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

Most of us will still be alive then. Maybe.

Koushik Das via Unsplash
  • 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.

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

Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

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)

Reduction in Arctic Ice, 1980-2018

Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center/BBC

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.

Reduction in Arctic Sea Ice, since 1980

Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center/BBC

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.

From "Summary for Policy Makers"

Credit: IPCC

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
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Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

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Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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