“Untold human suffering … ”
By Stephen Tuttle | Nov. 16, 2019
A recent report in the publication Bioscience, signed by 11,000 scientists in several different fields from 150 countries, declared we are in a “climate emergency” and warned of “untold human suffering.” That doesn't sound good at all.
This is not to be confused with the reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations committee that analyzes reams of data and presents conclusions to world leaders.
Nor is it the same as the letter signed by 16,000 scientists a couple years back.
It would be easy to confuse the various climate science reports because they all pretty much say the same thing: We’ve so befouled the planet, we’ve actually altered its climate, with potentially catastrophic results.
We already knew that, or should have known it. The climate-change-is-real song has now been playing for nearly four decades.
The solutions aren't exactly new, either. Those reports making policy recommendations — the IPCC does not recommend policies — say essentially the same thing: We must reduce greenhouse gases, we must end our reliance on fossil fuels and convert to renewable sources, we must mitigate deforestation, we must impose a carbon tax or taxes, we must, we must, we must ... and quickly; some science now suggests our window of opportunity is barely more than a decade.
The American public is certainly aware. A September Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 80 percent now believe climate change is real, half believe urgent action is needed, and 40 percent consider it a crisis. Perhaps the most troubling statistic was that 13 percent said their lives have already been negatively impacted by climate change, and that number is only going to grow.
We've already relocated people from an island community in Louisiana who had lost 97 percent of their land mass to rising sea levels. We've done the same with coastal villages of indigenous people in Alaska and might have to relocate two dozen more. The thousand residents of Ocracoke, a barrier island off the North Carolina coast about three feet above sea level, now contemplate the same. Already devastated by Hurricane Dorian, most residents want to stay but concede their days are numbered; even a moderately severe storm will simply overrun the island.
That's a problem elsewhere on the planet, too. The Republic of Maldives is a series of islands in the Indian Ocean, more than 600 miles south of India, that are slowly but surely being inundated by rising sea levels. Some of the outer islands are already uninhabitable.
Venice is both sinking and fighting regular flooding. Some communities in south Florida now experience street flooding at high tide. There is no island or coastal area immune. In the United States alone, some 40 million people could be impacted by rising sea levels, creating the largest internal migration in history.
Things aren't appreciably better inland. As we were warned, weather extremes are becoming more extreme. California is the best example.
They are in a wet-dry-fire cycle that appears unending. Record rainfall and snowpack results in dramatic vegetation growth in the spring followed by record dry heat, which turns the vegetation into tinder followed by record wildfires. And it's a pattern that was repeated in Alaska and western Canada.
(And, no, it isn't California's poor forest management to blame. In fact, when it comes to open spaces, California doesn't have much control at all. Fully 57 percent of the state's forests and wildlands are owned, controlled, and managed by the federal government. Another 40 percent are privately owned. That state manages only three percent.)
It's possible even our early winter is part of the cycle. The polar vortex — it's an actual thing swirling above the North Pole; not just a concocted phrase — is losing its shape more often, sending its frigidity south.
Many state and local governments are taking what measures they can. Maine already gets about 75 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, including 21 percent from wind. California tried to establish its own vehicle mileage and emission standards after the current administration relaxed both. (The state is now being sued by the federal government for its efforts.)
Everybody is trying but those in charge. President Trump is still not sure climate change is real, much less caused by humans. He's reduced pollution standards for greenhouse gasses and ramped up oil and gas production. We were making some progress, but that has been reversed; our carbon dioxide emissions will increase again this year.
Congress isn't much help, either. The Green New Deal proposals notwithstanding, legislators have done little more than continue their supplication to the fossil fuel industry.
Science says if we haven't made adequate changes by 2030, we've missed our chance. Given national politics, it's unlikely we'll make it. We'll have to hope “untold human suffering” was an overstatement.