The devastating findings recently released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change really shouldn’t surprise anybody. But it should break our hearts. It does mine. Mountains of real-world scientific evidence already showed we are nowhere near the level of action needed to prevent catastrophic climate change and its consequences.
Look no further than our own home, the Pacific Northwest. An unprecedented heat dome broke temperature records, killed hundreds of people and even baked mussels and clams alive in their shells. Mount Rainier lost a third of its snowpack in that one heat event. There simply isn’t enough water for rivers, fish and farmers, at least the way irrigation is currently conducted. Forests are stressed by drought and burning at massive rates and intensity. Smoke, haze and unhealthy air is our new summer norm.
Sadly, these kinds of catastrophes and challenges are happening all across the globe.
We did this to ourselves. We failed to act, at scale, because we are all addicted to fossil fuel and the insane concept of a limitless growth economy on a planet of finite resources. Even those of us who have been trying to get attention and action on this issue for over 30 years are part of the same addicted system. Now, because we didn’t act, the scale and scope of action required is staggering.
But action is still possible. There is still a small, small window to slow climate change to a level that we and many other species can adapt to. The science is really clear, every fraction of a degree of additional warming makes the future worse, which means every fraction we avert makes it better.
So, what is needed? At a policy level we must drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately and get on a path toward zero net emissions by 2050. We already have the ability to do this but have lacked the collective and political will, nationally and globally. Steps to take:
Massive investment in clean energy technologies, combined with unprecedented policies such as government buy out of old, inefficient cars so that people can afford to upgrade to electric, low-emission options.
Cap methane leaks at all fossil fuel extraction sites, immediately. Methane is a far more dangerous climate change pollutant than CO2.
Let the so-called free market actually work. Stop keeping gasoline artificially cheap at the pump. Just recently President Biden asked oil producers to increase production to bring down gas prices. That might feel nice to all of us who aren’t rich, but it’s a bonehead move if we want a livable planet.
Relocalize the economy. Rebuild local supply chains. Stop burning fossil fuel, and the planet, shipping stuff across the globe.
At the personal level we all need to reduce our energy consumption, drive less, etc. — the things we already know we should do. More importantly, in my opinion, and I’ll probably tick some people off here, we need to stop buying stuff we don’t need, stop indulging in retail therapy. Every item that includes plastic, or metal, or glass, that is shipped or trucked contributes to climate change. Buying used and buying local is every bit as big a positive action as driving less. Finally, and I’m sure to really tick some folks off here, eat less meat. The meat industry is one of the biggest contributors of climate change pollution in the world.
Lastly, the most important action is to finally start treating this like the urgent crisis it is. We do not have time for the luxury of apathy, denial, or overwhelm. The COVID-19 delta variant may be devastating, but a destabilized planet is far more deadly. My fervent hope and affirmation is that the uncomfortableness of our new norm will move us to create a saner trajectory going forward — we still have that option, for a very little while at least.