The Race Against Climate Change: The Hopeful & The Irreversible

The recent IPCC assessment provided a harrowing glimpse into the devastating realities of climate change and the consequences to come. According to climate experts, the time for sweeping change is now.

Dr. Michael E. Mann is a distinguished professor of Atmospheric Science as well as the Director of the Earth System Science Center at The Pennsylvania State University. He was the Lead Author on the Observed Climate Variability and Change chapter of the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Scientific Assessment Report. His contributions to IPCC research were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and he received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 2019. A more extensive list of professional accolades can be found here.

Dr. Lonnie G. Thompson is a distinguished professor in the School of Earth Sciences as well as a Senior Research Scientist in the Byrd Polar Research Center at The Ohio State University. He has written hundreds of peer-reviewed publications, led over 63 field programs, and secured 76 research grants throughout his endeavors as a paleoclimatologist. He was awarded the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement in 2005 as well as the United States Medal of Science from George W. Bush in 2007. All of Dr. Thompson’s professional distinctions can be found here.

planet over profit
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On August 9th, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its most critical climate assessment to date, hastened by unprecedented global crises and a seemingly indifferent community of global leaders. Even from a distance, the daunting acceleration of global warming is undeniable as wildfires rapidly deplete the western coast of the United States, extreme flooding terrorizes countries like China and Germany, and record-breaking heat waves rip through temperate regions of the United States and Southern Canada. In the midst of widespread disaster and unyielding governmental agendas, The IPCC’s announcement of a ‘code red for humanity’ should not just be a call to action, but a roaring demand.

Despite a shrinking window of opportunity for global climatologists and world statesmen, climate experts like Dr. Michael Mann and Dr. Lonnie Thompson remain hopeful that the most recent warning signs may finally ignite radical change. Though the brunt of the damage already done is irreversible, Dr. Mann is optimistic that world leaders are moving toward a more sustainable future with climate crisis responses at the forefront. By focusing on disaster control and pushing more progressive environmental policies through Congress, political leaders can ensure a cleaner future for generations to come and buy more time for scientists to strategize against the unintended consequences of a war which humanity never meant to create, but through apathy and carelessness ushered along, nonetheless.

climate change
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“We can still prevent the worst impacts of climate change by acting boldly—the Biden administration has pledged to lower carbon emissions by 50% within ten years. The congressional reconciliation package currently working its way through Congress contains key climate provisions including a clean energy standard that would require utilities to move rapidly toward clean energy. There are also provisions that support resilience and adaptation, and that’s important since a certain amount of climate change is already baked in now. But there is no amount of adaptation that will allow us to contend with the impacts of climate change if we fail to act to reduce carbon emissions dramatically over the next several years.”

According to Mann, the primary solution does not lie in in the hands of concerned scientists or activists; instead, the responsibility to bring about real change rests on the shoulders of global leaders who must enact systemic change and policy to ensure that we, along with our planet, can persevere. Similarly, Dr. Thompson feels the urgency of the climate crisis and argues that the collective safety of humanity depends on the immediate enactment of preventative measures by national governments and international organizations alike.

of climate change
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“At this point, the issue is not if, but when, we will deal seriously with the causes and consequences of global climate change. We have only three options: mitigate, adapt, or suffer. Unfortunately, the window for acting on the first two options is rapidly closing, leaving us with the necessity of dealing with the suffering faced by existing and future generations. The Earth’s human population is projected to reach almost 11 billion by 2100, and as warming continues, climate belts shift, water resources diminish, and extreme weather becomes more common, the consequences that we are only just beginning to face will become dire for the entire planet.”

Though climate activism is gaining traction worldwide as more conscientious populations are heeding the warnings outlined by the IPCC, both Dr. Mann and Dr. Thompson worry that individual actions like recycling will simply not be enough to institute large-scale change. While more sustainable habits certainly aid in the fight against global warming, Dr. Thompson suggests basic changes like diet modification centered on less energy intensive foods such as vegetables and lentils as well as switching to more energy efficient appliances, vehicles, and power tools. Above all, Thompson encourages concerned citizens to turn apprehension into action by becoming involved in politics focused on long-term sustainability.

climate protest
Photo by Arnaud Gillard on Unsplash

“One of the most important steps a person can take is to become politically active in efforts that are focused on long-term solutions such as energy efficiency standards and large-scale conversion to renewable energy. We must urge our government to take bold and ambitious climate action now and our fossil fuel industry to triple their efforts to transform into the energy companies of the future. Only then will we be able to seriously address the consequences of human-enhanced climate change on our collective future.”

The worsening effects of climate change are inspiring a movement of more eco-friendly living as well as a desire among avid travelers to visit susceptible coastal cities and other at-risk regions of the world. Despite the necessity of feeding these local economies to fund and support more sustainable and precautionary infrastructure, transportation accounts for roughly 15% of global carbon emissions, so regular travel habits will also need to be adjusted in the coming decades. Though Greta Thunberg-esque travel via zero-emission sailboats is not feasible for most people, the young activist ignites a movement toward low impact travel from which we can all take notes. According to Dr. Lonnie Thompson, the essential changes are actually quite simple.

of climate change
Photo by Richard R. Schünemann on Unsplash

“We can avoid or minimize connecting flights, since airplanes consume most fuel on takeoff and landing. When possible, short haul flights should be avoided when other transportation, such as trains, are available. We can ask the hotels where we stay what they are doing to reduce their carbon footprint and recycling of water. We can limit the amount of luggage with which we fly. In fact, an interesting statistic used by some airline companies is that if a traveler packs one less pair of shoes (weighing 2 lbs), the annual reduced fuel consumption would be equivalent to removing 10,500 cars from the road for a year. We can all be part of the solution.”

Though no quick fix exists in the fight against global warming, immediate changes can make a resounding difference in the long haul, though the time to act is quickly running out. For decades, words of warning from distinguished scientists and activists have fallen on deaf ears during countless government panels, diplomatic meetings, and mass protests on the streets just beyond chief political offices. Climate experts like Dr. Michael Mann are watching, listening, and working behind the scenes to bring about comprehensive change that global leaders have ignored for far too long. After years of indifference from predisposed politicians, Mann’s message is loud and clear:

“This is the defining challenge of our time. And you will be judged by history on whether or not you rose to the challenge at this crucial moment in the history of our civilization.”

Without any time remaining for false promises or postponed reactions, a collective effort to protect the planet’s future depends not only on individual action, but on those we elect to enact comprehensive policies prioritizing ecology along with economy. With determined scientists like Dr. Mann and Dr. Thompson leading the charge, the race against climate change is humanity’s last chance to prove its resilience, to mend centuries of senseless damage, and to create a brighter world for many mindful generations to come.

Layne Deakins

Content Editor Associate

Layne is a Pennsylvania native who enjoys adventuring in nature, traveling, writing, eating, and spending precious time with her cat. Fluent in Italian, Layne jumps at every opportunity to explore the world around her, and she’s always planning for her next trip back to Italy.

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