Environmental warning lights continue to flash deadly kind of red


Berl Falbaum

Like the surgeon general’s warning on cigarettes, I issue the following alert:

If you are tired of bad news — Ukraine, inflation, Trump, COVID, etc. — do not read this column. It will be detrimental to your mental health. If you decide to continue, don’t say I did not warn you.

The Earth is but a mere 10 years away from a catastrophic environmental disaster from which there will be no turning back.

Who says so? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations agency composed of some 200 countries.

The IPCC issued a report last week, signed by all member countries, that concluded that because of fossil fuel emissions we have but 10 years to keep the Earth’s temperature from increasing by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial era levels generally defined as the mid-1800s.

If we pass 1.5 degrees Celsius, all that we are experiencing presently — raging wildfires, melting glaciers and permafrost, horrific storms the likes we have never experienced before, rising sea levels, etc. — will seem like child’s play.

The IPCC warned we are at a “tipping point,” and U.N. Secretary-General António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres added, “Humanity is on thin ice and that ice is melting fast.” (His analogy to “ice” is appropriate.)

“Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere all at once,” he said.

But even the IPCC’s call for limiting a temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius is giving false hope. The Earth’s temperature has already risen a little more than 1 degree Celsius ((1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) from the pre-industrial era and we are suffering the consequences dearly around the world.

Another four-tenths Celsius increase will be catastrophic, with the poor and undeveloped countries suffering the worst.

Moreover, citing the 1.5 Celsius increase as a desirable goal is misleading at best and disingenuous at worst.

As The New York Times pointed out, “…every fraction of a degree of additional warming is expected to increase the severity of dangers that people around the world face, such as water scarcity, malnutrition and deadly heat waves.”

I am speculating that the IPCC ignored discussing the four-tenth increase for several reasons: Nothing can be done to reduce the increases already experienced, they are “baked in,” and it prefers to call for a more “realistic” goal.

Indeed, if the entire world adopted measures to cut emissions, there is only a 50 percent chance of limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Many experts believe that we are headed for a 2-degree Celsius increase. All we can do is pray — as often as possible — that they are wrong.

Guterres said a solution will require “everything, everywhere” and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has said it will require “every government at every level — national, state, city, town — every business sector, every private enterprise, every individual must be in alignment.” 

How likely is that to happen?

Let’s just put one hypothetical solution out there. Airplanes emitted one billion tons of CO2 in 2018, doubling since 1980. There are 100,000 daily flights worldwide. What if it were proposed, to save the planet, that we need to cut the number of daily flights in half? You think that would “fly”?

In years of covering local city councils, I have seen people almost engage in fisticuffs over whether to install a stop sign. 

There have been 27 international summits on the environment (the Conference of the Parties, COP) and after each meeting annually, things only got worse. Fossil fuel emissions, a major cause of rising temperatures, set records last year.

China, for instance, approved permits for coal-powered power plants at the rate of two a week in 2022, and President Biden, breaking a campaign pledge, recently approved drilling for oil on public lands in Alaska.

A worldwide, unified approach to stop global warming would require hundreds of trillions of dollars and an international political alliance that is impossible to even imagine.

We might also point out that the IPCC did not address such “minor” issues as: water shortages and water pollution; air pollution; dying coral reefs, soil contamination; the disposal of nuclear waste; destruction of rainforests; the proliferation of plastics; overfishing and, the major culprit, overpopulation.

Present efforts to limit emissions like recycling, solar and wind energy, electric cars, etc. not only have inherent environmental problems of their own, but also create the impression that we are “solving” the problem; that we are doing something. But it’s like giving the patient a Band-Aid when what’s needed are transplants of all vital organs.

Sadly, the issue has not received the attention it should. In the U.S., the media reveled in Harry and Meghan and the Murdaugh murder case while giving the IPCC scant coverage. For instance, NBC Nightly News covered the story in roughly 30 seconds. To its credit, The Times ran a piece on the IPCC report as its lead story on page one.

So, all I can say to my children and grandchildren — particularly, the grandchildren — I am so sorry.

(If you ignored my warning and have read this far, I will again warn you not to read my next column on the fact that the Earth faces its sixth extinction, but the first one caused by humans. The last one was 65 million years ago).


Berl Falbaum is a veteran political columnist and author of 12 books, including “Code Red! Code Red! How Destruction of the Environment Poses Lethal Threats to Life on Earth.”


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