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February 27, 2019

Report card

Opinion

February 27, 2019

As Americans see the evidence of climate-influenced destruction, they’re on edge: Seventy-two percent of those polled late last year considered climate change “important,” a 15-percentage point increase over 2015. Sixty-nine percent were “worried” about it.

So here we are again, facing another round of bad news on the environment. Actually, the news is worse this time around. 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record; 2015-2017 are the other three. The Arctic experienced its second-warmest year ever. The head of the World Meteorological Organization said: “The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years. The degree of warming during the past four years has been exceptional, both on land and in the ocean.”

Rising sea levels, according to the IPCC, “will continue beyond 2100 even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degree C in the 21st century (high confidence). Marine ice sheet instability in Antarctica and/or irreversible loss of the Greenland ice sheet could result in multi-metre rise in sea level over hundreds to thousands of years”. Greenland’s and Antarctica’s ice loss has recently received extensive media coverage as scientists have discovered just how far off their earlier predictions were.

Antarctica’s enormous ice reserves are melting six times faster now than they were between 1979 and 1989. Glacier melting in the Himalayas, on which South Asian agriculture is heavily dependent, is proceeding at a very fast pace – so much so that by the end of this century, two-thirds of the glaciers may be gone at current climate change rates, and one-third under the most optimistic climate change scenarios.

Ocean temperatures are the warmest on record, and the warming is occurring at a terrifying pace: 40 to 50 percent faster than the United Nations had previously estimated. That could spell trouble for marine ecosystems, phytoplankton in particular. These basic food organisms sustain the underwater food chain. If they die off or shift, as is already detectable in changing ocean color, the impact on fisheries will be catastrophic.

Rising seas also threaten water supplies and US island-based military installations. No wonder the Pentagon, in its latest risk assessment, considers climate change a threat to national security. It can wipe countries off the map. Kiribati, the island group in the southwest Pacific, is a case in point. A nation disappearing due to climate change is something that’s never happened before and, so far, is something people seem unable to imagine.

Time for Mega-solutions

Several conclusions are readily apparent from this information. First, planet-wide environmental deterioration is happening faster – much faster – than scientists had anticipated. Second, the kind of deterioration now taking place, involving oceans and glaciers in particular, tell us that life itself is already endangered in many parts of the globe. Third, some consequences of climate change, such as rising seas, are irreversible. Fourth, resistance to scientific findings and their implications for political, economic, and social changes constitutes nothing short of criminal negligence. Fifth, people are more aware of and concerned about climate change than ever before, if the US poll mentioned above is accurate.

Sixth, solutions to the problem must be up to the scale of the problem. Tiny, personal steps to reduce carbon footprints feel good, but it’s panic time, folks. In the US, the renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben suggests two priority steps: switching immediately away from fossil fuels and protecting cities and coastal areas from ocean inundation. Strict efficiency standards for industry and autos, and a carbon tax such as has been enacted in Europe, would significantly reduce carbon emissions.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Game Over? Report Card on Our Planet’s Environment’.

Courtesy: Counterpunch.org

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