I find it serendipitous that, a few short weeks before the 2018 elections, a dire warning has been issued by the International Panel on Climate Change, a warning that should be of major concern to every political candidate, be it for federal, state, or local office. While acknowledging that the negative impacts of a warming planet are already underway, the IPCC says that to avoid catastrophic changes to the Earth’s interconnected ecological and societal systems, we must limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels. The report is based on the findings of over 6000 scientific studies (https://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/pr_181008_P48_spm.shtml).
As a long-time resident of a Colorado town that is becoming increasingly threatened by more frequent wildfires, floods after the burns, and drought, all symptoms of a warming climate, this report hits me very close to home. Time is not on our side. “We are at the crossroads,” says the IPCC. “What is going to happen between now and 2030 is critical. If we don’t act now,” it will be essentially impossible to limit warming to 1.5°C.
Having already warmed 1°C (1.8°F) since pre-industrial times, the report recognizes that limiting climate change to 1.5°C would require “unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society.” Yet, the IPCC is still calling for an economic transition that “has no documented historic precedents.” By 2030, the world needs to have cut its annual carbon emissions by around 50%. This will require a full scale move away from fossil fuels, which is very much the opposite of the path our current administration has our country on.
It is worth noting that this report is not merely talking about if we will have more or less taxes taken out of our paycheck, or how a new regulation will raise the price of groceries, or how this or that legislation will impact the quality of our cell phone service. It is talking about the future of human civilization. As German climate scientist Hans-Otto Pörtner put it, “If action is not taken, it will take the planet into an unprecedented climate future… Climate change is shaping the future of our civilization.”
According to Georgia Tech climate science professor Kim Cobb, “Many will dismiss the target as unrealistic, if not laughable.” She makes a good point – is it even realistic to think we could limit warming to 1.5°C, which would require completely redesigning the way we live on this planet? How we produce energy. How we produce food. How we get around. I must admit, it sounds rather impossible!
IPCC scientists say it is not impossible. “It is within the scope of what humans can achieve,” the report says. “We identified 6 different conditions we’d need to meet to hit 1.5°C. Is it possible within the laws of physics? Yes. But the political feasibility? Frankly, that’s up to politicians.”
So, these scientists are saying that the future of the Earth’s climate and what human civilization will look like in the coming decades and beyond is “up to politicians.” Wow, whoever said this election may be the most important in our lifetimes wasn’t kidding.
In the interest of voters and constituents knowing where candidates and current policy makers stand on climate change and, in particular, on the urgent warning that the world’s top climate scientists just released to the world, I have a couple of questions that I would like candidates and current office holders and policy makers to answer:
- As a candidate for public office, or as a current elected official or policy maker, what is your response to the IPCC report?
- As an elected official and leader, what will you do to ensure that the policies and actions enacted under your watch will limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels?