Road to disaster

New IPPC report underscores the consequences to humans’ willful ignorance

The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly evident. The oceans are acidifying, extreme weather is becoming the norm, the polar ice caps are melting, and so is the Arctic tundra’s permafrost, releasing vast amounts of the worst greenhouse gas: methane.

Now comes a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning of increased strains on water and food supplies, and subsequent consequences.

Compiled by more than 300 authors and editors from 70 countries, aided by 436 contributors and more than 1,800 experts and government reviewers, the document, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, is the most comprehensive report of its kind yet released.

In its first report, in 2007, the IPCC demonstrated that climate change was taking place everywhere on Earth, in every ocean and on every continent. The current report, its second, goes further by outlining the threats to global security resulting from climate change’s impacts. The news isn’t good.

Drought, desertification, the death of coral reefs, declining fish populations, soil degradation and extreme weather are some of the immediate consequences of climate change. As the report states, they likely will lead to others, including resource wars, migrations and famine that international organizations will find impossible to prevent and extremely difficult to ameliorate.

There are many potentially worthwhile responses to these challenges, beginning with switching to renewable energy. Fundamentally, however, the problem is an almost willful ignorance on our part. We refuse to acknowledge that life on Earth is a vast ecological system in which every part, from ocean plankton to giant sequoias, is inextricably linked to every other part. We can’t go on plundering the planet as if it’s a storehouse of resources that exist only for humans’ benefit. As the IPCC report suggests, that way leads to disaster.