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5 Reasons Our Changing Climate Is More Dangerous Than You Think

Our failure to give a crap is more frightening than flesh-eating fungi.

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That’s Glenn Scherer writing for the Daily Climate. This “authoritative voice” is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), put together by United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988 and comprised of the work of thousands of scientists from all over the world.

The IPCC’s assessment of what a warming world looks like is what world leaders have based their actions (or lack thereof) on at global COP meetings such as the most recent in Doha and the many previous. The IPCC has said that if we can’t stop global temperatures from climbing above 2 degrees celsius over pre-industrial levels we’re assigning ourselves to a future of catastrophic storms, droughts, floods, economic free fall, and disease. 

What the IPCC predicts is really bad. The worse news, as Scherer writes, is that it is guilty of lowballing the numbers. He writes:

...climate experts warn that the IPCC's failure to adequately project the threats that rising global carbon emissions represent has serious consequences: The IPCC’s overly conservative reading of the science, they say, means governments and the public could be blindsided by the rapid onset of the flooding, extreme storms, drought, and other impacts associated with catastrophic global warming.

"We're underestimating the fact that climate change is rearing its head," said Kevin Trenberth, head of the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a lead author of key sections of the 2001 and 2007 IPCC reports. "And we're underestimating the role of humans, and this means we're underestimating what it means for the future and what we should be planning for." 

A comparison of past IPCC predictions against 22 years of weather data and the latest climate science find that the IPCC has consistently underplayed the intensity of global warming in each of its four major reports released since 1990.

Here are some examples: We weren’t supposed to be seeing ice-free Arctic summers until 2070, according to the IPCC, but now it looks like it will be 40 years earlier. And so far, Scherer writes, sea-levels have risen 50 percent higher than their predictions. The next assessment from the IPCC is due out shortly (and the pre-peer reviewed report has already been leaked) and it is expected to be even more conservative. 

5. Human Beings

In many ways climate change gives us a chance to be superheroes — we don’t even need to don Lycra suits or capes. The collective “we” have the opportunity to save humanity (and our nonhuman neighbors) from a chain of unfolding disasters. But despite the efforts of some stellar individuals, hard-working groups and a few sane governments, we’ve utterly failed thus far. Money and politics have been our kryptonite. Climate deniers, the fossil fuel industry and complicit politicians have obstructed progress at every turn.

But in reality, we haven’t fought them hard enough. If we wanted to we could win, but we have to want to. 

What will spur us to action likely won’t be dire predictions, even if the IPCC nails the frightening science in its next report. We need a deeper societal shift in which we are able to fully understand the significance of our actions and truly care about their consequences. It will take a kind of compassion for our fellow humans and fellow creatures that goes well beyond a helping hand in the aftermath of a storm. In tough economic times when people live day-to-day, we have to also think long-term — generations down the line. We are both the cause of the problem and we are the solution — there is no other option. 

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