Scientists have been offering information and issuing warnings about climate change for years. Though the rhetoric and some of the examples change with each subsequent report, the trend is toward greater urgency.
Scientists haven’t quite yet declared that human activity is killing the planet — though that’s heard elsewhere — but they’re doing their best to make us realize that we’re making Earth less livable.
The most recent report from the U.N. Intergovern-mental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released this week, might not have much more impact than its predecessors. If history is any guide, it will motivate some people in many countries and attract vocal criticism, perhaps even denunciation, from naysayers, political and otherwise.
More than previous reports, this one splits its attention. Although the damage already done might not be irreparable, it is serious enough that humans need to focus not just on preventing catastrophes but adapting to changes already well under way. Scientists are saying that even if people and nations got serious — today — we won’t have much immediate impact on changes already under way.
Already, for instance, climate change has affected ecosystems, water supplies, agriculture, coastlines the world over and species, more of which are migrating or becoming endangered or extinct.
Rajendra K. Pachauri, the IPCC chair, acknowledges that all those factors are clear evidence of the need for the international community to begin adapting and making often unpleasant choices.
Said Dr. Pachauri: “The world has to take this report seriously because there are implications for security of food supply, impacts of extreme events on morbidity and mortality, severe and irreversible impacts on species, and a risk of crossing various tipping points because of increasing temperatures.”
Vincente Barros, co-chair of the IPCC working group, added, “We live in an era of manmade climate change. In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks we already face.”
Those risks are evident worldwide, including in our own country. Not only has prolonged drought — drought that some scientists fear could last years — scarred Texas and California, but storms in winter and summer in other parts of the country are growing more violent and frequent.
Said Dr. Barros: “Part of the reason adaptation is so important is that the world faces a host of risks from climate change already baked into the climate system due to past emissions and infrastructure.”
If we’re not going to take the necessary measures to fight or even begin to reverse climate change — by reducing our collective reliance on fossil fuels and toxic emissions — we ought to prepare to adapt to an increasingly hostile environment.