New Major UN Report on Climate Change Impact—Part I

3.3 Billion Humans Highly Vulnerable to Climate Change: NOW!

63-year-old with grandchild outside tent camp, after fleeing drought in Somalia.

 

Boolo Aadan, 63, who fled drought-stricken areas, holds 9-month-old grandchild outside the tent where they now live at a makeshift camp on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, February 4, 2022. Thousands of desperate families have fled a severe drought seeking food and water in camps for displaced people outside the capital.    Photo: AP/Farah Abdi Warsameh

3.3 billion people.  

Roughly half of the entire global population. This is the number of people who live in countries with “high human vulnerability” to the effects of climate change, according to the new IPCC report.

Let that sink in for a minute: over three BILLION lives potentially upended, threatened by superstorms, rising seas, catastrophic drought, deadly floods, mass food shortages, and the outbreak of climate-change-induced viruses and diseases. 

Over three billion people now live in countries that are in the crosshairs of the cascading climate crisis.

On Monday, February 28, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the results of its newest report, which UN Secretary General António Guterres called “an atlas of human suffering.” The report is the second of four reports. The first came out last fall and addressed the science of climate change and the current changing climate, which was reported on here at revcom.us and here in a video from the RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show

A wildfire in Argentina attributed to the burning of pastures for cattle ranching.

 

A wildfire in Argentina attributed to the burning of pastures for cattle ranching, which has been prohibited since December.    Photo: AP

The two key things addressed in this new report are 1) the impacts that the drastic changes in climate are already having, and future projected impacts, and 2) “adaptation” and “resilience”—evaluating how human societies are currently “adapting” to these changes, how they can “adapt” to further changes, creating in their view, “resilient” societies that can better withstand the coming storms.

This report is incredibly damning, both in what it says and in what is NOT said. While briefly outlining some of the key findings of this report, and what they mean for humanity and the planet, we need to highlight the fundamental obstacle preventing the climate crisis from being dealt with that is ENTIRELY ABSENT from this report—this system of capitalism-imperialism—and why it cannot be left in place but must be overthrown if humanity, the diverse ecosystems and the planet are to have any real hope.

Without this, there is a profound irony and contradiction in the report: While the efforts of the scientists are laudable in calling this alarm, the “adaptation” and “resilient” measures don’t even come close to—and are inconsistent with—addressing the scale, scope and nature of the problem humanity and the planet are confronting. Their very findings, scientific and rigorous, on the impact of global warming are even more horrific and dire than had been initially understood—the solutions paltry and illusory!

Worker fumigates to control dengue fever in Sumatra, Indonesia

 

A worker fumigates with anti-mosquito fog to control dengue fever in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, February 1, 2022. Indonesia is often hit with severe outbreaks of the mosquito-borne disease during the rainy season.    Photo: AP/Binsar Bakkara)

An Apocalyptic Nightmare

The details of the report itself are incredibly dire and unfathomably bleak. It reads like an apocalyptic nightmare, one that is getting worse every year. It both outlines possible future scenarios and describes the impacts already being experienced around the world: potentially irreversible destruction of crucial ecosystems; the collapse of agricultural systems and fresh water sources, as well as key infrastructure systems; and the emergence of new disease vectors.  Whole sections of the planet will become and are becoming unlivable for humans and other species.

Both the severity and the range of climate change’s effects are much greater than previously reported. And the window of opportunity to prevent the worst horrors of catastrophic climate change is rapidly closing. Besides what has already been discussed, here are a few key points from the over 3,600-page report, from the section on impacts:

  • Nowhere on the planet is safe from the calamitous effects of climate change—every inhabited region of the world is already being affected. For example:
    •  In Africa, agricultural productivity growth has been reduced by 34 percent since 1961 due to climate change, more than any other region.
    •  In Asia, we are already seeing increasing disease, malnutrition, and allergic diseases—because of vulnerability due to heat waves, flooding and drought, air pollutants, and more exposure because of things like the spread of insects which carry disease.
    •  By 2050 in Central and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia an estimated 31 million to 143 million people will be displaced because of climate change.
    •  By 2100, estimates of the number of people at risk from sea level rise range from tens of millions to hundreds of millions.
  • As the current effects of climate change are becoming more clear, past estimates about safe thresholds of warming are changing. The current warming is 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  Ten years ago, 2.0 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels was considered relatively safe. Very recently, 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming was considered the “safe threshold”—this report further strengthens the reality that even that will have devastating and potentially irreversible effects on humanity and the planet as a whole.
Volunteers in Connecticut help wetland restoration after Hurricane Sandy.

 

Volunteers in Connecticut help wetland restoration after Hurricane Sandy.    Photo: WikiCommons

The Ecological Changes Humanity Needs—NOW

The adaptation and resiliency sections of the report both survey and offer suggestions on future efforts to adapt human society to deal with the effects of climate change. Examples range from developing climate change-resilient agricultural practices, like drought-resistant crops; more storm-resilient urban planning; cultivating ecosystems such as wetlands that help temper the impact of sea level rise and increasing storm surge; and developing natural carbon sinks such as forests, which suck carbon dioxide out of the air and prevent it from accumulating in the atmosphere. 

These efforts are important initiatives, which revolutionaries need to—and can—learn from deeply. Efforts to save lives now should be supported—and it would be criminal to fail to prepare society now for the further dislocating and deadly impacts of climate change which are coming. But it has to be said straight up: implementing these measures without dealing with the SOURCE of climate change—this SYSTEM of capitalism-imperialism that is fueling this nightmare on a constant and growing basis, that is completely dependent on fossil fuels for its functioning, and which treats the environment as a source of cheap profits and a trash dump for its waste—is like using a bucket to bail water from a sinking ship. Without system change—without an actual revolution—we CANNOT deal with climate change or have any fundamentally meaningful “adaptation.”

Let’s say it again: Without system change—without an actual revolution—we CANNOT deal with climate change or have any fundamentally meaningful “adaptation” or “resiliency.” 

There are—quite starkly—two possible futures for humanity and the planet which are being posed here: one that leaves the world as it is, doing what we can to try stop the bleeding while the world burns and humanity is driven straight off a cliff; or, make revolution to put an end to this system that is causing these environmental horrors, with all the human suffering bound up with that, and bring into being a radically different and far better system

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