The report released this week by the United Nations detailing the impending effects of climate change in the near future because of our rapidly-warming atmosphere paints the starkest picture yet of what awaits life on Earth as we know it if we do not change our ways.
Our planet has warmed by an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius since mankind started belching carbon gases into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels in the late 19th century.
Scientists have long told us that an increase of 1.5 degrees in global temperature represents the tipping point at which life as we know it becomes all but impossible. Almost all of today’s living creatures, both in the oceans and on the land, will not survive if the Earth becomes that hot.
We already are seeing the dramatic and dire consequences of what happens at our present 1.1 C level: The polar ice sheets are melting, the permafrost areas in the Arctic Circle in Siberia are catching fire, epic floods are striking everywhere, massive superstorms threaten coastlines, out-of-control wildfires scorch vast swaths of forest acreage and pollute the air across hundreds of miles, coral reef bleaching is turning our oceans floors into dead zones, and heat waves are killing humans and animal life in every corner of the globe.
The U.N. report basically states that an increase to 1.3 Celsius already is baked (no pun intended) into the next 20 years or less, with every .10 increase adding exponentially to the damage. In other words, no matter what we do, things are going to get worse.
On the other hand, perhaps the only good news in the report is that the increase to 1.5 is not inevitable — but that is ONLY if we adopt policies now and we put them into place starting today. The global economy cannot turn on the proverbial dime, but we can move incrementally over the next 20 years to eliminate the carbon footprint of each and every human being so that the 1.5 threshold is not breached.
The bottom line is that we are running out of time to save the planet and preserve civilization as we know it. Some might point to the high economic cost of changing our consumption of energy from fossil fuels to clean alternatives. And to be sure, that conversion will cost trillions of dollars over the next two decades.
But the costs of climate-related catastrophes — in both economic and human terms — soon will far outweigh whatever the price may be to convert to clean energy.
Unless we change our ways, there literally will be no place on Earth that will be safe to live. To paraphrase the great heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis, we can try to run from climate change, but there will be nowhere on our planet to hide.