COMMENTARY | Code Red for Humanity on Climate Change

Tim Whitehouse

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Code Red for Humanity on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its latest assessment on Monday, laying out the most up-to-date understanding of climate change. The report is a “code red for humanity” detailing how human actions are causing the earth to warm and the catastrophic consequences that that result if we don’t act now.

There are many takeaways from this report. Here are four. While these should come as no surprise to those who follow environmental issues, they bear repeating.

    • The planet is warming and causing unprecedented changes to our climate systems. Many of the changes will be irreversible.
    • Human actions are the main driver of climate change. Our addiction to fossil fuels, agricultural practices, and destruction of the natural world is causing glaciers and sea ice to retreat worldwide, snow covers to disappear, and sea level to rise. Our collective activities are leading to extreme heat, heavy downpours and drought conditions.
    • We will likely pass an average temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 Fahrenheit) by 2040, about a decade earlier than predicted in the 2018 IPCC report. This threshold represents the point where many scientists agree we will see many natural systems cross dangerous points of no return, transforming life as we know it.
    • Temperatures will likely continue to rise past 1.5 degrees Celsius even if we take drastic actions to cut climate pollutants. The consequences we are experiencing today are largely from emissions from a decade ago and our emissions today will affect our grandchildren’s children. The last time the planet sustained 2.5C level higher than 1850-1900 levels was 3 million years ago.

What does all this mean? It is long past time to act. We can no longer wait. The earliest undeniable signs of climate change are now all around us – from the deadly fires and heat waves throughout many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, to the massive flooding in China, to the weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), part of a large system of ocean currents that continually mixes the world’s oceans and distributes heat and energy around the earth, creating a climate that has allowed human civilization to flourish.

As the U.S. Congress struggles with infrastructure and climate bills, PEER will step up its efforts to support ambitious climate goals based on sound science and we will support holistic approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting nature and biodiversity, and improving our agricultural practices.

While Congress and federal agencies need to act quickly, they should not be given a free ride. Too much is at stake. That is why we are also a watchdog for hidden dangers and scams that result from climate programs, and we will make sure efforts to address climate change occur in the context of transparency, scientific integrity, and meaningful public input.

Tim Whitehouse, Executive Director of PEERTim Whitehouse is the Executive Director of PEER. Among other things, Tim formerly served as an EPA enforcement attorney.

Kevin Bell is PEER’s staff counsel, defender of whistleblowers, and lover of all things FOIA-related.

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