Taking a Sobering Look Around
It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land. Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850. In 2019, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were higher than at any time in in the past 2 million or more years. Annual average arctic sea ice area has reached its lowest level since at least 1850, and the global mean sea level has risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in the last 3,000+ years. Human-induced climate change is already fueling heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons, and many other weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets, and global sea level.
We know these troubling facts to be true because of the scope and rigor of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an alliance of 195 member countries created by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988 to assess the science of climate change. At the start of August 2021, the IPCC released the first of three working group reports to be synthesized into the final report, slated to be finalized late 2022.
Though it’s difficult to confront the stark realities we’re presented with, the value and impact of this report cannot be overstated. There is a dizzying amount of data from every corner of our planet on the environmental conditions we now face and the threats we can expect to experience in the future depending on the actions we take now. It is a truly monumental undertaking for thousands of expert contributors to overcome language, geographic, political, and cultural barriers to reach a universal understanding of the current state of climate change. It is a gift to have such a robust assessment to inform our decisions. And it is up to all of us to act on it and ensure it’s impossible to ignore.
Charting a Path Forward
Thankfully, the AR6 not only offers a clearer view of our problems but also points us toward effective solutions and achievable goals. Reaching at least net zero carbon dioxide emissions, sticking to a carbon budget, and achieving strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in other greenhouse gasses (e.g., methane) can significantly reduce the level of human-induced global warming in our future and improve air quality. Intentionally removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and durably storing it in reservoirs can have wide-ranging effects. It can reverse the surface ocean acidification that is decimating marine life and habitat and positively impact water availability and quality, food production, and biodiversity. Though some climate changes will continue in their current direction for decades to millennia no matter what, the frequency of extreme sea level events, heavy precipitation, and dangerous heat extremes can be strongly limited. The global carbon dioxide-induced surface temperature increase can be gradually reversed.
At Southface Institute, the education and workforce development opportunities we provide, the research we conduct, the policies we advocate for, and the technical assistance we contribute at the intersection of the built and natural environments are all aimed at achieving the kind of climate mitigation and resilience outlined in the AR6. While the implications for us as a sustainable building and development nonprofit are apparent, the implications for all individuals, other nonprofits, small businesses, corporations, governments, and schools are just as significant, if not more so. Southface will spotlight each of these groups on our blog over the next several months to help you navigate this report and operationalize its findings in your personal and professional lives. We invite you to read the report yourself, sign up for our newsletter below, and follow Southface on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to join us on this journey to a healthy built environment for all. Donate to accelerate the progress we’re making today toward a thriving planet tomorrow.
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