I would challenge anyone to read the "bleakbuster" of a new report published last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and not come away with a deep feeling of dread for future generations.
The IPCC report shows clearly -- and convincingly -- that climate change will ravage food supplies, debilitate cities at or near sea level, and wreak havoc on species who have to adapt to new climate realities that will be imposed on every ecosystem in the world in record time -- literally no ecosystem will remain unscathed by climate change.
Very. Scary. Stuff.
Over the weekend, I was excited to appear on the Melissa Harris Perry show for a great discussion about climate change and the new IPCC report. As a resident of New Orleans, Melissa Harris Perry is someone who has lived through the kind of extreme weather events the IPCC report predicts will affect more and more of us, giving her perhaps a unique perspective among TV hosts (not to mention political science professors).
Check out this clip from 2012, in which Melissa takes viewers for a walking tour of New Orleans on the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, including a look into a Hurricane Katrina-damaged home that Melissa and her husband had just purchased (http://video.msnbc.msn.com/mhp/48788860). Within two short days of that report airing, Melissa Harris Perry's recently purchased home was completely destroyed, flattened by Hurricane Isaac.
Melissa's intro to our MSNBC segment on Saturday morning was excellent. As a big Hunger Games and Divergent fan she likened the future painted by the IPCC report to what these Hollywood blockbusters fictionalize as our "dystopian" future. Such bleak scenarios playing out in Hollywood blockbusters really do make me think that the "bleakbuster" might just be a new category of movie - or scientific report for that matter - brought to you by climate change.
No spoiler alerts necessary here though, the IPCC report doesn't say whether we end up literally fighting for food and water, that remains to be seen, but as one of the lead authors makes clear, "[w]e are now in an era where climate change isn't some kind of future hypothetical."
It's a remarkably alarming report and if it isn't enough to motivate us to act, then I honestly don't know what will be. The world's leading scientists are warning us, in absolutely no uncertain terms, that the ravages of climate change are here and now, affecting every corner of our planet earth -- every continent, every ocean and the very food sources we rely on daily. We can no longer wait to take decisive action to slow, stop and reverse climate change. The time to act is now.
The science behind the IPCC report demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that climate change has already cut into the world's food network with global crop supplies beginning to decline - especially for corn and wheat yields, which have already been negatively impacted by warmer temperatures. Unbelievably, wheat yields are already declining by about 2 percent per decade and maize yields dropping by 1 percent per decade. So what are we waiting for?
Well, most of our stagnation has had to do with the fact that the fossil fuel industry would rather not eat into its profits and seriously cut carbon emissions and as a result, they seem to believe that somehow our economic systems are bigger than the environment and the climate.
Senator Gaylord Nelson, credited with being the creator of Earth Day, wisely noted that "The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around", and what the IPCC report does is to build links between our economic systems and the environment, showing that "...recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability."
We can see in China, how unregulated pollution, with the environment put a distant second to uncontrolled development for just a few short decades, has literally made urban life in certain Chinese cities cinematically dystopian in its smog-ridden, polluted extremes.
So the harsh reality is that doing nothing, is in fact doing something...it's doing something terrible. Something terrible for our kids, and something equally terrible and irreversible for their kids. Doing nothing, the IPCC tells us, will lead to a situation where by 2100 "for the high-emission scenario....the combination of high temperature and humidity in some areas for parts of the year is projected to compromise normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors."
Changes in food and water availability will "disproportionately" affect the welfare of the rural poor as food prices will increase, triggering 'hotspots of hunger' among the world's poorest people somewhere in a wide range of 3 percent to 84 percent by 2050. Even 3 percent increases in food prices in places where food is already out of reach for many will lead to severe hunger for millions.
But poor or not, we are all interconnected, and even those who can endure price fluctuations or price increases cannot escape the tensions that can escalate in light of a dwindling food supply.
We must act now to fight climate change and we must start here, in the United States by limiting the pollution that causes climate change. In the U.S. power plants account for the largest single source of carbon emissions -- 40 percent -- yet these polluters are free to pump as much carbon as they want into the atmosphere. We already control for emissions of lead, mercury, sulfur and arsenic. It's way past time to also control carbon pollution -- the biggest driver of climate change.
The Obama administration has begun this process; the EPA has already proposed the first-ever carbon limits for new power plants and will propose limits for existing power plants in June. These limits, along with cleaner, more gas efficient vehicles that will go farther on less fuel are critical because power plants and vehicles together make up two-thirds of all sources of greenhouse gases.
We can never become un-interconnected again. Our fates are inextricably bound together by the consequences of past actions and our unwillingness to act decisively and wisely in the present moment and going forward. The IPCC report should rally everyone together around the need for decisive action, and for our debate to catch up with our reality.
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