The IPCC Report on Climate Change

Climate Change

We now know that Climate Change (aka Global Warming) is happening. But who’s keeping track of it? And what have they learned? And who will it affect? And in what ways? And how soon?

Helping you find answers to those questions is what this issue of OLLI Connects is about. We didn’t say “giving you the answers”. We don’t have the answers. And if we did, they sure wouldn’t fit in our standard weekly issue. But we can give you an overview in what we hope is clear English and provide you with links to more information.

So, let’s summarize. Our planet and the atmosphere surrounding it are large, but not infinite. And they are subject to the same chemical reactions that those beakers in your high school chemistry class were, but on a much larger scale.  Way more volume and a much longer timeline.

We started “heating the beaker” in the industrial age when we began to put carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere faster than natural forces could take them out. As our population and use of fossil fuel energy increased, the flame under the beaker got hotter. Eventually people in the atmospheric sciences and related fields noticed that “bubbles” were beginning to rise in the beaker and said “Uh oh!  This isn’t good.” And they began studying the phenomena.

This led to arguments and disputes, of course, because any major new knowledge is disruptive, and most of us hate to be disrupted. But, by now the portion of humanity that we’ll label as Having Their Heads On Straight agree that, yes, “Houston. We have a problem.” And we’re working on getting our minds fully around it, so we can solve it. Or adapt to it.

The key study group (and there are lots of groups working on this) is the IPCC: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, created by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988.  They issue a status report every year, and their sixth one began coming out—in sections—in August, 2021. The final part will come out in September of this year. You can jump to their summary so far here.

Here’s a brief synopsis of their key findings:

We are set to pass the 1.5 degree Centigrade threshold by 2040. (When we cross that threshold or tipping point, significant climate change will be upon us and will be irreversible with our current and projected near future technology.)

Humans are the main drivers of climate change. (And the only ones who can reverse it.  We can glare balefully at planetary wobble and sunspots, but they’ll ignore us)

We need to take notice of methane levels. (It’s 84 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20-year span)

We are close to reaching irreversible tipping points. (That is, even if we figure out how to stop it, we’ll be too late.  The “locking the barn door after the horse is stolen” issue.)

So, how do we know all this? Where’s the data supporting these claims? Well, here’s a “brief” starter set.

Overview of the IPCC Sixth Climate Assessment 2022

Part I of the IPCC Working Group Sixth Assessment issued a clear warning that global mean temperatures will reach 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees F) over pre-industrial levels within the next twenty years. Only the most ambitious cooperative effort will achieve stabilization at that level. Without a strict program of emission cuts the world may well warm by 4.4 degrees Celsius by 2100—with catastrophic results. Look through the following tiled gallery for a sampling of IPCC projection models.

Click on individual images for an enlarged view. Use the x on the upper right to exit gallery.

Part II of the IPCC Working Group Sixth Assessment measured the impacts of the current warming trend of just 1.1 degree Celsius, concentrating on widespread disruptions in every region and across every species. The study generated projections of warming through several crisis points, focusing on extreme heat and weather events, agricultural disruption due to drought, fires and saltwater intrusion, population displacements, flooding, and extinction level die-offs of both plant and animal species. Even if the cycle were to be reversed immediately, we are already locked into a near term future with an increase in extreme poverty and food insecurity at a global level, mental health and viral disease crises and destruction of critical coastal and arctic environments as well as massive tree death. Look through the next gallery for analyses of impacts and future projections.

Click on individual images for an enlarged view. Use the x on the upper right to exit gallery.

Part III of the IPCC Working Group Sixth Assessment examined developing mitigation procedures in the economic, industrial and agricultural sectors to reduce the heat rise curve. Drastic emissions reductions, carbon-restoring land management by farmers, loggers and ranchers, expansion of protected areas, and an emphasis on returning lands to indigenous peoples and using their environmental experience to develop ecological and sustainable agricultural and land use practices were prioritized in the adaptation analysis. The following graphs entail recommendations to policymakers.

Click on individual images for an enlarged view. Use the x on the upper right to exit gallery.

Now that the problem is in front of us and its basic shape is clear, what can we do?  Well, paying attention and staying focused will help a lot. Strengthen your ability to walk and chew gum at the same time, so you can respond appropriately to other hot topics without losing your focus on this one. There are things that can be done, and there are people who have the power to do them. (That includes you, but you’re in the choir and we won’t preach to you.) But the important things are hugely difficult and horrendously expensive, and nobody enjoys taking on tasks like that.  So, the people who can do them will need some encouragement from us. We’ll need to push. And yell and prod and cajole.  And keep at it.  For years.  The problem didn’t crop up overnight, and it won’t go away any more quickly.

And where do we begin?  Well, we can start with some of the links above.  Part of the solution will involve finding the primary drivers of climate change and reversing them and not wasting energy on trivial issues. And from there figuring out who has the power to slow and reverse those primary drivers.  And who has the power to “compel” those folks to do it if they’re not automatically on board. And many of them won’t be.

Then look at what advocacy groups are already out there working on this, and which ones are smart and focused enough to be worth joining or supporting. None of us has to reverse climate change alone, but Ben Franklin wasn’t far off when he advocated hanging together to avoid hanging separately.

That’s the end of today’s lesson. Your homework is to start thinking about how you’ll help save the planet. What else have you got going that’s equally important?


Al Carlson Headshot

After retiring from a long career as a Librarian, Al Carlson happily discovered OLLI. So far, he’s taken courses in geopolitics, religious fundamentalism, Greek mythology, genomics, and bio-inspired design. Plus a handful of technology courses.

This is his second time around as an editor, although the first time was so long ago that an IBM Selectric typewriter was considered cutting edge technology. Al now lives in North Carolina, near Durham, but Zoom and other Web tools make that distance irrelevant.

Theresa D’Aiuto Sokol was a performing artist, teacher and director. Experienced in opera, concert, and chamber music, she lived and worked in Germany and sang a wide range of repertoire on three continents. She was Opera Director at USF where she staged two productions annually for a decade, and directed opera, musicals and theater in regional venues. Theresa holds a B.M. and M.M. in vocal performance from Manhattanville College and USF, and trained privately in NYC with professionals from Juilliard, Curtis and the Metropolitan Opera and in Europe. In her retirement she enjoys languages, baking, blogging, bridge and video editing.

8 Replies to “The IPCC Report on Climate Change”

  1. Impressive! Clear and well-organized. Calls for a re-commitment to doing all in my power to save this, our one and only home.

  2. This is a very chilling (not a pun) piece, very well written and presented. An excellent summary of relevant knowledge.
    I echo Linda.. it’s a call to action, and it broaches the all-important issue: what levers will work for creating change in the underlying institutions which profit from denying the climate crisis.

  3. Very informative and a call for actions by everyone.
    Thank you, Theresa, for the impressive video clip of the UPPC report!

  4. Al and Theresa: thank you for a very powerful presentation and for asking
    “ …where do we begin? “
    I suggest three places: PEACE, PEOPLE, PLANET

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