“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”
This is the clear and terrifying statement that opens the Summary for Policymakers from the the Sixth Assessment Report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body created to provide states with information about the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change, its impacts and future risks, and solutions.
What is the reason for this strong statement by the biggest and most influential supranational body on the planet? And why are governments so reluctant to declare the state of emergency and implement drastic measures to address it?
In this article we will try to answer these questions in simple and direct language, and report the same level of terror that can be read in the statements of scientists all around the world.
We are less than 100 seconds from midnight, the darkest hour for humanity, the footprint of our species is now everywhere on Earth, the new IPCC report tells us: thanks to new measurement, analysis and simulation techniques it has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that human beings are changing the global climate with unprecedented rapidity, never seen before in more than 100,000 years.
The exponential increase of greenhouse gases, mostly coming from fossil fuels burning, such as carbon dioxide (284ppm in 1850 and 414.60ppm in 2021), methane (774ppb in 1850 and 1,888.5 ppb today) and nitrous oxide (270ppb in 1850 and 332ppb now), combined with deforestation, unchecked urbanization and destabilization of ecosystems, of the cryosphere (perennial glaciers) and of the oceans, have thrown the entire planet into an era where uncertainty and suffering reign supreme.
The threshold of various tipping points has now been breached by the increase in climate-altering gases. Human activities and in particular the use of fossil fuels are responsible for the average warming of 1.1 ° C already reached.
The last four decades have been the hottest ever recorded in any part of the globe, while the quantity and quality of glaciers (thickness and composition) is compromised and consequently their ability to reflect the sun’s rays is weakened.
The human footprint has influenced the decrease in snow in the northern hemisphere, destabilizing local communities and ecosystems.
Even the oceans, the most important climate regulators on Earth that absorb about 50% of CO₂ emissions, have not been spared by the exponential increase in temperatures: the surface layer of their salty waters has heated up and consequently an acidification process has been triggered. which in turn has created areas with low oxygen levels, the so-called “dead zones”, literally turning huge parts of the sea into graveyards.
Major ocean currents that carry warm water from the tropics to the poles risk collapsing, slowing down or even blocking due to the exponential onslaught of temperature increases: this single event, alone, would lead to an immediate and dramatic upheaval of an already battered and weakened climate.
Human-induced climate change affects many extreme weather and climate events in every region of the world
The poignant report continues stating that it is now certain that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events has increased. Not only are the phenomena stronger and more intense but they also last longer. Extreme temperatures, precipitation that become floods, droughts, not only will gradually intensify more and more but will also last for longer periods, creating the perfect recipe for disaster. Above average temperatures are already causing fires and wrecking forests, homes, killing humans and animals, and everything that stands in their way all over the world. While warmer seas also expose areas of the globe such as Europe to tropical dangers: hurricanes.
The suffering, disease and death brought forth by these events combined with environmental degradation are already unprecedented, all of this is happening with a mere increase of 1.1 ° C, while the probability of breaching 1.5 ° C (considered the safe threshold) of warming in less than 10 years is more than 50%.
The road in which our political decision-makers have decided to take us will lead us to a total collapse of society and a complete upheaval in our everyday life.
Just think about how easy mass migrations, wars and pandemics will be triggered in the current scenario.
The increase in temperatures is in fact making many areas of the planet uninhabitable due to drought, while others, close to the shores of seas or lakes, will be partially submerged due to the rise in water levels caused by the melting of glaciers. This will force large communities or entire populations to move in search of places to live, consequently inducing their governments to seek new lands, even outside their national borders, creating disputes over areas that are more habitable and less exposed to extreme events. Such conflicts will often turn into wars, and from this it can be deduced that military spending will not be cut, strategic for the maintenance of borders or the conquest of new lands, thus subtracting other resources from social aid and environmental research.
Furthermore, the clustering of populations in smaller areas marked by more widespread poverty will significantly lower the level of hygiene conditions and minimum prophylaxis, causing more frequent viral diseases that will tend to spread more rapidly than in the past.
Yet governments continue in their guilty inaction despite being confronted with this terrible picture… Or should we perhaps call it a mirror?
Is it not they, with their policies, who have determined the situation in which we find ourselves at this moment?
Didn’t they do it lucidly, with the deliberate will to produce these results?
Haven’t they clearly shown themselves oblivious to the consequences for life on the planet?
C’mon, we need to open our eyes to responsibilities, otherwise we will never get to implement the solutions (which already exist).
