Earth in Crisis

“The jury has reached a verdict. And it is damning,” declared UN Secretary-General António Guterres this spring after the issuance at the UN of the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The report “is a litany of broken climate promises. It is a file of shame, cataloging the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world,” he said.

“We are on a fast track to climate disaster,” continued Guterres.

Guterres went on: “Major cities under water. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals. This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies.

“We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5° Centigrade [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit] limit agreed in Paris [at the UN Climate Change Conference there in 2015]. Some government and business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another. Simply put, they are lying,” said Guterres. “And the results will be catastrophic. This is a climate emergency.”

Guterres, who became the UN’s top official as secretary-general in 2017, is former prime minister of Portugal. Earlier, for 17 years he was a member of the Portuguese Parliament. He’s an experienced international diplomat, for a decade the UN’s high commissioner for refugees.

The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the UN, composed of experts from all over the world, declares: “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health.”

The UN report came as a parallel report was issued by a grouping of U.S. government agencies led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It, too, presented a damning picture.

The U.S. government report states: “Sea level rise will create a profound shift in coastal flooding over the next 30 years by causing tide and storm surge heights to increase and reach further inland. By 2050, ‘moderate’ (typically damaging) flooding is expected to occur, on average, more than 10 times as often as it does today, and can be intensified by local factors.”

The report says “sea level along the U.S. coastline is projected to rise, on average, 10-12 inches…in the next 30 years…which will be as much as the rise measured over the last 100 years.” The greatest rises are predicted in the report to happen on the East and Gulf Coasts.

And, the report notes, even if the world can slash the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas and their emissions – the main reason for climate change, seas will continue to rise through 2050 due to the global warming that has already been caused.

Sea level rise by 2100 “because of emissions to date” could be “about two feet.” And, “Failing to curb future emissions could cause an additional 1.5-5 feet of rise for a total of 3.5-7 feet by the end of this century,” it says. The uncertainty about the range is because of questions about how the world’s largest ice sheets will respond to rises in temperature.

Melting ice sheets add more water to the world’s oceans.

Meanwhile, as the reports were issued the Associated Press reported: “An ice shelf the size of New York City has collapsed in East Antarctica, an area long thought to be stable and not hit much by climate change, concerned scientists said.” An article on this in The Washington Post was headlined: “It’s 70 degrees warmer than normal in eastern Antarctica. Scientists are flabbergasted.”

And near simultaneously with the news from south of the globe, came another piece in The Washington Post headlined: “Record ‘bomb cyclone’ bringing exceptional warmth to North Pole.” The sub-head: “Arctic temperatures could approach the melting point as they surge nearly 50 degrees above normal.” (What’s being termed a “bomb cyclone” is a low-pressure storm that intensifies at breakneck speed and has been attributed to global warming.)

Low-lying Fire Island is among the ground zeroes of the impacts of climate change.

Kevin McAllister, a marine scientist and founder and president of the Sag Harbor-based organization Defend H20, gained his first environmental knowledge on Fire Island.

A native of Center Moriches, “as a child in the 70s I had free range to roam and explore,” he relates. He would take his boat across the bay from Center Moriches to Great Gun Beach on the eastern end of Fire Island. “I grew up on Great Gun Beach, spending literally weeks over there.”

He would go on to receive an undergraduate degree in natural resources conservation and a graduate degree in coastal zone management, and work as a marine scientist in Florida and back home in Suffolk County. It was Fire Island, however, that gave him his initial grounding.

And he has long spoken out about climate change and what needs to be done.

He praises the UN and the U.S. reports. The need is “on a global scale…drastically curtailing fossil fuel emissions,” says Materialist. And, “on a local scale it’s rethinking the current approach to rapidly rising waters… For the most vulnerable areas, the appropriate response is to move out of harm’s way. Our elected officials need to come to terms with the inevitable changes before it’s too late.”

Getting at the cause of climate change – mainly the burning of fossil fuel: coal, oil and gas – and not simply dealing with its effect, is key. That’s completely possible technically. The resistance is from vested interests: the coal, oil and gas industries, and their political clout.

Published in 2020 was the book “100% Clean, Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything” by Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. It details the huge potentials of “WWS” – “Wind-Water-Solar” – through onshore and offshore wind, wave and tidal power, solar photovoltaic and concentrated solar power and other green energy sources.

Green energy is the way out of the looming climate disaster. Dr. Jacobson is also a co-founder of the aptly named The Solutions Project.