“Better to be afraid and prepared, than happy and dead.”
― Lenore Stutznegger
Writing about politics, the economy, or the state of American democracy is becoming increasingly hard. Doom and gloom permeates just about every news cycle. In 2022 the crossover into how we live our lives on a day-to-day basis is getting just as difficult. Wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, extreme flooding, and a plethora of other climate related events are pressing topics that cannot be ignored. Americans find that their lives are increasingly susceptible to the ravages of the bugaboo de jour that Mother Nature serves up on an endless cycle year after year. People are dying, losing their homes, and generally holding their breath in hopes that the next round of cataclysmic events doesn’t fall heavily on their doorsteps.
The time worn adage that the governments of the world have everything under control is all but laughable on its face. Since December of 2015 when 200 nations across the globe met in Paris to discuss what could be done to address climate change, most of the world breathed a sigh of relief thinking that, finally, something was being done to meet this challenge head on and make a difference. Or so the world thought.
The Paris Agreement did the best and the least it could do to appease all of the participating nations to get them to sign on to the document. Think, herding angry, wild and feral cats. The scenario is akin to walking into a darkened room to find a time bomb set to explode in 3 minutes. Diplomats and politicians too often think first about their country’s needs weighed against stymieing economic growth even if the topic is saving the world. The two are often contrary to sane or prudent actions. The Agreement did acknowledge that the burning of fossil fuels by humankind “as the primary engine of economic growth” had to come to an end for both the largest and smallest of countries. An article appearing in Time Magazine just after the signing of the Agreement laid our the basic parameters of the deal which was as vague as it was insufficient. The article stated:
“The deal requires any country that ratifies it to act to stem its greenhouse gas emissions in the coming century, with the goal of peaking greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” and continuing the reductions as the century progresses. Countries will aim to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100 with an ideal target of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C (2.7°F).” Time
At the time the Agreement was touted as a significant step in the long road to stemming the devastating tide of climate change across the world. The Agreement called for a two step verification process. First the signing of the document then the individual nation’s ratification of it. Not all the nations involved stayed the course and signed then ratified the Agreement. The United Nation’s website states, “. . . of those 197 signed, only 190 have ratified the Paris Agreement. (America was onboard under Barrack Obama until 2017 when Donald Trump began the process of withdrawing America’s support and left the Agreement in 2020. Once in office, Joe Biden signed an Executive Order to rejoin the Agreement.) The Agreement can be seen as a modest success after years of climate denial by nation’s across the world.” UN Paris Agreement
As would be expected, a majority of the delegate nations were somewhat pleased by the Agreement’s modest success. It addressed everything from greenhouse gases to transparency to as “John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s director of federal and international climate campaigns, said the agreement included “all the core elements that the environmental community wanted.” Of course, there were also many naysayers. Some people thought the Agreement didn’t go far enough and more needed to be done. Then there are those like some of America’s conservatives who do not believe in the science behind climate change. Others like Friends of the Earth U.S. President Erich Pica said the agreement is “not a fair, just or science-based deal” because it fails to adequately address losses due to climate change in the most vulnerable countries. What to know . . .
Due to the unique structure of the Agreement, each country set their own goals in limiting the effects of climate change. Not every nation has met those goals. Still, most would agree that something being done is better than no progress at all. Right? The question is: are the goals being met enough to make a difference in the world by the end of the century? Everything said before comes down to this crucial question, and the answer lies within the realm of science and climatologists as it should be. This is where things get ugly.
The goal of eliminating worldwide greenhouse gases to ensure temperatures don’t rise above the 2°C (preferably 1.5°C) by 2021 was a compromise that nations of the world could sign off on in a show of solidarity. It’s an arbitrary goal hammered out during the Agreement that allowed attendees to agree to something acceptable without doing damage to the economies of both small and large governments. It was a noble gesture, and one that on the surface appeared to be a positive step in the fight to save the planet from devastating climate change. However, as in all things as important as fighting climate change, the devil is in the details.
On August 1, 2022, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published the findings of eleven scientific researchers from around the globe titled “Climate Endgame: Exploring catastrophic climate change scenarios“. The paper states, “They propose a research agenda into the consequences of global warming, specifically the worst-case scenarios they claim have been understudied.” Worst case scenarios? Understudied? It appears that the Paris Agreement’s stated goals were less than comprehensive when it comes to the actual reality of what climate change could entail for the future of the world. Most people who take climate change seriously understand on some level that bad things will result from not stemming the effects of climate change. The findings of the eleven researchers move the ball down the field bypassing the head in the sand approach the world used to deny or playdown the effect of the changes that could occur.
The paper is chock full of data, suggested outcomes, and extensively sourced to back up the paper’s findings. Fundamentally, the researchers say that by studying the “worst case scenarios” it will better inform the world on the steps that have to be taken to really understand what has to be done, and done quickly to save the planet and humankind. The abstract to the paper states,
“The proposed agenda covers four main questions: 1) What is the potential for climate change to drive mass extinction events? 2) What are the mechanisms that could result in human mass mortality and morbidity? 3) What are human societies’ vulnerabilities to climate-triggered risk cascades, such as from conflict, political instability, and systemic financial risk? 4) How can these multiple strands of evidence—together with other global dangers—be usefully synthesized into an “integrated catastrophe assessment”?
The authors cite the Toronto Conference declaration in 1988 the effects of climate change are ‘”potentially second only to a global nuclear war”‘. Additionally, they note, the catastrophic effects of climate change are poorly understood and need more studies by the world’s scientific community. They also give evidence attributed to the Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that “quantitative” estimates placing the warming increase at 3 °C or above.” This flies in the face of the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C to 2°C global increase by 2100. However, the Paris base is not altogether a superfluous figure. The paper notes by understanding the cascading effects that occur between now and the turn of the century at the 1.5°C to 2°C global increase in warming will better inform scientists on what measures are necessary to undertake to face the potential for worldwide catastrophe. The paper notes that the Paris Agreement settled on the figures they did because ‘”the culture of climate science (is) to ‘err on the side of least drama, to not to be alarmists”‘.
The key take away here is the “cascading effects” that will occur between now and the end of the century. While it is noble of the nations to sign on to the Agreement and work to achieve the modest goal of not going beyond the 1.5°C to 2°C global increase, it doesn’t ameliorate the damage already done, nor does it stop the damage that will continue as the years go by. This is where the cascading effect comes into play. Wildfires, famine, conflicts that will surely come as sea levels rise and people move across borders into neighboring countries are only a few of the scenarios. The fact that climate change is occurring at an unprecedented rate should be enough to alarm even the most die-hard naysayers.
Honestly, the report is so filled with data this post cannot adequately sum up the depth of information included in the paper. The upshot one might take away from the report is nations of the world cannot become complacent of the very real danger that faces the earth by 2100. When the researchers write about “global catastrophic and decimation risks” or “extinction threat”, they are not employing scare tactics. They are merely pointing out that many of the terms associated with global warming are not clearly understood and require further extensive research to help leaders and scientists to understand the dire consequences of not immediately confronting the future outcomes that the world’s societies will face down the road.
While this report is not “light reading”, the information is presented in a way that anyone can understand the findings they report in the paper. Please go to Climate Endgame: Exploring catastrophic climate change scenarios and see for yourself.