Updated: Sep 11
Around the beginning of August 2021, you probably noticed a whole lot more buzz than usual around climate change. Almost every news outlet was covering it—and with some pretty intense statistics in the headlines. This was due to the release of the first report of the sixth IPCC climate change assessment, which reveals the most current scientific understanding of the state of our climate.
Even though the hype has died down since its release, the effects of climate change haven't. To summarize, much of North America is either burning or flooding (at the time of writing this blog post). Also, the ocean caught on fire. So things are looking pretty grim.
As lovers of the outdoors, it's vital to learn what's happening to our planet so we can try to protect it and reverse some of our mistakes. If you don't have the time, brains, or background knowledge to try to understand the IPCC report, you can still explore and learn from it. We've tried our best to pick things apart and tell you everything you need to know.
What Is the IPCC, Really?
The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is led by the UN. It basically acts as a climate change task force to evaluate how we're doing. It's made up of 195 countries and thousands of individual scientists who help write reports from all over the world. If anyone's going to have something useful to say about climate change, it's them.
The IPCC was created to keep both the UN and the general public up-to-date with the current state of the climate. It also communicates with policymakers, who can (and hopefully will) help create better standards and laws to regulate things like greenhouse gases and save our planet. 🌎
And What's the Report For?
This report is part of the IPCC's sixth assessment of our climate progress. The assessments started in the 90s when people started to realize how badly we were screwing up the planet and wanted to do something about it. Each assessment is actually a series of reports, and the one that came out at the beginning of August is just the start of this assessment.
This first release is the Physical Science Basis, which tells us more about the physical effects of climate change that we're seeing right now. This includes global warming, weather changes, and other tangible representations of the planet's climate-related issues.
There are going to be three more reports in the Sixth Assessment Report: Mitigation of Climate Change, Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, and the Synthesis Report. These are all coming out in 2022. Each one goes through a long review process, so it'll be a while before we can see them.
What Does the Report Say?
The report is pretty long, so here are some basic facts to summarize. There's a lot more in there than just this, but it can be hard to take in everything at once (especially for dummies).
Compared to the year 1900, global average temperatures have risen by 1.1 °C. This might not sound like a lot, but the planet hasn't seen that level of change in 125,000 years.
The sea level is rising about three times faster than it was at the beginning of the 20th century.
The fluctuations in weather that we're seeing now (extra hot summers and warmer winters) are probably going to get worse.
Surface temperatures are facing more than the global average rate of change in Africa, even though it's other continents that are causing those changes.
Sea ice is supposed to melt almost completely at least once by 2050. This is incredibly dangerous for Arctic life.
Humans create 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Methane is also a huge part of our emissions problem.
Global greenhouse gas emissions need to hit zero by 2050 to limit global warming to below 1.5 °C and save the planet.
What Does This Mean?
The United Nations chief called this report a "code red for humanity" and a huge wake-up call for climate action. Even though we've been aware of climate change for decades, not enough action has been made to halt and reverse our mistakes.
The IPCC says that "unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach." Humans need not only to reduce but reverse our emissions. With more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, more heat gets trapped, and the environment won't be able to cool itself down.
Things are only going to get worse for our planet if we don't do anything. The IPCC report states with confidence that our globe is warming everywhere, and it's not going to stop. Earth will become a lot less habitable if we don't do everything we can to fix this problem.
What Can I Do?
There's a lot of back and forth in general about the importance of individual action. If you buy a bamboo toothbrush, does that really make a difference? Maybe not. But there's a lot more to it than that.
First of all, it's important to acknowledge that the vast majority of waste and emissions are produced by large corporations. According to the 2017 Carbon Majors Report, about 71% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 have been created by 100 companies. Over half of those emissions are from only 25 companies. To put that more simply, climate change is in part caused by greedy guzzlers who want to bring us gasoline and ground beef for cheap.
This doesn't mean that our actions don't matter. But it does mean that reaching out to policymakers and making our voices heard is important. If they don't feel the pressure, they won't make changes that can limit emissions from companies. Try writing to lawmakers in your area to let them know you care about climate change. Vote in local and federal elections (including the upcoming election!). You should also attend climate protests and events when you can so you can join the crowd and show our governing bodies just how many people care.
Along with those things, the IPCC and the UN actually make recommendations as to how we can do our part while just living our lives. You can read the UN's Act Now page to read more about each of these things and why they matter. Here's a list of the basic things we can do to lessen our individual impact.
Fly less, because airplanes are one of the worst emitters of carbon dioxide.
Repair and recycle things instead of throwing them in the trash. The Concordia University Centre for Creative Reuse is a great place to start!
Find out where your energy comes from, and prioritize renewable energy like wind and solar power when you can.
Eat more plant-based foods. Meat production, particularly beef production, is the main contributor to methane emission, and methane is even worse than carbon dioxide.
Try to waste less food. Food decomposition also contributes a lot to methane production.
Buy local and seasonal foods to reduce transport emissions. Our environmental coordinator Cami is about to release a blog post about farmer's markets in Montreal where you can get local produce!
Take the bus, get on the metro, walk, or bike places instead of driving or catching an Uber.
Encourage your friends and family to take the same actions as you!
Even when things seem hopeless, there are always ways to get involved. At Concordia, there are quite a few climate and sustainability organizations that can help you help out. First of all, there's our own Environmental Hub that you can join on Facebook to stay up-to-date and find events. There's also Concordia's Sustainability Hub, a list of sustainable student initiatives, and sustainability events and seminars.
If all else fails, take a hike, breathe in some fresh air, and appreciate the planet while we still have it. That's what we're here for. 🌲
“At this moment in the environmental movement, we can jump from the bridge, or we can cross it. We can allow the fear that it's too late or too difficult to ensure resources for future generations to incapacitate us, or we can allow those fears to capacitate us.”
—Jonathan Safran Foer, We Are the Weather
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