The Latest UN Report Is Terrifying. Here's How We Can Use It As A Force For Good
In 2015, the world signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement. It was a celebratory moment for the planet and a testament to our global commitment to work together to fight climate change. But now, less than three years later, we're learning that the trailblazing accord actually didn't go nearly far enough.
The agreement calls on us to hold global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial levels, by 2100. This week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report that says in order to stave off disaster, we actually need to get this number below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even more disturbing, the IPCC declared that if we do exceed this limit of 1.5C (we are currently at about 1C), the natural world as we know it will be damaged beyond repair as soon as 2030.
The special report, which was first mandated in response to the Paris Climate Accord, is the work of 91 authors who compiled 6,000 studies on the potential impacts of climate change. The team concluded that if we don't reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent (right now they're increasing), the not-so-distant future is bleak: Decimated coral reefs, extreme weather events, and massive food shortages could become the norm...possibly within the next 12 years.
This certainly isn't the first study to find that the future of our world will be grim if things don't change, but it's one of the most alarming. The IPCC has declared in no uncertain terms that we are in a race against the clock—one that will require unprecedented changes. "This report gives policymakers and practitioners the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people's needs," Debra Roberts, a co-chair at the IPCC, wrote in the report's news release. "The next few years are probably the most important in our history."
Could this report be a tipping point?
This report is daunting in every sense of the word. But we get to choose how we react to it: We can either let it paralyze us, or we can let it empower us.
"It's sort of a mourning process that people go through when they read awful news like this," Beth Porter, a director at Green America and author of upcoming book Reduce, Reuse, Reimagine: Sorting Out the Recycling System, tells mbg. "But I hope that it can really propel people toward action. Not acting is not going to make this any less scary, unfortunately."
Porter and many other industry insiders agree that it's a mix of individual action (cutting down on plastics, reusing more, wasting less, etc.) AND sweeping systemic shifts that will spur real change. "You absolutely have to have both just because of the size of the issue we're facing," she says.
And while we have a long way to go as a society, we are starting to take steps in the right direction. "The challenge today is helping people see the urgency and severity of this issue—but that there are so many solutions available right now that we can push for," says Porter.
Opportunities to support change-makers paving the way for a brighter future are everywhere. For proof, we can look to Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, which compiles 100 scalable ways people around the world are working to absorb the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
"If you look at the science and you're not pessimistic, in a sense you don't understand it—but if you look at the people who are addressing the problem and don't feel hopeful, then you don't have a pulse," Paul Hawken, the legendary environmentalist behind Project Drawdown, told mbg last year.
In reducing our personal footprint, supporting the people, brands, and organizations doing good, and making our opinions on the environment heard (don't forget, in America we have an election coming up next month), we can all catalyze the change our world so desperately needs.
"I think that we have a choice about whether our hearts simply break or whether they break open," Katharine Wilkinson, lead writer of Drawdown, eloquently put it during a recent talk on climate change at Climate Week NYC. "Broken, open hearts lead us toward action that does not come from a place of fear or a place of anger, but a place of love."
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.