Editorial

U.N.: Climate change is real, and it’s getting uglier

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To the climate deniers, we say this: Wake up.

July was the hottest month in the past 142 years, since humans started recording climate data, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. July had previously been the hottest month ever recorded in 2016, 2019 and 2020.

What we are seeing now is climate change play out in real time, as predicted by scientists dating back to the 1960s and the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. As a nation, we have largely ignored the crisis, pretending it wasn’t happening, hoping the scientists had got this one wrong. They didn’t. We can see that now.

We can see it in the massive wildfires that have consumed swaths of the American West and southern Europe. California and Colorado may be on fire, but so are Italy and Greece.

No fewer than nine wildfires are now ravaging California. Exacerbated by extreme drought, the Dixie Fire has burned since July 13 and scorched more than half a million acres in Plumas and Butte counties. Need we say more?

The climate crisis is particularly worrisome for Long Islanders. We, after all, live on an island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Long Island Sound, which are predicted to rise because ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica are melting into the seas, causing water levels to rise, inch by inch, foot by foot, over decades.

The 195-member United Nations International Panel on Climate Change recently released its sixth Assessment Report, offering the consensus findings and opinions of thousands of the world’s leading climatologists. The warnings are dire.

When the IPCC began its work 33 years ago, it built some small level of doubt into its reports that maybe, just maybe, humans weren’t the cause of the Earth’s rapidly rising temperatures. Not anymore. In its most recent report, issued only weeks ago, the IPCC stated, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” As a result, the report continues, “Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”

Climate change works like this: We humans burn fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — to generate electricity and heat our homes and businesses. We also burn gasoline — which is made from oil — to power our cars, buses and trucks. That produces lots of carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change, which traps infrared heat that is radiated into space from the Earth’s surface, warming the entirety of the planet.

On average, human activities send 40 billion tons — tons — of carbon into the atmosphere each year. And here’s the thing: Despite our growing knowledge and awareness of the climate crisis, that volume of carbon continues to increase.

Between 2014 and 2016, amid negotiations over the Paris Climate Agreement, carbon emissions leveled off, giving us some hope that perhaps we might be headed in the right direction. But those emissions started to rise again in 2017, the year President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, and they continued to increase in 2018 and 2019, before falling last year during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when everyone stayed home, according to The World Counts, a website that tracks carbon emissions.

That we could, in fact, reduce our emissions dramatically during the pandemic should be cause for hope — not celebration, but hope. We are capable of limiting, even reducing our carbon output. We can seek and find alternatives to the old ways if we resolve to do so.

The continued warming of the Earth through the middle of the century is all but inevitable, according to the IPCC report. Ensuring that climate change does not continue past that point is, however, possible.

“Strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change,” the report states. Now, not later, is the time to commit to those reductions.

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