The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the loudest shout to come from the scientific community about the urgency to do something about global warming. Yet less than a week later, it’s barely talked about.
The 116-page report is a synthesis of the last four reports - intended to act as a summary of where we are - leading up to the next big UN climate summit in Paris next year. Normally, the wording of these reports has been somewhat cautionary, using phrases such as, “very likely,” or “strong evidence,” when referring to changes taking place in the Earth’s atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Not this time.
The message from the scientists is now clear. Fossil fuels must be gone by 2100 or we will pass a tipping point into a future calamity.
While this message from scientists has been growing more urgent since the first report in 1990, the response from politicians has been slow. Global carbon emissions continue to rise, along with rising temperatures in the air and the oceans.
The situation is similar to one any parent knows; the more you yell and scream at a misbehaving child, the less effective you are - especially over the long term, when the child becomes “mommy deaf.”
Of course, the reason governments are slow to react to the warning about climate change is because of the perception that adapting our technology away from fossil fuels would break the economy.
This is especially true in Canada, where the expanding fossil fuel industry is a cornerstone of our economy. While this report points to sensible ways to avoid that economic collapse, the politicians are still acting deaf.
I saw a parallel situation from the past recently while watching my favourite classic science fiction movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still, released in 1951. In the movie, an alien spaceship lands in Washington DC. The pilot, a humanoid named Klatu, along with his tank-destroying robot Gort, arrive with a message for humanity from the other planets in the galaxy. It seems our neighbours in space were uncomfortable with our development of nuclear weapons (the movie made its debut not long after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). “Aggression will not be tolerated,” Klatu declares.
He first asked to deliver this message to representatives from all the world’s governments, but was told that it would be impossible to gather them all together in one place. There was simply too much conflict in the world. So he went to a scientist, who happened to bear a strong resemblance to Einstein, and asked if he could gather colleagues from around the planet so the message could be delivered to the thinkers of the world.
The answer he got was, “Yes, but people don’t listen to us scientists very much.”
Even in the 1950s, when many scientists, including Einstein, were warning that nuclear weapons were dangerous territory, the proliferation of those weapons still reached insane levels on both sides of the Atlantic. Thankfully, annihilation of humanity hasn’t happened, common sense has prevailed, and nuclear disarmament is now a reality. It hasn’t completely gone away, but the threat of nuclear war is far less than it was during the Cold War.
So, what will appeal to our common sense and drive us to do something about climate change?
Unless a UFO lands on Parliament Hill, the strongest warning is coming from nature; more droughts in some parts of the world, more extreme weather events in others, island countries consumed by rising sea levels, water shortages ... the list is growing.
The most important part of the message from this IPCC report is that doing nothing will cost much more than taking action now. That’s an economic argument.
Let common sense prevail.