Earlier this month, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Synthesis Report for the Sixth Assessment Report, drafted by 39 scientists from across the world. The report included a summary for policymakers, a longer report, and 18 headline statements with “high confidence” ratings (e.g., Adaptation Options and their Limits in a Warmer World, The Benefits of Near-Term Action, and Synergies and Trade-Offs with Sustainable Development).
The international media has churned the synthesis report through its news cycles. Environmental groups continue to offer analyses and fire up their supporters. Now, you and I are called to digest this updated climate reality, gauge our emotions, and choose our response. Maybe these excerpts from others will help.
From Future Crunch’s reporting team:
The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment has concluded, the culmination of eight years of work tying together all of the IPCC reports from the last few years into one handy summary of summaries. The bad news is that we are not going to keep warming under 1.5°C. After more than a century of insinuating itself into every aspect of humanity’s political and economic systems, the monstrous octopus that is the fossil fuels industry has proven stubbornly resistant to change.
Despite decades of increasingly desperate warnings from scientists and years of concerned promises from politicians, governments and banks continue to fund new coal, gas and oil, and emissions continue to rise. The gap between rhetoric and action has become depressingly familiar. Another Code Red is issued, the headlines warn of impending doom, but within a few weeks a crisis that will affect the future of all life on Earth is forgotten as the news cycle moves on.
This time though, something is different. The IPCC will not report again until the end of this decade, but it leaves us with the message that there are now feasible, affordable and effective solutions on the table, something that simply wasn’t the case two or three years ago. As climate scientist Bronson Griscom says, “the highway to hell now has exit ramps.”
Viewed this way, the report is not just a stark warning but a reminder of what a gift it is that we have the means to start rapidly cutting emissions, putting 2°C within reach. The big question now is where we land. A world where temperatures rise by 1.65°C is poles apart from one where we overshoot by 1.95°C, and the difference will be determined by what happens in the next seven years. Every type of reduction now counts. We fight for every hundredth of a degree and try to remember the prize that awaits on the other side.
From The Nature Conservancy’s Chief Scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe:
The new report shared a lot of bad news, which isn’t shocking. In short, climate change is affecting every aspect of our lives, and we aren’t doing enough to curb our emissions.
The report reiterates what we already know: every bit of warming matters. The warmer the planet gets, the greater and more severe the changes in both average climate and climate and weather extremes. These affect our food, our water, the safety of our homes, our own health, our economy, and the natural environment. The “experiment” we’re conducting with our planet is unprecedented, and it puts us all at risk.
We are not doing nearly enough to avoid dangerous impacts, let alone achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement. In the words of IPCC chair Hoesung Lee, “the pace and scale of what has been done so far and current plans are insufficient to tackle climate change. We are walking when we should be sprinting.”
The report is clear that there is hope. We already have the solutions we need to tackle this issue now. Not only that, but they benefit us in so many ways. Climate solutions including efficiency, clean energy, regenerative agriculture, and green infrastructure increase our resilience and accelerate the transition to a clean energy future while simultaneously improving health, equity, justice, and even economic concerns.
From WIRED’s Matt Simon:
Today, the plummeting price of renewables is helping humanity decarbonize: Wind energy prices dropped by 55 percent in the 2010s, the new report notes, while solar power and lithium ion batteries got 85 percent cheaper – much cheaper than researchers had anticipated. Lower prices have allowed for the proliferation of solar panels, reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Scientists are scrambling to figure out where to put them all, like on rooftop gardens and croplands, over canals, or floating on reservoirs.
The report “makes it clear that the world has made some progress on climate change—there is some good news,” says Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Stripe and the nonprofit Berkeley Earth, who wasn’t involved in the synthesis. “At the same time, there’s such a big gap between where we are right now—and even where countries have committed to be by 2030—and what is needed to meet our most ambitious climate targets.”
The future is uncertain. When scientists model climate change, they imagine different scenarios in which humanity reduces emissions, keeps them steady, or increases them. These models spit out a range of figures for potential warming. Not long ago, scientists were estimating that an increase of 4 or 5 degrees could be possible, given emissions trajectories. But modeling last year by Hausfather and his colleagues found that if countries stick to their reduction pledges, we could keep warming under 2 degrees. “We can be cautiously optimistic about the direction of these trends, and also realize that technology’s not going to save us all by itself,” says Hausfather. “Without stronger policies to propel these adoptions, we’re not going to meet our targets.”
From The New York Times’s Somini Sengupta:
Perhaps its most infuriating observation is also its most encouraging. The report lays out many known remedies and shows what would make the biggest difference to keep warming as low as possible, and also adapt to the climate hazards that are now inevitable. Expand solar and wind power. Improve energy efficiency. Make cities more friendly for walkers and cyclists. Reduce nitrogen pollution from agriculture. Eat better. Reduce food waste.
The report defines climate remedies broadly. It also urges strengthening social safety nets for those most vulnerable, including health insurance. It struck me that many of these changes don’t mean giving up good things. It could mean having more good things, like exercise, cleaner air and better public health.
It does mean giving up one big thing that is the main driver of warming: fossil fuels. The emissions produced by existing oil and gas installations, coal-fired power plants, gas and diesel guzzling trucks, and factories that burn fossil fuels would blow past the critical warming threshold.
From GreenFaith’s rev. abby mohaupt:
If I’m honest, the report made me afraid. As a parent and faith leader, I feel called to work for climate justice, and this report made me wonder if our work has been in vain. But what this report also shows us is that clean energy costs have dropped drastically, making a just transition with green jobs and a livable future very much within reach. So, what’s the path to that beautiful future? According to the IPCC: “Political commitment, as well as the re-direction of global investment and finance.”
