Political will, leadership urgent now to stop catastrophic global warming

Sen. Bernie Sanders was the only 2016 presidential candidate to emphasize the immediacy of addressing the catastrophic threat of human-caused global warming.Sen. Bernie Sanders was the only 2016 presidential candidate to emphasize the immediacy of addressing the catastrophic threat of human-caused global warming.

Urgent action is needed now to avoid the pending doom of our abnormally warming planet, but it will take political courage and leadership to achieve that goal.

Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels warned even a difference between an increase of 1.5 and 2.0 degrees Celsius would be catastrophic, leading to even more severe droughts, floods, food shortages, and disease outbreaks.

1.5 vs. 2.0 degrees Celsius – so what?

Since the Industrial Revolution, Earth’s average global temperature already has risen one degree Celsius. And the difference between the average global temperature of the last ice age and the average global temperature of today’s climate is only 4 to 5 degrees Celsius.

Essentially, human activity already has made the planet 20 percent warmer than it normally would be, given the range of average global temperatures dating back 800,000 years. And as we continue to pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the warmer and warmer the planet will get.

The global mean temperature variation of last 784,000 years, and projections to 2100. The Last Glacial Maximum was Earth's last Ice Age, 5 degrees Celsius cooler than the pre-industrial reference level. (Source: Tobias Friedrich/International Pacific Research Center/University of Hawai'i at Mānoa)

The global mean temperature variation of last 784,000 years, and projections to 2100. The Last Glacial Maximum was Earth’s last Ice Age, 5 degrees Celsius cooler than the pre-industrial reference level. (Source: Tobias Friedrich/International Pacific Research Center/University of Hawai’i at Mānoa)

When you consider the hottest summers on record have occurred within the last 20 years, an added degree or two of heat, on a global scale, to an already hot planet is obviously significant.

And, as the IPCC report notes, a half of a degree of added global warming will make already bad things — severe droughts, storms, wildfires —  even worse.

Policy makers have choices to make

But the key message from the IPCC was clear: political will and leadership are needed now more than ever to mitigate what are sure to be tragic societal and economic consequences.

Notably in the U.S. political realm, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was the only 2016 presidential candidate to cite climate change as the single greatest threat to humanity.

And the multi-colored wave of the 2018 midterm elections, led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018), is at the forefront of a Green New Deal, which aims to address income inequality and climate change.

Each new data point underscores the urgency

Indeed, research already links global warming to a changing jet stream, and, therefore, more severe weather.

With startling new research indicating the world’s oceans have been absorbing much more heat than originally thought, the urgency to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is considerably heightened.

As noted in a summary of the University of Washington’s Program on Climate Change Summer Institute 2018, “the physical science knowledge needed to address climate change is established.” Now it is time for the policy makers and politicians to fulfill their moral, civic duties.

Action on global warming is needed now

As with any “why deal with something today when you can put it off until tomorrow” scenario,  waiting to deal with the inevitable always is the wrong choice.

Two additional special reports are scheduled to be released in August and September, 2019:

A follow-up comprehensive assessment report (AR6) will be released in 2022. The previous comprehensive report, IPCC AR5, was released in 2014, and was the framework for the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change.