Climate Chaos in 2023 and Possibly for Millennia


On March 20, 2023, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 6th Assessment Report, a technical compendium of numbers, charts, research findings, and exhortations to world leaders that climate change is real and anthropogenic and dangerous. These dire warnings come from hundreds of experienced UN climatologists and other scientists from all over the world. Their reports are approved by 195 nations. They are telling the leaders of the world enough is enough about making our sole home in the universe, our beloved Earth, unfriendly and hostile to life. Stop subsidizing fossil fuels; cut by 50 percent your dependence on petroleum, natural gas, and coal by the end of this decade; cooperate and replace fossil fuels with solar, wind and other non-carbon energy alternatives.

This is not the first time the UN is warning the world that its economic development model powered by fossil fuels is undermining both human well-being, human life and biological diversity and ecosystems. Since 1992, annual climate summits repeat this urgent message. In the 2015 summit in Paris, world leaders promised to keep global temperature no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the temperature of the preindustrial age.

The spreading disasters of climate change (storms, hurricanes, cyclones, forest fires, heat waves on land, seas and oceans, droughts, floods) confirm the warnings of climatologists that burning petroleum, natural gas, and coal is equivalent to encouraging and bringing about catastrophes and, in the long term, suicide. I quote below the main findings and recommendations of this insightful UN sixth assessment of climate change. The report does not mince words. It says:

Climate science and warnings

“Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have, unequivocally, caused global warming, with global surface temperature reaching 1.1 0C [degree Celsius] above 1850 – 1900 in 2011 – 2020. Deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a discernible slowdown in global warming… With every additional increment of global warming, changes in extremes continue to become larger. Continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle, including its variability, global monsoon precipitation, and very wet and very dry weather and climate events and seasons… [more global warming causes] further global mean sea level rise and increased ocean acidification and deoxygenation.

“With further warming, every region is projected to increasingly experience concurrent and multiple changes in climatic impact-drivers. Compound heatwaves and droughts are projected to become more frequent, including concurrent events across multiple locations. At sustained warming levels between 2°C and 3°C, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will be lost almost completely and irreversibly over multiple millennia, causing several meters of sea level rise.

“Reaching net zero CO2 [carbon dioxide] or GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions primarily requires deep and rapid reductions in gross emissions of CO2, as well as substantial reductions of non-CO2 GHG emissions. Continued emissions will further affect all major climate system components, and many changes will be irreversible on centennial to millennial time scales and become larger with increasing global warming. Without urgent, effective, and equitable mitigation and adaptation actions, climate change increasingly threatens ecosystems, biodiversity, and the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of current and future generations.

“Some options, such as conservation of high-carbon ecosystems (e.g., peatlands, wetlands, rangelands, mangroves, and forests), deliver immediate benefits. Maintaining the resilience of biodiversity and ecosystem services at a global scale depends on effective and equitable conservation of approximately 30% to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas, including currently near-natural ecosystems. Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. There’s a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all” (emphasis mine).

Why so little is done to save humanity and the planet?

Three countries and the European Union are responsible for about 62 percent of CO2 emissions. India produces 8 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. China is the largest polluter, emitting 32 percent, America 14 percent and the European Union 8 percent. If these 4 large polluters cooperated on climate change, the certain horrors of everyone doing its own selfish thing could be reduced and, in fact, humanity working together would be in a position to successfully fight climate chaos. On the contrary, however, these 4 large polluters keep business as usual their chief priority to the point CO2 emissions in 2022 reached high levels.

The sixth UN climate report, quoted above, urged international cooperation in order to at least keep the climate giant at the 1.5 degrees Celsius heat violence. This would demand that in the next seven years of this decade countries, working together, reduce their fossil fuel burning by 50 percent. But even this life-saving step is unlikely to go forward.

With the current petroleum war in Ukraine, funded and armed by America, and the hostility developing between America and Russia and America and Chine, the planet is destined for higher temperatures, reaching probably more than 2 degrees Celsius. Hoesung Lee, the chair of the sixth climate assessment was right, saying, “The pace and scale of what has been done so far and current plans are insufficient to tackle climate change. We are walking when we should be sprinting.”

Indeed we should be sprinting. Our house is on fire, but we pretend we don’t see the fire or smell the smoke precisely because we no longer have democracy. Truth is forced into hiding. The average American is unlikely to know enough about climate change. When you struggle for the daily bread, everything else becomes secondary. The media of billionaires are not losing any sleep that truth is under cover. Meanwhile, billionaires here in America, the European Union and other countries make money from looting and burning the planet. Of course, like very wealthy people, billionaires keep out of sight and definitely out of politics. Their agents-lobbyists do their bidding by bribing politicians, newspaper owners, commercial televisions, radio stations and other social media.

How does one explain President Joe Biden’s decision to license a billionaire oil company, ConocoPhillips, to drill for petroleum in Alaska’s Arctic? Was it necessary to pollute and, eventually, destroy one of this country’s most beautiful and pristine region for petroleum at a time the UN is talking about climate emergency? Does he (and all fossil fuel executives) feel the pain of the millions of Americans already harmed by the violence of rising temperatures? Moreover, the UN report is telling us that if the global temperature exceeds the 1.5 degrees Celsius, the effects of the ecological catastrophe will probably reverberate for millennia. Does the President or any other human being, including billionaires, have a right to harm civilization and the Earth? That kind of power, also embedded in nuclear weapons, did nor exist before the twentieth century.

What to do

The March 20, 2023 UN climate report rightly stressed international cooperation for putting the brakes to the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting climate chaos. However, the world has been organized by nation states, not according to ecological harmony. Countries are next to each other fully armed and ready to fight to maintain their political independence.

Because of WWII, the United States thinks of itself as the only superpower on the planet. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 triggered a violent reaction from America. President Joe Biden decided to fight Russia through Ukraine, supplying Ukraine billions of dollars and armaments. This war immediately divided the international community. European countries and members of America’s military alliance called NATO joined America. India and China, on the other hand, are secretly siding with Russia. Thus this war is making cooperation on climate all but impossible. The largest climate polluters, the United States, China, India, and the European Union / NATO are inextricably tied to the war in Ukraine.

However, the danger we all face from willfully warming the planet demands we do the utmost to change the politics of war to the politics of democracy and peace in order to fight for our children, civilization, and the well-being of the planet. Start by spreading the science facts about climate change, that is, chief reason for higher temperatures and changing bad weather has been the burning of fossil fuels. Think of diminishing your personal footprint by buying an electric car and putting solar panels on the roof of your house. If you don’t like cars like me, take the bus and train. Buy organic food because farmers who grow it don’t use petrochemicals, pesticides / biocides, and synthetic fertilizers. Moreover, organic food is not hostile to biological diversity.

We should also try to influence colleges, universities, school boards, churches, and city councils, to put solar panels on the roofs of their buildings and over their parking lots. These acts speak loudly to all, including the President and polluters. We are against the war in Ukraine. But we want to reestablish peace with all human societies and the natural world.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.