Facing the discomfort of the world’s last chances to fight climate change

Lauren B. Kim, Staff Writer

“I don’t want to think about it” and “I’ll do it later” — two phrases I’m sure every Horace Mann student has said to avoid discomfort as a form of temporary relief. 

 I often find myself more worried about a test than the environmental doom at hand. My attention jumps from a drought to a wildfire to a flood as I follow the media, making me want to go crazy and shut myself off. But with our responsibilities as students, we know that in the long run, not facing our problems now will come back to bite us later. We simply need to worry about it. Worry drives us to take action, something we need more than ever following some recent news.

Earlier this April, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the third part of its Sixth Assessment Report: Mitigation of Climate Change. The IPCC has released reports since 1990 about “climate change, its causes, potential impacts and response options” that policymakers and scientists can use. Each full report takes eight years to compile, so this one could very well be the last warning for the world to keep our warming under 1.5 degree Celsius, a near-impossible but necessary goal to avoid a severe climate catastrophe.

I understand why you might not want to read the report. We see news about how climate change devastates more and more of the world each year, yet policy changes do not happen quickly enough. It is frustrating to watch progress inch forward slower than a snail and even come to a standstill at times.

Nations under the Paris Agreement, a global framework established in 2015 to combat greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, pledge to reduce GHG emissions but do not curb them enough as countries weigh their oil and coal-dependent economies over our planet’s future. At times, I feel powerless because it is difficult to think about how onerous it is to fight climate change. But by knowing how dire the situation is and how hard it is to change, we can more meaningfully view what the report has to say about what action to take. The following are summaries of the report’s findings on warming, emissions, development, and reform; while everything in the report is of high priority, here are a few key takeaways that we as a community can act on.

As stated earlier, severe impacts can be reduced if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial average temperatures. But if striking changes do not take place fast enough, Earth will rise over 3 degrees by the end of the century. 1.5 degrees Celsius alone will induce catastrophic effects such as heat waves, long droughts, and torrential rains, and floods. A chain effect will follow and cause social instability if resources were to become insecure. Though highly difficult, it is technically possible to stay under 1.5 degrees with immediate action.

To do so, we must cut our greenhouse gas emissions in half by the early 2030s and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by the 2050s. Unfortunately, our net emissions increase each year by gigatons — at a rate of 1.3% over the last decade — and atmospheric CO2 is already at 418.9 parts per million today while the safe level is only 350 parts per million. If we are to curb emissions, the world must make extreme changes. This means phasing out 95% of coal, 60% of oil, and 45% of gas used by the early 2050s, one of the most daunting challenges because we rely on fossil fuels for 84% of the world’s energy.

The need for drastic reform in many fields in such a short time is essential for us to succeed. This includes but isn’t limited to energy, transportation, food, and infrastructure. Since our global economy is dependent on systems that produce GHG emissions, we need extreme measures to overhaul them. Pushing for change might seem in vain at this point, but think about the long term: taking action now will allow us to have a habitable future. Though it is unfortunate that it has come down to the very last bits of time to act, I cannot stress enough that the fight against climate change is not lost.

Climate change is global, but there are unequal effects in different places. Countries in the Global South are affected the most by environmental problems caused by wealthier and more powerful nations in the Global North. For the Global South, the IPCC reports a “strong link between sustainable development, vulnerability and climate risks” and that “limited economic, social and institutional resources often result in high vulnerability and low adaptive capacity, especially in developing countries.” This means they lack the resources to prepare for and recover from climate damage, which ultimately increases unsustainable development of environmentally unfriendly industries. Even in nations of the Global North, there are areas that lack refined infrastructure for climate defense and energy production which puts them at greater risk. So if nations invest their resources in sustainable development for disadvantaged areas and countries, we can prevent reliance on fossil fuels and promote clean energy via solar, hydro, and wind power. 

It is 2022 and we are tired after years of living through a pandemic and reading news on heated politics on top of juggling school work as we watch the Doomsday Clock count down 100 seconds to midnight. Climate change is another one of these seemingly endless problems, but it is the most pressing of them all. In 20 years, you probably will not remember that homework assignment or paper you detested writing, but if we don’t act now, we will definitely regret doing nothing to stop climate change for the rest of our lives.

Our situation cannot be pushed aside any longer when there are clear steps towards a solution. As frustrating as it is, we must pay attention to what the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report says and respond with what is within our power. We can reduce demand for resources — take public transportation, walk, or bike; switch to solar energy instead of gas. We can also advocate for and educate others on environmental topics and discuss ways to be sustainable with family and friends. At times I ask why I am giving myself more work to do, but please trust me on this; it is now or never.

Read the full report at ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/.