Reaching the Threshold of Global Temperature Rise by 2040
The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that to avoid disastrous results from global warming, global temperature rise needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) not 2.0 degrees, as it had previously found. We have already passed the 1.0 degree mark, and scientists predict we will reach 1.5 degrees by 2040 unless unprecedented political action is taken.
Why 1.5 Degrees Matters
First, note that any changes in global average temperature are measured relative to pre-industrial levels. So since roughly 1850, our global climate has warmed 1.0 degree C, a level we reached for the first time in 2015.
The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement set out to urge countries to stop a global temperature rise of 2.0 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), as that was considered by scientists to be the threshold after which we would face catastrophic consequences including the loss of summer sea ice, sea level rise, mass die-off of coral reefs, and other disasters associated with hotter temperatures like wildfires and drought.
This latest report finds that not only is the 1.5 degrees the threshold for causing these types of events, but that 2.0 degrees of warming is a point of no return in terms of the world as we know it. For example, under the conditions of 2.0 versus 1.5 degrees warming, the sea level would rise 10cm higher, we would likely experience no sea ice in the summer at a rate of once per decade versus per century, and 99% of coral reefs will be destroyed versus 70-90%.
Why 1.5 Degrees Doesn't Matter At All
When, How, and To What Degree are questions that we may never have the precise answers to. This is because climate science and climate feedback systems are incredibly complex. Not only that, but we are in uncharted territory in human history, so we can’t predict the future based on any experiential past (as of May 2018, we had reached 410 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, the highest level in 800,000 years).
So, we may never know "enough" on a quantitative level to feel compelled to act, or to compel others to act. But on an emotional level, we already have the answers we need.
Acting Based on Feeling, without Fully Knowing
In many contexts, acting based on emotion rather than fact is viewed as rash. But to deny how emotionally provocative global warming is is to undermine our ability to respond.
The thought of irrevocably losing any (no matter the percentage!) of our coral reefs is incredibly sad. To witness an entire island nation disappearing from sea-level rise is morally affronting. And the list of emotions is as broad (fear, indignation, depression) is as broad as the spectrum of catastrophic events (drought, deforestation, flooding).
At September's Climate Week in New York City, Pachamama Alliance Co-Founder Lynne Twist spoke about how she found her sense of hope in facing global warming. As 350.org Founder, Bill McKibben, put it in his introduction of Lynne, Pachamama Alliance provides "The necessary antidote to my mild gloom."
Embrace your gloom, your hopelessness, and trust your emotional response. Only through trusting our feelings will we be guided into action.
Who You Are Guides What You Do
Arkan Lushwala, indigenous leader and Pachamama Alliance ally, puts the false dichotomy between facts and feelings another way: Don't ask what you can do, ask what you can be. As he explains in this short video, "What you can do is a consequence of who you are."
Find the aspect of global warming that makes you come alive, not the aspect that seems the least debatable. Because, as Arkan says, "what the world needs is people who have come alive." The world does not need more people who are unwilling to act because they don't have all the facts.