Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

10 Aug 2021

Heat warning

Posted by Michael Keating

The head of the United Nations says the latest report on the climate crisis shows the world has to stop using fossil fuels before it is too late. “The alarm bells are deafening,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.” The problem is that fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – supply more than 80 per cent of world energy and their use is growing at a time when we need to cut back. In the 2015 Paris climate agreement world leaders promised to try to limit the global temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees with a goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels. We are already at 1.1 degrees and are on track to blow past both targets.

Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis is the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of scientists whose findings are endorsed by the world’s governments. In more than 3,000 pages 234 scientists said warming is already accelerating sea level rise and worsening heat waves, droughts, floods and storms. The report comes at a time when unstoppable forest fires in Canada, the United States, Greece and Turkey are burning towns, forcing evacuations, and killing people. After setting a Canadian heat record of 49.6 in late June, the village of Lytton, BC was virtually wiped out by a forest fire.

Ruins of Lytton, BC after forest fire Credit: CTVNews

Arctic sea ice and glaciers are melting. So is the permafrost, releasing stored methane, a potent greenhouse gas that will increase global warming. Some effects, such as sea level rise and ocean acidification are irreversible for centuries to millennia. A number of low-lying island nations say they are facing “climate extinction” as rising seas will force them to abandon their homelands. People in cities are already suffering from air pollution from forest fires hundreds of kilometres away. Cities form heat islands as their pavement traps the sun’s heat and this will get worse, making life more hazardous for anyone without air conditioning. Warmer weather is allowing insect-borne diseases to spread north, including the debilitating Lyme disease which has moved into Canada. Ironically this is discouraging people from getting into nature at a time when we need to be more connected to the natural world.

We have a choice about how bad things get. It all depends on how much we are willing and able to wean ourselves from fossil fuels and other practices that release greenhouse gases. Three years ago, the IPCC said the world’s climate will reach a dangerous 1.5 degrees increase from pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030, bringing extreme drought, huge wildfires, great floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people. That report said global net emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” around 2050 to keep the warming to around 1.5 degrees

We are not on a good track. The International Energy Agency has warned that global emissions will rise next year by a record amount, much of driven by increased coal burning. What can you do? At a personal level, choose energy efficient equipment and turn it off when not in use. Reduce driving and look at getting an electric car or at least a plug-in hybrid. Limit meat consumption. We will have to make some big changes, including sacrifices of what we take for granted. Major decisions on what kind of energy is available are made by politicians and the energy companies. Real change will only come when a majority of people push their politicians and business leaders. Whenever you connect with a politician ask what they have done and what they are going to do to stop the climate crisis. Let them know you support policies that rapidly reduce our use of fossil fuels.

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