Enough talk. The world needs to be saved

United Nations report on warming globe should give world leaders the kick in the pants they so desperately need to do something


We only have one of these. And she’s not doing very well right now.

This month, the United Nations released a report on climate change that should be turning all our hair grey and robbing us of sleep for weeks. At least.

Authored by 91 scientists working for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the report (called “more of a prognosis” by Vox) argues that, for the world to avoid catastrophic failure, or at least slow it down, we would need to halt carbon emissions entirely by the year 2050. Such an action would require effort and initiative that has “no documented historical precedent.”

If we don’t come through on this? That’s where it gets ugly in a hurry.

The report predicts a global rise in temperature of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) by 2040 if current energy use and carbon emissions continue unchecked, which means food and water shortages, rising sea levels, mass migrations, rampant diseases, storms and wildfires too widespread and frequent to keep in check, unbreathable air and flooded coastlines. All of this, the report tells us, will come to pass by 2040, if these goals are not met.

Not 2340. The year 2040, when most of Lake Park’s student body will be in their thirties.

“It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime,” Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report, told the New York Times.

The mainstream media has been covering this with varying degrees of shock. “Its prognosis is grim,” Umair Irfan warned in Vox.

Will the report spur the world to action? Some are doubtful. “In climate change, as in so many other areas, words are cheap,” The Economist wrote. “It is actions that are eloquent.”

From the White House?  “I want to look at who drew it,” President Trump said, according to Business Insider. “You know, which group drew it. Because I can give you reports that are fabulous, and I can give you reports that aren’t so good. But I will be looking at it. Absolutely.”

Well, good.

The report and the accompanying commentary is a lot to digest, but one thing remains clear: immediate action is necessary. Not next year or the year after, but right now. Problem is, this action has to be official. “Individuals have a great deal more power than they think,” The Times Editorial Board wrote in a line that sounded almost pathetic, given the context. “They can insulate their homes, install smart thermostats, choose public transportation, buy more fuel-efficient cars and appliances, even change their diet — livestock are estimated to account for some 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally.”

Sure, technically that’s true. We’re lovers of literature. We believe in doing the right thing, even when it’s hopeless. Just like Atticus Finch, or Hector in The Iliad.

But the only way meaningful action is taken on this issue is through concerted, decisive policy, and there is no way in the world that can happen without the United States government. The United States is not the leader in global emissions any more, but we were for the greater part of the Industrial Age, and we’re still in the top three. We recently announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Accord, which was the greatest effort to date to slow global warming, not stop it.

Today, we know that we can’t just put our foot on the brake. We have to shut the car off altogether.

Eating less meat and walking to school is a nice start, but as the BBC put it, this will require a complete rethinking of how we live our lives, everything from our economy to our infrastructure. If we have a shot at pulling this off (and that’s a mighty big if), it has to start now.

Next month we’ll be looking at some things we can do to make that happen. In the meantime, call up your representative, whether you’re of voting age or not, and ask them, in your best oh-by-the-way voice, “Have you happened to see that report on climate change that says we’re all doomed?” And see what you hear.