The majority of the world is convinced that humans are changing the climate, for the worse. Now, evidence is mounting that paints just how grim a future we are making for ourselves and the planet.
We will experience more extreme weather events, including hurricanes and droughts, mass extinctions and severe food shortages globally. The world’s leading group of climate-change experts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recently issued its most recent report after a five-day meeting in Yokohama, Japan. The IPCC, more than 1,800 scientists from around the world, collects, analyzes and synthesizes the best, solid science on climate and related fields. The prognosis is not good.
At the news conference announcing the report, IPCC chairperson Rajendra Pachauri warned, “If the world doesn’t do anything about mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases and the extent of climate change continues to increase, then the very social stability of human systems could be at stake.”
Pachauri speaks with the discipline of a scientist and the reserve of a diplomat. The latest report, though, states clearly: “Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence.”
It stresses how the world food supply, already experiencing stress, will be impacted, and those who are most vulnerable will be the first to go hungry. But the problem is even larger.
The IPCC’s previous comprehensive report came out in 2007. Since that time, the amount of scientific findings has doubled, making human-induced climate change an irrefutable fact. But there are still powerful deniers, funded by the fossil-fuel industry.
Oxfam, a global anti-hunger campaign organization, also is challenging the deniers with a report released last month called “Hot and hungry– how to stop climate change derailing the fight against hunger.” Oxfam’s Tim Gore says that “corporations like Exxon, the powerful economic interests that are currently profiting from our high-carbon economic model … stand to lose the most from a transition to a low-carbon, fair alternative.”
Undaunted, ExxonMobil issued its own report following the IPCC’s, asserting that climate policies are “highly unlikely” to stop it from producing and selling fossil fuels in the near future.
Fossil-fuel corporations such as ExxonMobil exert enormous influence over climate-change policy, especially in the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a measure that would effectively force the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and related bodies to ignore climate change, focusing instead on forecasting severe weather, but not its likely causes.
One of the IPCC report authors, Bangladeshi climate scientist Saleemul Huq, put it this way on the “Democracy Now!” news hour: “Fossil-fuel companies … are the drug suppliers to the rest of the world who are junkies and are hooked on fossil fuels. But we don’t have to remain hooked on fossil fuels. We are going to have to cut ourselves off from them if we want to see a real transition and prevent temperature rises up to 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit).”
That is the crux of the crisis: The major polluting nations are obstructing a binding global agreement to combat climate change. They have agreed, in principle, with the rest of the world, at the United Nations climate negotiations, to limit greenhouse-gas emissions to levels that would allow a global temperature increase of only 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). But the science says that goal is quickly slipping away, and that we are facing a 4-degree increase.
Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, another IPCC report co-author, told me: “It’s not just a problem for the rest of the world … think about Hurricane Sandy. Think about how hard it was to deal with that storm. That’s today’s storms. Think about what happens over the next 10, 20, 30 years, when sea level goes up and the storms get worse.”
“America is addicted to oil,” President George W. Bush, himself a failed oilman, famously said at his State of the Union address in 2006. The U.S. political establishment is swimming in fossil-fuel money, which is drowning democracy.
Change will come from grass-roots organizing, from movements like students pushing their university endowments to divest from fossil-fuel corporations, from local communities fighting against fracking, and from the growing nonviolent direct-action campaign to block the Keystone XL pipeline.