Getting Through the IPCC Gloom and Doom

Global warming is the most serious threat humans have ever faced, as clearly outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) second report this year on the topic. Back in February, the IPCC reported that the scientific consensus is that global warming is happening and that humans are causing it. Now comes the more sobering news: How badly we’re screwing it up.

The current and projected impacts of global warming are grim. The Summary for Policy Makers of the Second Working Group publication, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability reports that North America will experience more severe storms with large human and economic loss. Asia will see massive flooding from melting Himalayan glaciers, as will Europe. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will lose much of its coral and Africa will see up to 250 million of its people face water and food shortages. And some scientists claim that these impacts have been watered down in the report…

The last chapters note that adaptation to these impacts is going to be very difficult because of the cost and lack of infrastructure. It concludes that the best strategy is a mixture of adaptation measures and mitigation.

We can still avoid the most catastrophic effects if we diverge now from our business-as-usual path.

In the U.S., states and businesses are taking the lead in innovative energy and global warming solutions rather than waiting for action from a sluggish federal government. California has been talking to the European Union about joining its cap-and-trade program for global warming pollution, and companies from General Electric to Wells Fargo are implementing renewable energy and efficiency programs.

Is this enough? No way: It’s just a start. The U.S. government needs to get on board with setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions, as do China and India. This is a global problem that requires global solutions, but none of us should sit around pointing fingers and waiting for someone else to act first.

Here in the Upper Midwest, we are already starting to see the effects, from more humid summers to changing forest cover. I know we will see greater economic and environmental impacts if we don’t act soon, but I am hopeful that the U.S. will work more aggressively toward solutions through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and capping global warming pollution. When the next generation turns to us and asks “What did you do to slow global warming?” we must be able to say “We did everything – and it worked.”