Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday August 13, 2021
Climate change report a ‘code red’ for humanity
This week’s report from the United Nations climate panel makes for arresting, frightening and depressing reading.
It comes in a summer of record-breaking heat waves that scorched Canada and Europe. It comes after deadly floods ravaged China, Germany and Belgium and as drought threatens 400,000 people in Madagascar with starvation. And it falls with an ominous thud on the world’s doorstep after wildfires incinerated large swaths of the planet, around the Mediterranean Sea, throughout Siberia and right here in North America.
Lest any climate-change deniers still delude themselves into thinking such extreme weather has no connection to what humans are doing, the report from the UN International Panel on Climate Change — it’s the sixth such assessment since 1988 and took eight years to prepare — sets the record straight. What they’ve written isn’t science fiction; it’s science fact that draws on the work of 234 experts.
Human activity is “unequivocally” changing the Earth’s climate in ways “unprecedented” in thousands, even hundreds of thousands of years and is directly linked to these and other extreme weather events. Period. Many of these changes, including higher sea levels, are now “irreversible” the climate scientists said.
As a result, after the decade from 2011 to 2020 proved the hottest ever recorded, temperatures are likely to rise in the next 20 years by more than 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. If that happens, not only will it blow away the climate-change goals set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, it will usher in even more extreme weather and devastation.
Yes, this makes for a depressing read. But rather than make people despair and feel like giving up, the message of this report also includes hope. There’s the hope of humans working together as never before to limit the damage they’re inflicting on the planet. There’s the hope that, while not escaping unscathed, humankind will be able to avoid the absolute worst-case scenarios for climate change. And, aside from the report itself, there are hopeful signs more and more people are finally ready to do what is necessary.
American President Joe Biden is far more committed than his predecessor, Donald Trump, ever was in marshalling the energies of the world’s biggest economy and second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions against global warming. That alone could be a game-changer. In October, the United Kingdom will host the governments of 197 countries at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. This week’s IPCC report should spur them to come together by acting together for everyone’s sake.
And if Canadians, as expected, go to the polls in a general election this fall, they have a timely opportunity to elect a government that will redouble the nation’s efforts to keep the planet from overheating. As a rich country, we have a moral responsibility to do this, and accept our role in shepherding the world to a sustainable future, even as we realize we will have to alter our lifestyles and an economy heavily reliant on the petroleum industry.
In the words of UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, this week’s landmark IPCC study amounts to a “code red for humanity.” Now it’s up to Canadians and the rest of humankind to decide if they’ll answer or ignore the alarm. To be sure, we’ll have to live with many of the terrible, wrenching changes we have wrought. But if humanity grabs the nettle in front of it, it could mitigate the impact of climate change and even avoid a world where entire regions become uninhabitable for us.
We have a decade or so to do this, the UN scientists warn. There probably won’t be another report from the International Panel on Climate Change before the time for effective change runs out. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)