The latest climate report is alarming (Opinion)
By Eric Engle Aug 10, 2021 Appearing on-line in the Charleston Gazette-Mail
The sixth assessment report of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released Monday, and its findings are beyond dire.
It provides a disturbing wake up call after decades of industry and corporate malevolence enabled by world governments, as well as deliberate inaction by the most responsible parties.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a United Nations body established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and later endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly. The purpose of the body is to provide the world with scientific information relevant to understanding the risk of anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change, as well as it’s natural, political, and economic impacts and risks, and possible response options for world governments and other stakeholders.
Working Group I assesses the science as comprehensively as possible, in this case involving hundreds of global climate scientists, thousands of studies and eight years of work, building on more than three decades of prior research. Working Group II assesses the vulnerability for economies and the natural world. Working Group III assesses options for mitigation of the worst possible outcomes and adaptation to what’s locked in. The findings of Working Groups II and III are due next year.
Government representatives from 197 countries will be meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, this November for UN climate talks referred to as the Conference of Parties 26, as established under the Paris Climate Accords of 2015. The goal of these conferences is to periodically offer revised plans for meeting the warming goals of the Paris agreement of ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius, but no more than 2 degrees Celsius, global temperature rise over a preindustrial baseline by the end of this century.
Temperatures have currently risen by about 1.1 Centigrade above a mid-19th century baseline.
We’ve been witnessing the devastation wrought by just 1.1c warming over the established baseline: Extreme, record-breaking temperatures in the northwestern region of the U.S. and western Canada; extreme and long-lasting drought throughout the U.S. west; massive, almost unfathomable flooding events in central China and numerous European countries; wildfires in the U.S. west and throughout the Mediterranean region burning thousands of acres, destroying homes and properties and killing hundreds; hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico in 2017 that dumped 40 inches of rain in a four-day period (Hurricane Harvey in Houston) and killed upwards of 3,000 people (Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico), just to name a few. This can’t be allowed to continue.
Global systems we all depend on are being destabilized. The jet stream of the northern hemisphere is becoming wavier as the Arctic warms three times faster than the rest of the planet. This leads to things like the stalled out low-pressure system that dumped a year’s worth of rain in three days on central China and what’s referred to as an “omega block” pattern that caused temperatures in Pacific Northwest cities like Portland and Seattle to jump to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit — temperatures unheard of in these cities.
The Atlantic Meridional Oscillating Current, a system that includes the Gulf Stream that runs along the U.S. eastern seaboard, is an ocean current that moves warmer, saltier water from the Caribbean and U.S. Gulf northward toward Greenland and around to Europe. As the water gets colder on its trip North, it becomes denser and sinks and is circulated back in a southerly direction. This system affects weather patterns in the U.S. northeast and northern Europe and impacts the living patterns of numerous ocean species that economies in these regions depend on.
Recent studies have shown the current slowing down with the potential to stop in the no-too-distant future because of the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, introducing fresh glacial runoff water and warmer Arctic oceans.
Geologic history shows this would be disastrous, causing extreme cold in these northern regions and putting an end to monsoon rains that other regions around the world depend on.
These are just a few of the myriad effects of human-caused climate destabilization.
To quote author Kate Aronoff, “There is no prosperous future for humanity that includes one for the fossil fuel industry. Barring an about-face in its core business model — a change we have no reason to suspect will happen — these companies’ mission to dig up and burn as much coal, oil and gas as possible stands directly at odds with a reasonably habitable planet.”
We’ve seen failure to heed science lead to another surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. as well as stalled recovery efforts. Will we also fail to leave posterity a habitable planet? We’re almost out of time to have any choice in the matter.
Eric Engle, of Parkersburg, is chairman of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, a board member for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and co-chairman of Sierra Club of West Virginia’s executive committee.