Written by: Roberto R. Bravo, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on 6 August its long-awaited Sixth Assessment Report, a hefty 3,949 pages in which more than 200 scientists from around the world have analysed over 14,000 specialist papers on the Earth’s climate to shed light on its (our) immediate future. (Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis)
The research includes geological, biological, and climatological studies of the Earth's past and present, along with a wealth of global and satellite data on the current climate, and computerised calculations of the short-, medium- and long-term climate future based on systemic data and relationships whose knowledge is now much greater and more complete than in 2013, when the Committee presented its previous report. This new report, approved by all delegates from the 195 participating countries, is the first of six to be published along with by next year, 2022.
The conclusions of the report are decisive: in the last decade, the average global temperature has been the highest in the last 125,000 years, due to human emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. This is clear from the data collected and plotted, as the temperature began to rise sharply from 1850-1900 as a result of the Industrial Revolution, reaching quasi-exponential growth values in the 1960s, which have continued as fossil fuel use and deforestation have increased. Today, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is the highest the Earth has seen in the last 2 million years! Other greenhouse gases have also increased, such as methane gas, which is widely used in industry and as a fuel, whose global warming potential is 23 times higher than that of carbon dioxide, or nitrous oxide, widely used in combustion engines, which also destroys the ozone layer that filters harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and remains for about 100 years in the atmosphere. Overall, the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the highest in the last 800,000 years.
As a consequence that everybody can see, major climate imbalances are occurring in all parts of the globe, some unprecedented in thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years of Earth's history, as certified by geological records of climate in past epochs. The Report states that "It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land". The increase in global temperature attributable to human causes has averaged 1.1ºC since the late 19th century (which is not as small as it might seem, as we will see). In contrast, the effect of natural phenomena on global warmings, such as the sun or volcanoes, has been virtually zero since the Earth's climate naturally stabilised millions of years ago. Given the triggering effects of the current human-caused increase, it can now be stated with practical certainty that over the next two decades the Earth's average temperature will continue to rise by as much as 1.5°C, dangerously close to the 2°C increase threshold indicated by various estimates that could be catastrophic if we do not take immediate and severe measures. Right now, our chances of keeping the global climate increase below 1.5°C are only 50%, according to the Report. And we could only make it if the amount of carbon dioxide that our factories and the burning of fossil fuels will continue to emit into the atmosphere from the operation of our industrial fleet does not exceed 500 billion tonnes worldwide. At the current rate of pollution, that is only a 13-year journey before we reach a point of no return.
According to Helen Mountford, the World Resources Institute's Vice President for Climate and Economics, "Our opportunity to avoid even more catastrophic impacts has an expiration date. The report implies that this decade is truly our last chance to take the actions necessary to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. If we collectively fail to rapidly curb greenhouse gas emissions in the 2020s, that goal will slip out of reach." (Scientists Reach 'Unequivocal' Consensus on Human-Made Warming)
The report presents projections of five possible scenarios depending on the reductions we should make in our emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere, from the most ambitious option (1) in which, starting now and moving at a fast pace, we would achieve a total and permanent net zero emissions of CO2 by 2050 (other greenhouse gases, such as methane, although of higher warming potential, are produced by industry in much smaller proportions, so the main danger is currently carbon dioxide) to the most dangerous option (5), which is keeping the current rate of pollution, that is, doing nothing. In all cases, the global temperature, due to the above-mentioned trigger effects, will continue to rise by up to 1.5°C by 2040, if not sooner. However, in the best-case scenario, if we dare to act as we should, the temperature would start to fall gradually from that date onwards, marking the beginning of a slow recovery of the planet. Contrarily, in the worst case, our inaction will lead to a global increase of about 3.6°C by 2100 ― which could mean, among other things, the beginning of the end of our presence in the world. The intermediate options go from (2) a progressive but less radical decrease than would be optimal, to (3) a diminishing increase of CO2 emissions, to (4) a minimal reduction of the current rate of increase..., which will finally have to be drastically cut back when we all accept, presumably under increasing climatic catastrophes, and perhaps too late, that the situation was really serious. Except for the first, less bad option (unfortunately, the "good" options are already behind us), the consequences of all other possible scenarios are, from least to worst, negative for climate balance, agriculture, and the maintenance of life ― including, of course, our own.
For some years now, the increasing effects of global warming have not gone unnoticed. We frequently hear about climatic imbalances in many different parts of the world: incongruous temperature changes, such as warm spells in the cold season or unexpected hailstorms or snowfall in summer, heat waves exceeding 40°C in many places, and torrential rains or floods where these phenomena did not occur before. Hurricanes are becoming more destructive, droughts more prolonged, forest fires more extensive and more difficult to control... Add the alarming retreat of polar ice, the accelerated disappearance of snow from mountain peaks, the gradual melting of permafrost in frozen regions ― which in turn releases even more carbon and methane into the atmosphere ―, the advance of desertification in certain regions, and the growing scarcity of water in more and more parts of the world. All of which result in huge economic losses to housing, industry, and infrastructure, damage to pastures, crops, and transport, with consequences for communications and food production, preservation and distribution, as well as serious imbalances in labour force, industrial and business logistics, and even human losses each time a major disaster strikes.
It is important to note that the above is not an elaborate compilation of catastrophes, but rather a brief summary of what we hear day in day out in the international, and sometimes local news.
As the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 gets underway, the most important and at the same time most disturbing question is: being realistic, are we in time to avert the looming global disaster? The Conference plans to address four main points: (i) a significant worldwide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030; (ii) implementing concrete global actions (industrial, forestry, etc.) to meet the above goal; (iii) providing a huge annual finance to combat climate change; and (iv) other actions to support the above targets. Not all opinions are optimistic about the outcome of the Conference, and many fear that it will result in something like the previous COP21 in 2015, with an agenda very similar to the current one, and which culminated in the so-called "Paris Climate Agreement", which has remained largely on paper due to a lack of both political and economic will at the global level. The opinion of scientists from the research group Climate Action Tracker based on measurements in 32 countries responsible for more than 80% of global emissions, is that current policies are leading us to scenarios (3) or (4) above, with the consequences of a global temperature increase of 2.7 to 3.6°C in this century. Given that we are too close to the precipice to be able to avoid all the consequences of the current situation, what can and should we do?
What we cannot do is sit back and wait for a miracle to save us. The danger is real. The deadlines are peremptory: less than two decades before the situation becomes totally ― not just partially ― irreversible. And there are those who think it already is. If we want to save what we still can of the delicate balance of the planet so that our children and even we ourselves can continue to live because time is running out, we have to do something, and we have to do it now. Every one of us, because there are no magic solutions.
Next: How we got into this situation and what we can and must do to reverse it and to what extent, as soon as possible and in the best possible way.
Robert R. Bravo, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Besides his long experience as a researcher and lecturer on Ethics, Logic of Science and Philosophy of Language in Universities of Spain and Latin America, Roberto R Bravo writes and teaches on management skills in the areas of language and argumentation, coaching, leadership, and conflict management from a philosophical standpoint. Member of the editorial board of some academic and non-academic journals, he has published a number of essays, short stories, books for children, and translations. He is currently working on several books, both fiction and non-fiction.