From HEATED’s Emily Atkin:
In 2021, you couldn’t find the words “fossil fuels” anywhere in the IPCC’s summary for policymakers on the causes of climate change. Neither could you find fossil fuels in the second report’s summary for policymakers. But last year, things started to change. In April 2022, the IPCC cited “fossil fuels” 44 times in their 50-page summary report. And on Monday [March 20], the world’s top authority on climate science continued the trend, using the phrase “fossil fuels” 16 times to call out the actual cause of the crisis.
In the 37-page summary of its latest report, the IPCC said the world’s current use of fossil fuels will push the planet to dangerous levels of warming by the early 2030s. This dangerous warming, if left unchecked, will disproportionately harm the people who contributed least to the problem, it added.
But the IPCC said there’s still time to correct this. And there’s only one way to do it: “A substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use.” Here are some of the new report’s most important takeaways about fossil fuels, which reporters and activists should start citing ‘til the cows come home:
- Keeping the world at safe levels of warming (1.5°C) will require “abatement” of existing fossil fuel infrastructure.
- If we build all the fossil fuel infrastructure that’s currently planned, we have an 83 percent likelihood of reaching dangerous, irreversible levels of warming (2°C).
- Achieving net zero requires “a substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use.” It also requires us to leave most unextracted fossil fuels in the ground.
- Getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies would be a great way to reduce emissions, so long as the removals are structured in a way that doesn’t harm vulnerable groups.
In short, the IPCC – which always errs on the conservative side – said with high confidence that we’re going to be trapped in an unlivable world unless we break society’s addiction to fossil fuels.
From The Washington Post’s Shannon Osaka:
Worry – and even occasional despair – about the climate crisis is normal. Most scientists believe that, without deeper cuts, the world is headed for 2 to 3 degrees Celsius of global warming. But higher temperatures are still possible if humans get unlucky with how the planet responds to higher CO2 levels. Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute, has said that while humans probably won’t go extinct due to climate change, “not going extinct” is a low bar.
“It’s a question of risk, not known catastrophe,” Zeke Hausfather, a contributing author to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said.
But finding the balance between constructive worry – that is, concern that motivates you to do something – and a sort of fatalistic doom is difficult. Nowadays, climate scientists try to emphasize that climate change isn’t a pass/fail test: Every tenth and hundredth of a degree of warming avoided matters.
For his part, recovering climate “doomer” Sean Youra has advice for those who are suffering from the same sort of fatalism that he once felt. “Stop engaging excessively with negative climate change content online and start engaging in your community,” he said. “You can be one of those voices showing there is support for the solutions.”
From The Conversation’s Josh Ettinger
Rather than hoping that others will read about the new IPCC report in the news, here’s an alternative idea. Send someone you know a link to a news article about it, or even the report itself, then have a discussion about it. Ideally, try to engage someone who doesn’t normally talk about climate change. Here are a few conversation tips to consider if you decide to raise the topic:
- Listen more than you speak
Remember, it’s a two-way conversation, not a lecture. Focus on asking questions – what do they think about climate change? How do the conclusions of the new IPCC report make them feel? What do they think we should do about it? Really try to listen to what they have to say rather than interjecting your own views…
- Affirm emotional responses
Climate change can spark diverse emotional responses in different people. Some might feel angry, fearful and worried, while others might feel hopeful and optimistic. If your conversation partner expresses emotional sentiments, it’s not your job to judge these feelings. Simply affirm that it is a complex topic and that it’s OK to feel the way they do. At the same time, don’t be afraid to push back against claims that the world is absolutely doomed.
- Tailor the conversation
Find ways to adjust your conversation based on what people are interested in. Researchers call this “tailoring.” You do not need to do this surreptitiously – simply express that you’d like to explore what climate change means to them. … The key is to find ways to help people connect the dots between what they already care about and acting on climate change.
- Embrace uncertainties
IPCC reports are very carefully calibrated with levels of scientific certainty. Likewise, you do not need to know all the answers on climate change. In discussions, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. ”
- Explore actions together
Before ending your discussion, try to pivot to action. The new IPCC report makes clear that feasible climate solutions already exist for every sector, and that individuals have an important role to play. Explore what steps you might be able to take together… If your conversation partner is ready to act, make plans. If they are hesitant, suggest that you can follow up at a later point. If they respond negatively to the idea of taking personal climate action, agree to disagree and try to end on a positive note. Even if no direct outcomes arise out of your discussion, remember that simply having a climate conversation is a significant accomplishment.
If you’re ready to engage more intentionally with others who wrestle with the emotional pendulum swings of doom and hope or powerlessness and agency, you’ve come to the right place. If you want to participate in local action, spiritual exploration, and creative response, we’re holding the door open for you. We all benefit from the support of a heart-aligned community, and UUCA’s Climate Action Team may be a perfect fit for where you are in this long march to protect our planetary home. For now, let yourself be refueled by this recording of Pete Seeger:
Step by step, the longest march
Can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch
Singly none, singly none
And by union what we will
Can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill
Singly none, singly none
• • •
JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team extends a radical welcome to activists, contemplatives, readers, meditators, questioners, tree hugging hippies, scientists, policy wonks, radicals, pacifists, nature enthusiasts, and all who seek community as we navigate our changing times together. Learn all about the group here, and check out our lending library and Carbon Offset Fund grant opportunity. Contact Nicole Haines to connect to the CAT and join us on Zoom for our next monthly meting on Monday, April 17.