I’ve condensed the IPCC report into a cheat sheet. It’s more terrifying than you can imagine

This is Part 1 in an occasional series of Cheat Sheet posts geared at getting us engaged fully in global warming. Many around me are struggling to absorb the information and to grasp the immediacy of the catastrophe we face. So I said I’d write this series as the pertinent information rolls in. 

Part 1 here gives a digestible rundown of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (IPCC). Read the rest of them here.

What is the IPCC Report and why should you know about it?

This is the MEGA, WHOPPING, SCARY and SCIENTIFICALLY LEGIT report released by the United Nations’ scientific advisory board’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It sums the work of the leading climate scientists and was released October 2018. It is THE definitive report that has got the world panicked, finally, providing a terrifying, but unavoidably true, picture of what the world will look like in 2030 and 2050 based on our level of action or inaction. You have to know about it. Most activity and discourse since draws on it.

The report is based on more than 6000 cited studies, written by 91 authors from 40 countries and pivots from the Paris agreement targets. It is a collective scream, never heard before from such a body. I’m sorely tempted to inject hyperbole and exclamation points. But we’re numb to such things. Aren’t we.

The IPCC scientists basically hit the panic button.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”The climate scientists use the words genocide, apocalypse and dire. They. Are. Freaking. The F*ck. Out. And invite us to do the same.” quote=”The IPCC scientists use the words genocide, apocalypse and dire. They. Are. Freaking. The F*ck. Out. And invite us to do the same.” theme=”style3″]

What follows is a digestible rundown of this shit sandwich via good overviews in the news to enable us all to share the woke word with a bit more ease over water coolers etc.

I’ll help you cheat further – the Intelligencer piece a third of the way down is the long-form read you should choose if short on time. I’m not an expert. I just read a lot and I’m sharing what the algorithms might have buried in your news feed. Please do share any other links or helpful through-lines with me on the socials.

The Sarah Wilson IPCC Cheat Sheet

I’ve highlighted the salient points from what are quite complex reads. I don’t expect many of you have time to read the report itself, but invite you to read the whole articles I link to when you have time.

  1. This New Yorker article explains how even hitting the Paris targets (that no one is hitting) will see the planet ruined by the time your toddler is your age. 

That 1.5 C temperature increase goal that the scientists are trying to get everyone to agree to? Yeah, well, to have even a vague chance of hitting it, the whole world will have to halve emissions by the time young kids today hit high school (2030), and be reduced to zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Alarmed? It gets worse. All the scenarios that the IPCC could come up with to limit warming to 1.5 C rely on some kind of “carbon-dioxide removal”, essentially technologies to suck CO2 out of the air (while we cut back on the emissions). But, shit! such technology doesn’t exist. And is decades from coming to fruition.

2. This essay spells out how bad life will look by 2040 if we stick to current targets. And confirms we won’t meet that target anyway…it will be way worse.

If we achieve a “mere” 1.5C increase (which we can’t):

  • In just 20 years from now, at least 10 million people will be living in permanent inundation. That is, they’ll be under water. Think Rio de Janeiro, Miami, Osaka.
  • 99% of coral reefs will be dead, including the Great Barrier Reef. Gone. Forever. Got young kids or grandchildren. Think about this.

But once again:

“Even if every country met the commitment it made in the Paris Agreement, the temperature would still increase to 3 degrees above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.”

Oh, but it gets even worserer:

“If the world continues burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases at the current rate, it could rise by 4 degrees—a fact that the Trump Administration, which withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, in June, 2017, (has) acknowledged.”


3. This Intelligencer article in New York magazine lays out what the world will look like at 2C, 3C and 4C (the more likely scenarios!).

It points out that “civilisation is at stake” and refers to things as “climate genocide”. It stresses that the consensus is a 4 degree increase is most likely and breaks down how the pot will hit boiling point.

At 2 degrees:

This is the expected (and still ambitious) increase by 2040.Twenty years away. Guessing most reading this will be alive?

  • The melting of ice sheets will pass a tipping point of collapse, flooding dozens of the world’s major cities this century.

It is predicted New York City will be flooded within 30 years. Will Manhattan be ready? Nope.

“Even if we began building (a sea barrier) today, the barrier would not be finished in time to save Howard Beach and other parts of southern Queens and Brooklyn.”

  • Global GDP, per capita, will be cut by 13 percent.
  • 400 million more people will suffer from water scarcity, and even in the northern latitudes heat waves will kill thousands each summer. It will be worse in the planet’s equatorial band. There would be 32 times as many extreme heat waves, each lasting five times as long and exposing, in total, 93 times more people.

At 3 degrees: 

Which is the conservative expectation for the state of the world by the end of this century…when your grandkids are having their adulthood?

  • Southern Europe will be in permanent drought. The average drought in Central America would last 19 months and in the Caribbean 21 months. In northern Africa, the figure is 60 months — five years.
  • The areas burned each year by wildfires would double in the Mediterranean and sextuple in the United States.

At 4 degrees:

The more likely scenario for 2100.

  • There would be 8 million cases of dengue fever each year in Latin America alone.
  • Global grain yields fall by  50 percent.
  • The global economy will be more than 30% smaller, and we would see at least half again as much conflict and warfare as we do today. Possibly more.

This bit made me weep and stare at my screen wide-eyed:

“If you are alarmed by those sentences, you should be — they are horrifying. But it is, actually, worse than that — considerably worse. That is because the new report’s worst-case scenario is, actually, a best case. In fact, it is a beyond-best-case scenario. What has been called a genocidal level of warming is already our inevitable future. The question is how much worse than that it will get.”

[click_to_tweet tweet=”What the scientists are saying is, “you now have permission to freak out.”” quote=”What the scientists are saying is, “you now have permission to freak out.””]

You can get some visuals of the difference between 1.5C and 2C here. And here.

4. How long do we have to change things RADICALLY?  The United Nations says 10-12 years.

I will discuss what needs to happen for change to be effective in following posts. For now know this:

To avoid racing past warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels would require a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of human civilization at a magnitude that has never happened before.

This article says 10 years is not soon enough.

5. recent paper in Nature puts our current chances of keeping global heating to less than 1.5C at just 1%,

…and less than 2C at only 5%. Why? Because GDP is outstripping any attempts to reduce emissions. 

It’s now or never, friends. The question is do you want to do something or claim it’s too hard or (the common repose I hear), you’re kinda sorta doing some stuff already (to which I say, is it enough?). Please share this post widely. Talk about it with friends. Act. Now! Get woke! Please?

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