Its getting harder to stick your head in the sand over climate change, and not only because the sand is getting hotter.
Hundreds of the worlds leading climate scientists will issue a landmark report today. Their message, according to a summary released Friday, is clear: The world is getting warmer, sea levels are rising and humans are the primary cause.
And, for the first time, this warning: The worlds nations must reduce carbon emissions to a very specific level to avoid potentially catastrophic outcomes.
The report comes from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is the work of more than 800 scientists from dozens of countries, and its full of frightening conclusions. Among them:
• Carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere are at the highest level in at least 800,000 years.
• The last three decades were probably the warmest in the past 800 years and likely longer.
• The sea level rise of the past 200 years has accelerated faster than at any time in the past 2,000 years.
• Scientists are 95 percent certain that human activity meaning, burning fossil fuels deserves a majority of the blame for rising temperatures since 1950.
• Temperatures are likely to rise 0.5 degrees by the end of this century even with drastic cuts in carbon emissions, and up to 8.6 degrees without such cuts.
Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, said Thomas Stocker, the panels co-chair. It threatens our planet, our only home.
For the first time, the panel issued a limit for how much carbon dioxide can be emitted without raising temperatures by more than 3.6 degrees above preindustrial times, the internationally accepted level. That limit is 1 trillion metric tons of burned carbon. More than half that much has already been burned since 1850 and the planet will cross the 1 trillion threshold within 25 years or so without major reductions, one of the reports authors says.
The report is an urgent call to the worlds governments to restart international talks toward an emissions-reduction treaty. Such negotiations have floundered in recent years, but the IPCC report crystallizes the danger of inaction.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that hell call world leaders together next year to push for an agreement. The heat is on, he said. Now we must act. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested the U.S. would be a leader in such talks, calling the report yet another wakeup call: Those who deny the science or choose excuses over action are playing with fire. The costs of inaction grow beyond anything that anyone with conscience or common sense should be willing to even contemplate.
Not everyone has gotten the wakeup call, though. Despite near-unanimous consensus in the scientific community, there are those who deny climate change is happening, or if it is, that humans are at all to blame. They point to a lack of warming over the past 15 years while ignoring the clear trend over the 150 years since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
This crisis is easy for some to ignore because the biggest impacts might be felt after most of us are dead and gone. It is difficult to summon the selflessness and vision required to make sacrifices now for ill-defined benefits for generations hence.
So we stick our heads in the sand, even as that gets harder to do.
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