Latest IPCC Report Is ‘An Atlas of Human Suffering’

“I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.”

This is what United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said after reading a new report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning of “widespread and pervasive” impacts on all living things from frequent and intense heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods.

What makes this report unique?

It forebodes the time for substantive action to reduce carbon emissions enough to mitigate the worst of the climate crisis is “brief and rapidly closing.”

Guterres warned:

“Delay is death.”

He explained:

“Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change. Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frogmarch to destruction now. The facts are undeniable. This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson on our only home.”

An author of the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement, Laurence Tubiana of the European Climate Foundation, calls the report “brutal” and asserts “there can be no more excuses” for inaction.

In August of last year, the IPCC released a report warning Earth faces uncontrollable global warming unless nations take drastic measures to eliminate greenhouse gases, “unequivocally” blaming humans for the crisis responsible for “widespread and rapid changes.”

It concludes 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 pre-industrial levels by 2040.

In 2018, the IPCC warned 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 IPCC researcher, 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.”

The Guardian reported last week:

“Even if the world keeps heating below 1.6C [34.88 Fahrenheit] by 2100–and we are already at 1.1C [33.98 Fahrenheit]–then 8% of today’s farmland will become climatically unsuitable, just after the global population has peaked above 9 billion. Severe stunting could affect 1 million children in Africa alone. If global heating continues and little adaptation is put in place, 183 million more people are projected to go hungry by 2050.”

Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the working group producing the most recent report, asserted:

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well being and the health of the planet.”

Despite the bleak outlook, the window to act effectively to prevent the worst isn’t closed yet.

Alice Bell, writing for The Guardian, said:

“The best antidote to climate fear is always climate action, so roll up your sleeves and get to work. Not sure where to start? Do something that brings you joy. You’ll be at your most powerful and your most infectious. Climate change is grim, plain and simple. But taking action on it can be an absolute ball. You’ve got a range of options–you can work to help us quit fossil fuels, or shift what we eat and buy to get greenhouse gases down. We can call on governments to act faster to get us to net zero through moving to renewable energy and making our homes and transport more energy-efficient. We can plant trees and pursue other nature-based solutions.”

She added:

“We will also need to live with the changes that are already here. That means campaigning on a whole host of issues that might not immediately seem climate-related, too: migration, housing, poverty and mental health provision.”

Former UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres, presently with the Global Optimism group, said:

“We can prevent and protect ourselves from extreme weather, famines, health problems and more by cutting emissions and investing in adaptation strategies. The science and the solutions are clear. It’s up to us how we shape the future.”

But individual actions, while important, can only go so far.

We cannot enact climate policy.

Only governments can do that.

Last summer, 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 few years how absent American example and leadership causes other countries to shrug off their environmental commitments.

Since his first day in office, 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: Louis Maniquet 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.