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It's the end of the world. And we're not doing anything about it.

“Human influence … is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

By MELISSA WELLHAM

It’s the end of the world, and we’re not doing enough.

This week, a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was leaked to Associated Press, and the conclusions drawn therein are pretty dire.

In short: the world is ending. (That’s my wording, obviously. Not the UN’s.)

The “Synthesis Report” – which summarises three previous reports from the UN – is to be released in November after a conference in Copenhagen, so it’s not the final copy and still might be revised.
But if the final report looks anything like the draft, then we all have good reason to worry.

The report unequivocally states that, “Human influence … is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.”

What are these “abrupt and irreversible changes” going to look like?

1. We’re headed towards ice-free summers in the Arctic.

For one thing, we’re likely to see ice-free summers in the Arctic before mid-century. It’s also possible that Greenland’s entire ice sheet will disappear over the next millennium, which will contribute up to 23 feet to the sea level.

2. Living by the beach is no longer going to be very desirable.

Speaking of the sea level, the report finds that by 2100, sea level rise will have an impact on 70 per cent of the world’s coastlines. Which is a bit scary when you consider that “half the world’s population lives within 37 miles of the sea, and three-quarters of all large cities are located on the coast”.

The UN also points out that even if we act now, we’re likely to be facing significant and damaging changes (for human life, anyway) to the world we live in. As in, even if we stop emitting CO2 as soon as possible, the current carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels will stay in the atmosphere. Thus, the world will continue to warm, and we may see substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, [and] consequential constraints on common human activities.”

3. If we don’t do anything, there will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible” impacts.

We might see see ice-free summers in the Arctic before mid-century.

The leaked UN report explains that, “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

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If that sentence doesn’t scare you, it really should.

Because here’s the thing. We’re just not doing enough to stop it. The report talks about the ‘continued emission of greenhouse gases’ – and those emissions are going to continue, unless we act now. Man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history, and increased dramatically between 2000 and 2010, despite growing awareness around pollution and climate change. On top of that, global emissions are growing every year.

To keep temperature increases to the internationally agreed upon 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit the world would need to cut emissions between 40 and 70 per cent, between 2010 and 2050.

4. Humanity needs to act on climate change. Now.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann told The Huffington Post, “The report tells us once again what we know with a greater degree of certainty: that climate change is real, it is caused by us, and it is already causing substantial damage to us and our environment… If there is one take home point of this report it is this: We have to act now.”

Half the world’s population lives within 37 miles of the sea.

So, what have we learned from this? We will see continued examples of extreme weather – and by ‘extreme’ we mean ‘increasingly extreme’ – such as heat waves, flooding and droughts. We are also likely to see more violent conflict and refugee problems, due to global and regional food insecurity. We will see acidification of the ocean, which will harm marine life. And we will see “substantial species extinction”.

And our species – humanity – is just not doing enough.

Humans are intelligent, adaptable and pretty damn ingenious on occasion. But do we really want to figure out how to survive the coming climate change disaster, when we could be working to avert it? Or at least lesson its impacts?

It’s time to listen to what scientists are telling us – not politicians, not columnists, not your Uncle Bob – and give a shit about climate change.

The world may not be ending; it will always be there, rotating under the sun.

But the world as a place where human beings can survive and thrive?

That world is in danger.

If you want to learn more, visit The Climate Institute Australia.

If you want to join with a group agitating for change, visit the Climate Action Network Australia.

If you want to find out how you can make small changes in your everyday life to benefit the environment, visit 1 Million Women Australia.

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