August 11, 2021

Environmentalists Weigh In On Climate Report

By Anne Levin

A report issued Monday by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that global warming is nearly spiraling out of control, and humans are “unequivocally” responsible.

The deadly heat waves, fires, huge storms, and other weather extremes that have caused death and devastation across the globe this summer are going to get worse in coming years, the report says. But fast action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions offers a small glimmer of hope that some impacts can be limited. Others are too far gone.

Local environmentalists say the report is not entirely surprising. “This is a very grim picture of the future of the world,” said Jim Waltman, executive director of The Watershed Institute. “But I can’t say I’m surprised, because this is the sixth in a series that has been painting a very bleak picture. In part, what’s new here is the use of the word ‘unequivocal.’ It is used over and over.”

Molly Jones, executive director of Sustainable Princeton, said the news is painful, but not unexpected. “I think it’s excellent that science continues to prove the truth we’ve all been made aware of,” she said. “But it is disheartening to see it is so highly driven by human impact, which is the main message.”

The report draws on more than 14,000 scientific studies. Unless immediate action is taken to reduce emissions, it says, the average global temperature is likely to cross the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit warming threshold within the next two decades.

“This is really a call to everybody to think carefully and deeply about their own behaviors and the institutions they belong to,” said Waltman. “How do those of us who care passionately, and that is a larger and larger majority, engage our policymakers? It’s not good enough anymore to just cut back. How do we get to zero emissions as quickly as possible?”

Jones said the report “further reinforces the urgency of the changes we’re trying to make here in Princeton.”

Last week, Sustainable Princeton shared the 2020 Greenhouse Gas Inventory for the Princeton Community, which shows that emissions went down during the pandemic. “We really want to make sure the community understands that it is temporary, and given the sense of urgency from the IPCC report, we can’t go back to business as usual,” wrote Christine Symington, Sustainable Princeton’s programming director, in an email.

There are ways to help. “The biggest thing to do is reduce your energy consumption, and make sure the energy you use is maximizing support of renewable energy — clean energy,” said Jones. “The more we all demand renewable energy going into our grid, like wind and solar, the better we’ll be.”

Being a conscious consumer by consuming less, knowing what you’re buying and where it comes from, is also key. “What you eat is one of the greatest examples of reducing your footprint,” Jones said. “Every day, we make decisions. And those decisions affect the planet.”

Waltman said there will be increasing numbers of government incentives to help people contribute to change. “And we need the technologies to get us down to zero emissions by finding ways to eliminate greenhouse gases from the atmosphere,” he said. “Planting more trees, saving forests, and thinking carefully when changing buildings and homes, are all important. How do we electrify everything currently running on fossil fuels?”

“I think what this report tells us all is that we can’t wait for other people to act,” said Jones. “It is us. We need to make the choice to change our own lifestyle and carry that out. We do not have time to point fingers. We need to all be acting now, and doing all we can to leave the lightest impact on the planet.”

From November 1-12, the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference will be held in Glasgow. The summit brings together leaders from countries across the world to accelerate work on dealing with climate change.

“It’s still in our hands whether the world truly triggers some cascading series of events, with melting glaciers and ice sheets and sea level rise we don’t even want to contemplate,” said Waltman. “We have to learn how to adapt to all of those ferocious natural forces we’re witnessing all over the world. And we have to double down, or it will get worse.”