Humanity at Risk

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Logo of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Public Domain.


The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a large group of scientists from all over the world. These scientists study climate. They focus on the science that explains the origins and consequences of changing climate, particularly the anthropogenic origins and effects of global warming. In other words, how human activities are changing the planet’s climate.

Every year IPCC publishes a report that examines the state of the natural environment and climate. The report even summarizes the science for policy makers, making their climate education easier. The United Nations manages the IPCC and its studies. The UN sponsors an annual climate summit that brings together prime ministers, presidents, billionaires, and scientists. The yearly IPCC reports inform this powerful politicians the world over. The purpose of this summit is enlightened and possibly convince the nations of the world to limit and soon ban the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change / global warming.

Climate chaos in 2023

The latest IPCC report, Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report, like its predecessors tells it the way it is. The jargon is minimal and the dire message overwhelming:

“Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming, with global surface temperature reaching 1.1°Celcius above 1850-1900 in 2011-2020. Global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, with unequal historical and ongoing contributions arising from unsustainable energy use, land use and land-use change, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production across regions, between and within countries, and among individuals….

“Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere [frozen ice regions], and biosphere have occurred. Human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe…. Risks and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages from

climate change escalate with every increment of global warming. Climatic and non-climatic risks will increasingly interact, creating compound and cascading risks that are more complex and difficult to manage…. Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all. Climate resilient development integrates adaptation and mitigation…. The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.”

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The Charles Keeling Curve shows the continuing rise of carbon dioxide, CO2, that raises global temperature from human activities. Mauna Loa Observatory in Waimea, Hawaii. Global warming, 1960-2010. NASA.

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) also published the IPCC report and wholeheartedly supported its conclusions. UNEP correctly highlighted the impact of climate change on cities where most of the world’s people live.

“Climate change,” UNEP said, “is a global phenomenon that largely impacts urban life. Rising global temperatures causes sea levels to rise, increases the number of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and storms, and increases the spread of tropical diseases. All these have costly impacts on cities’ basic services, infrastructure, housing, human livelihoods, and health. At the same time, cities are a key contributor to climate change, as urban activities are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Estimates suggest that cities are responsible for 75 percent of global CO2 emissions, with transport and buildings being among the largest contributors.”

Setting civilization and Mother Earth on fire

No doubt, both the IPCC report and UNEP are right. Keep burning fossil fuels is adding to the fires of forest fires, drought, catastrophic floods, and asphyxiating dead zones of seas and oceans. In effect, petroleum, natural gas, and coal business as usual is setting both civilization and Mother Earth on fire. These human and natural phenomena make modern civilization extremely vulnerable.

The rulers of the world (prime ministers, presidents, billionaires, and fossil fuel company executives) are the products of war, mining the natural world, superstitious religious traditions, and science deformed by warfare. They are deluded they dominate nature simply because they have the machines to deforest, excavate the land and the ocean floors, and blast each other and nature with lethal weapons, even the genocidal and ecocidal nuclear bombs. But this juvenile behavior is not getting them anywhere. The Earth is billions of years old. Humans are at the most 200,000 years old. Inevitably, stupid humans will pay the price barbarians did when they embraced things they did not understand, like, for instance industrialized farming.

Hidden and real costs of factory farming

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) finally, reluctantly, started spilling the beans on the destructive effects of industrialized agriculture. “Although current agrifood systems,” FAO says in its report State of Food and Agriculture 2023, “provide nourishment and sustain economies, they also impose huge hidden costs on health and the environment – the equivalent of at least $10 trillion annually.”

The FAO report highlighted that the largest “hidden costs,” close to as much or more than 70 percent, are a result of bad diets “high in ultra-processed foods, fats and sugars, leading to obesity and noncommunicable diseases.” Moreover, FAO underlined that such unhealthy practice is prevalent in “richer countries.”

FAO underestimated the costs. It calculated that “one fifth of the total costs are environment-related, from greenhouse gas and nitrogen emissions, land-use change and water use, with all countries affected.” Without details, we don’t know how FAO reached these estimates. But in factory agriculture alone, the ecological and human health costs are immense. Industrialized farming is applied petroleum. Tractors, other gigantic machinery, rely on petroleum. Pesticides are called petrochemicals because they are varieties of petroleum. Synthetic fertilizers are mixtures of chemicals like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, natural gas, and ammonia. These synthetic chemicals are usually contaminated by toxic metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. Altogether, these synthetic fertilizers harm the food (crops, fruits, and vegetable), and the health of the people who eat such industrialized food. Moreover, synthetic fertilizers, like insecticides and weed killers, harm the soil, wildlife, and the environment. This tells me, the FAO report grossly under reported the hidden and real costs of agribusiness / agrifood.

Any solutions?

The 2023 IPCC report is another warning to all of us, but especially to the almost invisible rulers of the planet, that humanity is at risk. Presidents and prime ministers and their oil masters will show up at Dubai this December to explain the “progress” they have made against climate change. No doubt, the UN Chief, Antonio Guterres, will denounce them once again, most likely telling them they are guilty of setting the Earth on fire. Yet oiling the power holders with epithets and petroleum has its limits. Petroleum-powered wars in Ukraine and the Middle East are deadly signs of global uneasiness and conflagration that could spread to the entire world.

The year 2023 was probably the hottest year on record. The reliable climate science in the pages of the IPCC report leaves no doubt humans are responsible for the cosmic heating of the planet. This planet, Mother Earth belongs to all of us. Time has come to pay attention to what each one of us and our politicians do about climate change. Put solar panels on the roof of your house and demand your city adds solar panels on its buildings and over parking lots. Demand that your city and state and the federal government support and fund public transportation, electric cars, electric buses, and electric trams – all over the cities and all over the country. Stop electing people who are apathetic or neglectful or deniers of the climate emergency. These are life and death decisions.

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.