On global warming, we have 12 years left until the point of no return

Most of us will still be alive then. Maybe.

  • It's statistically possible to make enough changes to stave it off, but politically it looks unlikely if attitudes at the top do not change.
  • We're already seeing effects from a 1-degree (C) change.
  • What can we do? There are a few things...

The problem, as I see it, is that there isn't the political will to make the serious changes we need to in order to stave this off.

Stave what off, you ask?

It's the point—an increase of 1.5 degrees C or 2.7 degrees F—at which the things that we take for granted, like arctic ice and even the ability to live anywhere near the equator, disappear. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just issued a report on this that is, well, terrifying.

The report is written by 91 authors and 40 review editors, and it features 133 contributing authors, 6,000 scientific references, and was subject to over 42,000 expert and government review comments before publication.

Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Members of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meet in South Korea in October 2018.

If we don't reverse the current trends in a huge way, then extreme drought, floods, wildfires, food shortages for millions of people across the globe will be the norm for everybody. Well, except, perhaps, for those living at one of the poles.

"One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1 degree C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes," said Panmao Zhai, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I.

The report tells us we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and net zero—that is, NO increase in greenhouse gas emissions—by 2050.

If we don't? All of what's in the paragraph above, as well as:

  • Coral reefs? Gone.
  • Extreme weather events? So commonplace, we'll forget what it used to be like. (Hellooooo, Michael.)
  • A rise in sea levels of anywhere between 33 to hundreds of feet.
  • The seemingly impossible prospect of humans and other creatures being unable to live anywhere near the equator, because the extreme heat will not be able to support life. (Well, except for those creatures who have adapted to do just that)

Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center/BBC

Reduction in Arctic Ice, 1980-2018

We're two-thirds of the way there now, and in 12 years, that is the tipping point at which we cannot affect anything anymore. In other words, that's when it goes beyond a 1.5 degree increase in global average temperatures and the "feedback loop" that is the Earth will deteriorate to a point where we will have no way to stop the process.

In fact, with the course we are currently on, it's going to be double that temperature; we've already seen an increase of 1 degree since pre-industrialization, and there's really nothing slowing it down.

"The window on keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees C is closing rapidly and the current emissions pledges made by signatories to the Paris Agreement do not add up to us achieving that goal," stated Andrew King, a climate science expert at the University of Melbourne.

Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center/BBC

Reduction in Arctic Sea Ice, since 1980

The last time I researched this, 2050 was the year that they pegged. Moving that up by 20 years—effectively, the same as moving the atomic scientists' Doomsday Clock ahead by two minutes—makes it seem all that more pressing.

But given the political climate of the world right now, it looks extremely unlikely that we'll do anything about it.

So is it time to invest in beachfront property in Antarctica?

Since 99% of us can't do that, here are some ideas on what you can do, from the UN report.

The report says there must be rapid and significant changes in four big global systems: Energy, land use, cities, and industry. But it adds that the world cannot meet its target without changes by individuals, urging people to:

  1. Buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter and more locally sourced, seasonal food—and throw less of it away
  2. Drive electric cars, but walk or cycle short distances
  3. Take trains and buses instead of planes
  4. Use videoconferencing instead of business travel
  5. Use a washing line instead of a tumble dryer
  6. Thoroughly insulate homes
  7. Demand low carbon in every consumer product.

Credit: IPCC

From "Summary for Policy Makers"

Stand up against religious discrimination – even if it’s not your religion

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Why Epicurean ideas suit the challenges of modern secular life

Sure, Epicureans focused on seeking pleasure – but they also did so much more.

Antonio Masiello/Getty Images
Culture & Religion

'The pursuit of Happiness' is a famous phrase in a famous document, the United States Declaration of Independence (1776). But few know that its author was inspired by an ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Thomas Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. He probably found the phrase in John Locke, who, like Thomas Hobbes, David Hume and Adam Smith, had also been influenced by Epicurus.

Nowadays, educated English-speaking urbanites might call you an epicure if you complain to a waiter about over-salted soup, and stoical if you don't. In the popular mind, an epicure fine-tunes pleasure, consuming beautifully, while a stoic lives a life of virtue, pleasure sublimated for good. But this doesn't do justice to Epicurus, who came closest of all the ancient philosophers to understanding the challenges of modern secular life.