We have been talking about pollution for a century and global warming for thirty years, yet the economic policy choices that have been made in this period of time can all be traced back to three main needs: to increase the material needs in every human being, to spread a sense of well-being (not actual well-being, but the perception of it) and finally concentrating wealth in the hands of a few.
These capitalist policies has produced the genocide that is before our eyes together with the blindfold that covers them.
We admit to ourselves that we don’t do the job we like but we don’t leave it, we live in a place that we consider unhealthy but we stay there, we complain every day about our political class but we accept to affect it only every 4 or 5 years.
It does not work.
We are killing ourselves.
Or, to better redistribute the burdens of responsibility, we are letting them kill us.
Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist who works for NASA, says he is terrified of what is to come, and just minutes after reading the IPCC report said: “Either we immediately abandon capitalism as the dominant system of our social organization, or physics will do it for us. There is no third option.”
Damn, that’s the point. Immediately.
Actions to combat the problem must arrive in the moments immediately following the official and declared exposure of the problem and we cannot accept, neither scientifically nor morally, that it is spoken of only among heads of government, on sporadic occasions and without the sense of urgency.
Take the various G7, G20 or COP26… What do you think the negotiations between states are determined by in these international fora? From a race with an Olympic spirit to who cuts CO2 emissions first and best? Or perhaps by agreements that make the weak decisions made seem extraordinary in order to relieve the parties of responsibility for another reasonable amount of time, just so that they do not lose electoral support and profits for the companies they represent?
And yes, that is another point that we must stop ignoring and we must not be afraid to expose aloud: governments no longer represent the citizens who elected them but are only institutional spokespersons of large companies, their hunger for media power and of their thirst for money.
Yet in 2017, the Carbon Majors Report drawn up by Paul Griffin told us that 100 companies alone produce 71% of global carbon emissions.
The United States of America, taken for too many decades as a model of reference in social organization, shows a fact that is also unequivocal: 1% of the population owns more wealth than the remaining 92%. A disaster.
Share your anger, build your courage and awareness, take radical actions
It is therefore essential to restore the cardinal principles of justice and meritocracy and find the economic resources necessary to deal with the emergency directly from large turnovers, with a view to equitable redistribution of both resources and profits. We cannot afford to tackle this dramatic crisis in small steps (because there is no time) and we cannot do it with the same contribution from everyone (because not everyone is responsible and above all there is nothing left to offer).
Instead, we need a radical transformation of society that faces this challenge with courage and awareness.
Not with pessimism or hope.
And here we want to address those who are feeding the problem rather than rolling up their sleeves.
Stop being disheartened by what you are seeing: you have had decades to do it, to be worried, sad or disappointed, and instead you have dedicated your time and energy to the optimism of consumerism. And now that you need you, you want to arrogate to yourselves the right to feel heartbroken and disconsolate. Forget it, your selfishness has not been and will not be of any help. Do nothing and let others do it, it will not be difficult for you.
About hope, please abandon that too because it has distracted and continues to dangerously distract from the goal; and then because, heck, there are too many scientific certainties around that confirm what we can or cannot expect whether or not we perform a certain action; simply hoping that it will go better just puts you on a higher step than those who have voluntarily reduced us to these conditions, but leaves you with them in the same circle of ineptitude.
Do you want to start doing something?
Rather, get angry… Give Love a chance and get angry!
You will see that courage and awareness will come from sharing that anger with many other people, recognizable by your own feeling and animated by willpower.
Leave room for anger for a while, because even this Report built by governments and relaunched by the media fails to hide the most outrageous truth of all: climate change is not happening, they have made it happen.
Your more sustainable lifestyle, your attention to recycling, your money donated to environmental associations, your savings to afford the luxury of an electric car, your transfer to another area of the country for your children to not get sick with the same tumor that killed your grandfather and your father… Everything is useless if Governments continue to operate as if there were no emergencies.
You, who have understood the seriousness of the problem, force them to change the course of events.
The role of this report is only to describe the problem, but it’s up to us, literally us who write and you who read, to call into question the people who created the climate emergency and demand solutions for everyone, even for those who cannot.
You who have understood, you can.
You who have understood, you must.
The authors of this article are Domenico Barbato, Extinction Rebellion activist and founder of XR Naples, and Manlio Pertout, cofounder of The Human Exploring Society.
Cover illustration by Martha Stephens, cofounder of The Human Exploring Society.
This article and the cover image are released under the Creative Commons 4.0 license.