Climate change is on the ballot next week. Not named, of course, but there nonetheless, as with most of the policy-shaping choices that we make in 2018.
We vote in the very moment the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degree Celsius has stated that our very lives depend on those policy choices.
It told us very clearly that unless we elect leaders willing to make drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions now — meaning that we burn far less gas, oil and coal — we will provoke almost unimaginable destruction of the earth’s fragile resources. It has never been said so unambiguously.
Our planet has already warmed by 1 degree C due to human burning of fossil fuels. Based on the greenhouse gases we have already pumped into the atmosphere, global mean surface temperatures will rise by another half degree somewhere around 2040, 22 years from now. It’s inevitable. We cannot prevent it.
With that 1.5-degree rise alone, all the threatened impacts of climate change will be in play — more killer heat days, sea level rise, massive storms, drought, ocean acidification, species extinction. We have begun to see some of it already.
What the report studied in detail is what comes after: how much worse the consequences will be and whether can we prevent it.
The answers to both are clear: Much worse, and yes we can prevent it.
First the report admitted that the Paris accords (even with the United States’ participation) were never sufficient to reach the goal they set, to limit warming to 2 degrees C. Emissions would need to be cut by 20 percent by 2030, and then to zero net emissions by 2070. Paris could not accomplish that.
However, this comprehensive report explains that a rise even to 2 degrees above preindustrial levels would lead to appalling levels worldwide of illness, injury, mortality, forced migration, hunger, poverty, destruction of coastal cities, and agricultural and marine ruin. And those most and first impacted — though none of us will go unscathed — will be the world’s poor who have contributed least to the problem.
The scientists give us a shockingly brief timeline to make massive change. They tell us that if we can cut our emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and to zero by 2050, they believe that we can hold global warming to the inevitable 1.5 degrees. Our earth will be damaged, for sure, but it will be livable for many more of us.
They agree that such a challenge is difficult in the extreme, but it is doable. It means “turning on a dime,” injecting emissions considerations into all our policy decisions and ensuring those decisions put increasingly less and less CO2 and methane in the air. It will take bold planning implemented in emergency mode. The technology is there, most of it, in wind and solar energy generation and storage. It is a question of political will to do what we know we must.
Which leads to next week’s elections. The IPCC dictates choosing leaders who both understand the magnitude of the job and who have the courage to undertake it.
On Tuesday’s ballot, Rep. Jim McGovern and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have proven their dedication to environmental sustainability, though their efforts are blocked by the handmaidens of the fossil fuel industry in Washington. Likewise, we have picked strong climate candidates for state Senate and House seats who are running unopposed.
The main choice presents in the governor’s race. Gov. Charlie Baker, the “not so bad” Republican, is just not enough. In fact, with so much at stake in this emergency, his policies are little better than those of a full-blown climate denier.
While Baker’s opponent, Jay Gonzalez, has taken a strong stance against the building of more gas pipelines and other infrastructure, Baker supports a “pipeline tax” for gas expansion. He has had the chance to implement a carbon pollution pricing mechanism to discourage fossil fuel consumption, but hasn’t. This legislative session, he did nothing with the do-nothing House leadership and together they managed to bury the Senate’s excellent omnibus energy bill.
No surprise. He is closely tied to gas infrastructure interests, and in politics, you “dance with them what brung ya.”
Gonzalez unequivocally stands for the carbon pricing Baker has rejected, the very economic mechanism the IPCC highlights as an effective tool to decrease emissions.
The IPCC says we cannot survive “not so bad.” The demands of our time are monumental. We need hard-hitting leadership. Vote climate next Tuesday.
Marty Nathan is an almost-retired physician, mother, grandmother and climate organizer.