On a global, planetary level, it was like hearing we have the C-word: Cancer.
“‘Life-or-death’ warning: Major study says world has just 11 years to avoid climate change catastrophe” blared the Journal Star headline on the Associated Press story (Oct. 8, 2018).
According to the top scientific body studying the earth’s climate — the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — our ecosystem is dangerously ill, and there’s no time to lose if we’re to have a chance of beating this thing.
The equally prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services sounded its own alarm in May, reporting that 1 million species face near-term extinction without urgent action.
By 2030, the IPCC special report states the world must cut global carbon emissions 45 percent if we’re to avert runaway climate change. We have just 10 years to cut half of the carbon we’re now emitting globally or face worsening climate disruption — with ever hotter temperatures and rising sea levels, more extreme hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts and wildfires, not to mention droves of climate refugees.
In the past nine months, climate scientists, ecologists, geologists, public health experts, economists and many other scientists have worked up a course of treatment.
But it won’t be pleasant. The IPCC minces no words in stating that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” will be required. For Americans, who have the highest carbon emissions per person of any country in the world, cutting global emissions in half by 2030 will mean draconian alterations in our consumer lifestyles.
You have free articles remaining.
To mitigate the worst climate effects as well as adapt to the harsher conditions, we will have to adopt a way of life similar to that of “The Greatest Generation” during World War II, when all responsible citizens lived with reduced expectations, austerity and personal sacrifice.
Given that we’ve all grown up with the promise of ever-greater consumption, we’re in for culture shock. We will have to do with less, from energy to transportation to food.
Take energy. Ramping up renewable energy development is vital. But fossil fuels are so embedded in our consumer lifestyles that it will take years to wean ourselves off the carbon economy. We rely on carbon for lighting, heating, cooling and transportation and for manufacturing things including steel, cement and plastic. We will either curtail our consumption voluntarily or have reductions forced on us by scarcity.
Or take transportation. For a century now, Americans have regarded travel and mobility as right up there with "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But, if we are to halve our carbon footprint in time to leave our children and grandchildren a habitable planet, we’ll have to learn to stay put and make our communities our world as in great-grandma’s and great-grandpa’s days. Walking, biking and public transportation will be our modes of mobility. The days of driving all over the map and hopping onto a jet to see Husker away games will be over.
Then there’s food. To feed a projected 10 billion people by 2050 (as well as cut carbon emissions), meat is pretty much going to disappear from the menu. The World Resources Institute calculates that global per person meat consumption will have to decline to the equivalent of one-and-a-half hamburgers a week.
Pasture-raised livestock that eat grasses and are key to maintaining soil fertility will be our primary meat sources. But, to produce food to feed 10 billion hungry stomachs, arable land will need to be reserved for edible grains and legumes.
Instinctively, we’re going to be resistant to these changes in our lifestyles. We like things just the way they are. But the status quo is unsustainable. We have been living beyond our planetary means, and we either start changing the way we live or doom ourselves (and our kids) to an unspeakable future.
To survive, we will of necessity have to return to our roots and live in real community. Our neighborhoods and social networks will be our lifeline and cooperation and mutual aid our watchwords.
But to have any chance of avoiding the worst that climate disruption holds in store, we’re going to have to first face the facts of what scientists from multiple disciplines are telling us about this planetary emergency and then start preparing for what’s ahead.
Paul Olson is past president of Nebraskans for Peace. Tim Rinne is state coordinator for Nebraskans for Peace. They live in Lincoln.