NEW YORK — I like it hot. I am only comfortable at about 80 degrees, so at first glance, climate change and the warming of the planet seem welcome.
That is until I begin to understand the fine print. There have been two climate change reports recently. One of them was released in October by the United Nations, and the other was released by the United States on Friday, during this weekend’s long holiday.
The United Nations report issued in October was issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The press release on the report says: “One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1oC of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I.
“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5 oC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of IPCC Working Group II.
Limiting global warming would also give people and ecosystems more room to adapt and remain below relevant risk thresholds, added Pörtner. The report also examines pathways available to limit warming to 1.5oC, what it would take to achieve them and what the consequences could be.
Two degrees centigrade might not seem like a lot, but it converts into more than 30o Fahrenheit. Another way to think about even a one-degree change in Fahrenheit is the way you feel even if you have a slight fever. Where the normal body temperature is 97 to 99oC, think about how you feel when your body temperature is even one degree above what your normal is. You feel rotten. So imagine how the coral feels if it gets overheated
This week’s United State report, although issued when most people were with their families and not paying attention, drew people to the reality of climate change. It is titled “Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume II” and written by 13 U.S. government agencies. The report is mandated by Congress, but it is the first to be issued in the Trump administration.
The National Academy of Sciences reviewed the report, and one of the members said this: “We have wasted 15 years of response time. If we waste another five years of response time, the story gets worse. The longer you wait, the faster you have to respond and the more expensive it will be.”
The Washington Post summarized what might happen in the next 25 years: “Key crops, including corn, wheat and soybeans, would see declining yields as temperatures rise during the growing season. The city of Phoenix, which experienced about 80 days per year over 100 degrees around the turn of the century, could see between 120 and 150 such days per year by the end of the century, depending on the pace of emissions.”
Then there was this from the report: “Global average temperature has increased by about 1.8 [degrees] from 1901 to 2016, and observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations for this amount of warming. Instead, the evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, as the dominant cause.”
President Trump tweeted out this week when New York expected it to be one of coldest Thanksgivings: “Whatever happened to Global Warming?”
That is why it is called climate change. The fires that happened in California, the flooding that is taking place on the coasts, are the result of climate change. The Brookings Institution said: “The economic cost of climate change is high: an annual $12 billion increase in electricity bills due to added air conditioning; $66 billion to $106 billion worth of coastal property damage due to rising seas; and billions in lost wages for farmers and construction workers forced to take the day off or risk suffering from heat stroke or worse.”
We need to take the reports seriously. It doesn’t matter if the report is issued by the United Nations or the United States. If we are serious about providing a world for the next generation, we have to understand that we are heating up the oceans and the snow on the mountains to a place from which we can’t turn back. We need action now.