Climate change will have devastating effects on the planet and humanity. So concludes an international team of experts in a report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (Read the summary for policymakers below, or browse the full report online.)
The report is part two of a one-two punch. The first punch came last fall when IPCC found that the scientific evidence for climate change is overwhelming and almost certainly caused by humans.
Part II takes a close look at what the world can expect as temperatures rise globally. The scientists found not just a grim future, but also a grim present. Climate change is already affecting the world, and it only will get worse.
Both natural and human systems are vulnerable. Many of the coming problems will harm the world’s poorest people the most, but challenges will not be isolated to those communities. Indeed, local problems will have widespread repercussions on food supplies and in dealing with climate refugees.
Rising sea levels will displace millions of people. Drought will affect communities around the globe. Other places will see increased rainfall that causes floods and mudslides. Severe weather incidents like major hurricanes will strike more frequently. Formerly bountiful agricultural areas will produce less or nothing. Species will move or go extinct. And so on.
In America and the rest of North America, wildfires will increase in frequency and intensity, more people among vulnerable populations will die from heat-related causes, and rising sea levels and extreme weather will cause flooding in coastal areas.
Humanity no longer has the luxury of preventing the problems. Now it must prepare to deal with them.
The report contains some faint optimism. If the world acts quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it might mitigate some of the worst consequences. At least it might postpone them so that we have more time to prepare.
At this point, it is hard to do more than appreciate such quaint hope. The world has known that these problems were coming for more than a decade, but we have done nothing. Carbon emissions continue to increase.
America and the world do not confront climate change because it is hard. When one of America’s major political parties does not even acknowledge that the problem is real, despite the scientific consensus, what hope is there for international compromise and national action?
I suspect there’s even some unspoken schadenfreude at work. When New York and San Francisco flood, it will be divine retribution washing clean bastions of sinful urban liberalism. “Real Americans” will be safe from rising seas (well, other than Alaskans and most of the South — they’re toast too). Meanwhile, their crops turn to dust and wildfires tear through their communities as they lose their coastlines.
Phil Plait at Slate reminds us that midterm elections are this fall. “Does your representative have his head in the sand? You can do something about it.” (Emphasis his.)
Good luck with that. Gerrymandered congressional districts and a Republican Party whose success depends on keeping its base divorced from reality all but guarantees that America will keep its head in the sand.
Here’s the report, and below that is a video accompanying the report: