Climate Change Isn't the Future - It's the Present

Jonathan Strickland

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its latest report, an update to the 2007 report that warned us that not only was climate change poised to happen but also that human activity was the most likely cause for much of it. The update reveals that climate change is taking place around the globe and is already impacting human populations.

Three working groups contributed to the report. The first concentrated on the physical science basis of climate change. The second looked at how climate change could affect us and how some communities are adapting to changing climates. The third assessed how to limit climate change.

Some of the stories are positive -- the second working group detailed examples around the world of how people are making preparations to adapt to climate change. In the past, addressing adaptability was a controversial idea -- some climatologists worried that by focusing on adapting people would ignore the message to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions and other climate-affecting behaviors. But now most agree that the best strategy is to pair adapting for climate change with mitigating it.

The adaptation stories range from communities in Bangladesh that have strengthened sea walls against cyclones to New York City issuing a mandate to Con Edison to better protect the power grid infrastructure from weather events. The positive spin here is that there are communities around the world acting right now to limit the impact of climate change on their populations.

But the fact is that climate change will continue to happen. We can help slow it by continuing efforts to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions but that's easier said than done. Even as some wealthy nations have made progress in limiting emissions, other developing nations have more than taken up the slack. And it's hard to pressure a nation with an enormous population like China or India to slow down on industrial progress.

Perhaps the grimmest revelation in the report is that the poorest people in the world stand to suffer the most as climate change continues. These are people who have contributed the least to global climate change -- they live in underdeveloped, impoverished areas that already struggle to grow enough food to support populations. Scientists have discovered that climate change can have a severe impact on food production, putting these people at even greater risk.

It's my hope that we can continue to come up with alternative means to generate the energy we need to be successful while simultaneously cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions. I also hope that humans can continue to make progress as a global community, sharing some of the responsibility for our species' well-being amongst those countries that can carry the burden. It's a lot to ask for but humans have done some amazing things in the past. We just have to commit to the goal and accept the challenges as they come.