–the highest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle.

Unprecedented storms in Europe causing the worst floods Germany has experienced in nearly six decades were responsible for hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in damage.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), February 2020 was the coldest on record in six years even though this winter ranked among the top-10 warmest in the Northern hemisphere.

A new study in the journal Nature concludes anthropogenic climate change could soon cause the collapse of ocean currents carrying warm water between the tropics to the North Atlantic.

Entire countries are at risk of annihilation within a century.

This is climate change.

And it’s only just getting started.

A 1972 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study, “The Limits to Growth”, predicted several outcomes for possibilities when industrial civilization expansion clashed with the planet’s finite resources.

Sustainability analyst for accounting firm KPMG, Gaya Herrington, regarded as “a rising star in efforts to place data analysis at the center of efforts to curb climate breakdown,” has  returned to the study to apply it to today.

Her conclusion: the collapse of civilization the 49-year-old study predicted is right on time.

There is literally no more time left to dither.

So what do we do?

Secretary-General Guterres posited:

“If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as today’s report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”

Each of the 197 countries meeting in Scotland for the Cop26 climate talks this year is being asked to arrive with plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and force new policy measures to shift the global economy away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy.

21 leading US scientists on Friday implored President Biden and federal lawmakers to “go big on climate action and to do so now.”

Their open letter states:

“As our nation reels from extreme heatwaves, drought, wildfires, and abnormally warm ocean waters fueled an early start to a projected more active than normal Atlantic hurricane season, we are reminded that climate change is here and already exerting a fearsome toll on people, critical ecosystems, and our economy. Your leadership is urgently needed to seize the small window of opportunity that remains to limit the most catastrophic impacts of climate change now and for future generations.”

Sunrise Movement executive director, Varshini Prakash, who said she had woken “enraged” at the IPCC’s findings, added:

“This latest IPCC report must be a wake up call for Biden and Congress that the half measures they’ve proposed are not nearly enough to end the climate crisis. Our politicians shouldn’t need a report to tell them how bad things are. We’re already living it.”

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes $7.5 billion each for electric vehicle charging stations and zero- and low-emission ferries and buses, including school buses.

$73 billion is intended for power grid infrastructure.

$46 billion is to be put toward flood, drought, and wildfire damage.

We’ve seen over the past four years how absent American example and leadership causes other countries to shrug off their environmental commitments.

The good news is, since his first day in office two months ago, President Biden has been working to either reverse or review “the former guy’s” all-out assault on the environment, including establishing the most progressive climate policy in history, demanding the federal government pause and review oil and gas drilling on federal land, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and electrifying the government’s vehicle fleet.

The bad news is Joe Biden is not the consistent progressive his initial months in office might suggest.

He has always been an incrementalist.

He still refuses to ban fracking.

He has vociferously distanced himself from the Green New Deal, the non-binding bicameral resolution calling for 100 percent net zero-emission power by 2030, a federal jobs guarantee, solid union jobs retrofitting and re-building crumbling infrastructure, universal health care, and affordable housing.

Despite shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline is still operating.

Historic climate catastrophes, devastating floods, wildfires, hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, acidic oceans, inundated cities, extreme and persistent heat waves, and ocean circulation and the jet stream at their weakest in over a milleniathreaten to eliminate all life on Earth.

That isn’t hyperbole.

Look at the numbers.

Listen to the scientists.

We must now implement the measures we can take to avoid a bleak, hostile future environment.

Image credit: Patrick Perkins via Unsplash

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.