Epicureanism competed with Stoicism to dominate Greek and Roman culture. Born in 341 BCE, only six years after Plato's death, Epicurus came of age at a good time to achieve influence. He was 18 when Alexander the Great died at the tail end of classical Greece – identified through its collection of independent city-states – and the emergence of the dynastic rule that spread across the Persian Empire. Zeno, who founded Stoicism in Cyprus and later taught it in Athens, lived during the same period. Later, the Roman Stoic Seneca both critiqued Epicurus and quoted him favourably.

Today, these two great contesting philosophies of ancient times have been reduced to attitudes about comfort and pleasure – will you send back the soup or not? That very misunderstanding tells me that Epicurean ideas won, hands down, though bowdlerised, without the full logic of the philosophy. Epicureans were concerned with how people felt. The Stoics focused on a hierarchy of value. If the Stoics had won, stoical would now mean noble and an epicure would be trivial.

Epicureans did focus on seeking pleasure – but they did so much more. They talked as much about reducing pain – and even more about being rational. They were interested in intelligent living, an idea that has evolved in our day to mean knowledgeable consumption. But equating knowing what will make you happiest with knowing the best wine means Epicurus is misunderstood.

The rationality he wedded to democracy relied on science. We now know Epicurus mainly through a poem, De rerum natura, or 'On the Nature of Things', a 7,400 line exposition by the Roman philosopher Lucretius, who lived c250 years after Epicurus. The poem was circulated only among a small number of people of letters until it was said to be rediscovered in the 15th century, when it radically challenged Christianity.

Its principles read as astonishingly modern, down to the physics. In six books, Lucretius states that everything is made of invisible particles, space and time are infinite, nature is an endless experiment, human society began as a battle to survive, there is no afterlife, religions are cruel delusions, and the universe has no clear purpose. The world is material – with a smidgen of free will. How should we live? Rationally, by dropping illusion. False ideas largely make us unhappy. If we minimise the pain they cause, we maximise our pleasure.

Secular moderns are so Epicurean that we might not hear this thunderclap. He didn't stress perfectionism or fine discriminations in pleasure – sending back the soup. He understood what the Buddhists call samsara, the suffering of endless craving. Pleasures are poisoned when we require that they do not end. So, for example, it is natural to enjoy sex, but sex will make you unhappy if you hope to possess your lover for all time.

Epicurus also seems uncannily modern in his attitude to parenting. Children are likely to bring at least as much pain as pleasure, he noted, so you might want to skip it. Modern couples who choose to be 'child-free' fit within the largely Epicurean culture we have today. Does it make sense to tell people to pursue their happiness and then expect them to take on decades of responsibility for other humans? Well, maybe, if you seek meaning. Our idea of meaning is something like the virtue embraced by the Stoics, who claimed it would bring you happiness.

Both the Stoics and the Epicureans understood that some good things are better than others. Thus you necessarily run into choices, and the need to forgo one good to protect or gain another. When you make those choices wisely, you'll be happier. But the Stoics think you'll be acting in line with a grand plan by a just grand designer, and the Epicureans don't.

As secular moderns, we pursue short-term happiness and achieve deeper pleasure in work well done. We seek the esteem of peers. It all makes sense in the light of science, which has documented that happiness for most of us arises from social ties – not the perfect rose garden or a closet of haute couture. Epicurus would not only appreciate the science, but was a big fan of friendship.

The Stoics and Epicureans diverge when it comes to politics. Epicurus thought politics brought only frustration. The Stoics believed that you should engage in politics as virtuously as you can. Here in the US where I live, half the country refrains from voting in non-presidential years, which seems Epicurean at heart.

Yet Epicurus was a democrat. In a garden on the outskirts of Athens, he set up a school scandalously open to women and slaves – a practice that his contemporaries saw as proof of his depravity. When Jefferson advocated education for American slaves, he might have had Epicurus in mind.

I imagine Epicurus would see far more consumption than necessary in my own American life and too little self-discipline. Above all, he wanted us to take responsibility for our choices. Here he is in his Letter to Menoeceus:

For it is not drinking bouts and continuous partying and enjoying boys and women, or consuming fish and the other dainties of an extravagant table, which produce the pleasant life, but sober calculation which searches out the reasons for every choice and avoidance and drives out the opinions which are the source of the greatest turmoil for men's souls.

Do you see the 'pursuit of happiness' as a tough research project and kick yourself when you're glum? You're Epicurean. We think of the Stoics as tougher, but they provided the comfort of faith. Accept your fate, they said. Epicurus said: It's a mess. Be smarter than the rest of them. How modern can you get?Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article.


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