In the dry scientific jargon of science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sent an unmistakable message last Sunday from Incheon, South Korea:
You won’t find those words in the immensely technical report, or even its 34-page summary for policymakers. But the people who study the inexorable warming of the planet say this report, just the latest from the IPCC, is different.
“It’s like a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen,” Erik Solheim, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said, according to the Washington Post.
Are we listening?
The clear answer is, we’re not. The Trump administration pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate accord, the world’s modest attempt to deal with global climate change. It also has rolled back a number of Obama administration steps aimed at lessening our use of fossil fuels.
There is so little faith that anything will be accomplished on the federal level, especially now that the nation’s most prominent climate change denier is in the White House, that several states have taken it upon themselves to act.
California appears to be the most aggressive, with Gov. Jerry Brown signing legislation requiring that all electricity come from carbon-free sources by 2045. There also is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state compact in the northeast that is seeking to reduce power plant emissions.
In Iowa, the alarm bells are sounding, too. This week, 201 science faculty and researchers signed the 2018 Iowa Climate Statement, urging that we need to prepare our buildings and communities for increased heat and precipitation.
“The strongest rainfall events of the year (annual maximum daily widespread precipitation) covering areas as large as a third of Iowa are projected to double in intensity (daily total rainfall) by mid-century, with most of this change coming before 2025. We must start now to adapt our built environment, including buildings and flood mitigation systems, to this changing climate,” the statement said.
The researchers say home and business owners should design, retrofit and re-envision our living spaces for a changing climate.
“Buildings obviously protect occupants from rain, yet with increasing precipitation, more than just a sturdy roof is required. Water may also enter a building from the foundation or walls. In particular, heavier rain events and higher water tables affect foundations, and standards going forward must reflect that.” They say buildings can be designed for rain screens, larger downspouts and gutters, steeper roofs and green roofs to provide greater runoff detention and insulation.
This is pretty sobering stuff. And all the more reason for governments, businesses and organizations to fill the void that’s been left by Washington, D.C.
To be clear, there is nothing that will substitute for concerted, worldwide action. The IPCC’s new report was alarming in what it predicted would be needed to keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels.
We’re not sure what the political solution is here. Raising the cost of carbon makes sense to us, but there are conservative voices who have said greater investments in technology and research and development efforts are the better answer. But to prompt any action from politicians, it appears the only answer is to raise the cost of doing nothing.
In addition to preparing our own environments for climate change, this approaching challenge needs to be top of mind for all voters – whether they’re casting ballots in congressional, statehouse, gubernatorial or county and city races.
Only by planting the idea in the minds of the people who want to represent us, at all levels, that doing nothing is unacceptable will action take root.
There are signs that the danger on the horizon is getting through to some people. The CEO of Occidental Petroleum, Corp., a U.S. oil producer, said this week corporations around the world should work together to reduce carbon emissions.
“We as corporations, we have to do our part. There are enough companies committed to making it happen,” Vicki Hollub said last week, according to Reuters.
Exxon, meanwhile, said it would donate to a PAC promoting a tax on carbon.
There is no doubt our politics is fractured on this issue. Two-thirds of Democrats are worried about climate change, according to a Gallup poll, but only 18 percent of Republicans say the same. It's encouraging that 70 percent of young people ages 18 to 34 say they're worried. But their day to steer our world is into the future. We may not be able to wait that long.