Earlier this month,in South Africa died when record rainfall washed away buildings and infrastructure in Kwa-Zulu Natal province. The day before, dozens of people died in the Philippines after trigger landslides and floods.
The world is changing rapidly — and the human-caused impactclearer.
“We’re in a very different place now from where we were even just a few decades ago,” atmospheric physicist Alex Hall, director of the UCLA Center for Climate Science, told CBS News.
Hall, who in the 1990s was among the team that originally predicted the effects of global warming, extreme heat,and the word prediction once “feels a bit like an abstraction”.
Today, they are observed almost daily. And without urgent action, events of this kind — and others — would be more intense and frequent, Hall says, and change the scope of everyday life for everyone, forever.
“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle”
Today’s situation on Earth is decades in the making. Ecology researcher and professor Dan Blustein told CBS News that it can take years to start seeing the effects of climate change, and once those effects are seen, they basically “burn out”.
“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” he said. “The devil with climate change is, we can stop burning carbon tomorrow, all carbon tomorrow, and we’ll still have the burning effect of the carbon that’s in the atmosphere.”
todayjust a glimpse of what’s to come.
“We’re seeing a huge increase in major hurricanes. Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and Hurricane Sandy in New York,” said Hall, an atmospheric physicist. “…That’s what we have predicted with a warmer world and we will have more of that type of impact.”
This is why experts say carbon emissions must be tackled urgently. Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas — a collection of gases that in large quantities creates a thick blanket in the atmosphere that traps heat on Earth. By 2020, carbon dioxide will account for about 79% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Failure to limit this gas over the next eight years, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned, willthat the 2030s will bring “unprecedented extreme events on the observational record.”
And it is a bleak future if we don’t take action quickly.
Deborah Brosnan, a scientist and marine resilience specialist, told CBS News, “we’re not going back to what it was 20 years ago for our planet.” Instead, things will only continue to progress rapidly.
As it is, the people of the Pacific Northwest will likely seeand deteriorating air quality, Brosnan said, and the 20 million people living less than 15 feet above sea level in island nations will face significant storm surge and economic repercussions as their land is swallowed up by the sea.
“In some areas, you’re like 100 feet of beach has disappeared,” said Brosnan. “… Where have people living this close to the sea gone? Where are they looking for new jobs? Where are they moving to? The islands will face a huge economic burden and they won’t have the resources to do so.”
The scorching heat will make summer even more. Agriculture and food supplies will suffer. People will . The cost of living will skyrocket. All of these factors — and more — will contribute to political and social instability around the world.
Countries have committed to reducing climate change factors under the Paris Agreement, and there are signs of hope with increased community engagement and rich countries showing “intentions” for net-zero emissions. Butagain in February that promises so far “were not sufficient to limit warming to 1.5°C without or beyond.”
Basically, it’s not enough. And the “window of opportunity” for a livable future, the group said, “will close quickly.”
But Hall said “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything” to cut back.
“On the contrary,” he said, “it just underscores the urgency to act.”
“Eight more years to bring the ship to life”
Blumstein, Brosnan, and Hall all agree that the future will look very different from what we know today. Urgent and large-scale action is the only way to make the harshest future realities more manageable. Blumstein says we have the technology and know-how to do it.
But, he said, “we’re really running out of time.”
“It’s not a ‘lack of knowledge’ problem. It’s a ‘lack of will’ problem,” Blumstein told CBS News. “When you put the environment in a geopolitical perspective, we see what a perfect storm we are facing right now.”
One of the biggest problems with this hurricane is not holding governments or companies accountable for their negative contributions or inaction in fighting the climate crisis, they said.
Just last week, for example, the Biden administration announced it would allow new oil and natural gas drilling leases for public land, a system he abandoned right after he took office last year.
“We’re seeing the Biden administration now go from, ‘hey, let’s support green energy’, to ‘hey, let’s pump more oil so we can solve geopolitical problems and prevent Russia from selling their own oil,'” Blumstein said. “That’s not good in the short term or long term. Pumping more oil in the short term won’t solve our problems. Exploring more oil in the long term will kill us.”
“It’s a mess,” said Brosnan. “… We don’t have a coherent transition policy at any level. Not for the government, not for the people, not for the private sector.”
“Personal choice matters”
Companies and governments are the biggest actors involved in the crisis, but scientists who spoke to CBS News explained that individuals also play an important role.
“That goes with paper straws, but it also comes back to what product you buy? What companies do you choose to support? Personal choices are important,” Brosnan said. “…How did you choose? Are you engaged?”
Individual choices and ongoing lifestyle changes, they explain, can help create broader conversations and create a sense of community around climate change and environmental health in general.
“If we don’t respect other people on Earth, we will never work with people who may have different beliefs to solve the problems we need to solve,” Blumstein said. “…This is truly an awakening of community spirit that will solve our problems.”
The sheer number of dire warnings from experts and a worsening climate catastrophe should be a “wake-up call”, Brosnan said.
“We’ve got eight years … eight more years to get the ship going,” said Brosnan. “I don’t mean just pushing a needle. It’s like turning a ship literally.”