Local Voice: Latest U.N. report offers little hope for the environment

By Berl Falbaum

I’ll admit that I feel guilty writing this column given that all of us are already on overload with bad news:  Inflation, COVID, the projection for a major flu season, the Ukraine and the possibility of nuclear war, the scary move to the far right in the country, racism, an increase in anti-Semitism, and so much more.

But I felt it was important to discuss the following because of what it means to the survival of the planet:  That is not overstating the fact.

I am referring to the destruction of the environment and the latest United Nations (U.N.) report that should be a major headline in every newspaper and the lead story on TV news.  Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the report has received little attention.  (Kudos to The New York Times for making it the lead story on page one October 26).

First, some background.

We have increased the Earth’s temperature by a little more than 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial levels (defined generally as the mid-1800s) and that has brought us droughts, flooding, hurricanes the likes of which we have never seen before, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and devastation throughout the world.  

Despite the effects of this rise, the world, at 26 summit meetings (Conference of Partners--COP), has dedicated itself to limit further increases to 1.5 degree Celsius.  

So, you ask:  If we are witnessing the destruction of the Earth at a little over 1 degree Celsius increase how will another 0.4 increase help?

Excellent question. I had the same one so, for a book I wrote on the dangers we face, I put the question in an e-mail to the United Nations under whose auspices the environmental summits are held. 

Here is the reply I received from the U.N.’s press office:

“It is the parties who decide the aims and provisions of the Paris agreement (one of the environmental summits, COP21).  The [U.N.] secretariat is devoted to supporting the intergovernmental negotiating process on climate change.  Thus, we are not in a position to provide an adequate response on behalf of the Parties to the Convention.”

Got that? I did not either.

The world has accepted an increase to 1.5 Celsius despite the fact that we are suffering catastrophes around the world at an increase a little more than 1 degree Celsius.  That is like a doctor treating a patient with a temperature of 104, and setting a goal to keep the temperature from rising above 104.5.

Now, for the latest news.  The next summit (COP27) will be held between November 7-18 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.  In preparation for that meeting the U.N. has issued a report which -- are you sitting down? -- warns that we are on a path that would increase the Earth’s temperature by an average of 2.1 to 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2100 from pre-industrial levels.  (Some scientists believe the U.N. projection is conservative).

What does this mean?  If the U.N. report turns out to be accurate, it means we are done for. We are doomed. The ballgame is over.  

Reported The Times: “With each fraction of a degree of warming, tens of millions more people worldwide would be exposed to life-threatening heat waves, food and water scarcity and coastal flooding and millions more mammals, insects, birds and plants would disappear.”

Can we expect any progress at the upcoming summit?  If the past is any indication, the answer is “no.” After all the previous 26 meetings, things only got worse. After the last conference, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres was literally brought to tears because of the summit’s lack of commitment.

As The Times noted, only 26 of the 193 countries that attended the last meeting have followed through with their plans. This, of course, does not mean that the plans adopted are sufficient to reverse the disastrous course we’re on.

Moreover, as I said in my book, all actions by member countries are voluntary. None faces any sanctions for doing nothing. There is no incentive to adopt remedial measures - meaningful ones.

Equally important, the meetings address mostly climate change and do not deal with other dangers to the planet such as: the destruction of rain forests, air pollution, water pollution, overpopulation, nuclear waste, the scourge of plastics, the threats to wildlife, overfishing, dying coral reefs and garbage disposal.  Yes, garbage disposal, which is a huge environmental problem.

If we face such a dismal outlook at the present world population of 7.9 billion, consider the “challenges” we can expect when we reach a projected 9.1 billion by 2050 - only 27 years away.  Another 1.2 billion people will need clean water, food, shelter, and energy.

Sadly, all the proposed solutions - electric cars, recycling, solar and wind energy, etc. - which are on the table now - will hardly begin to address the monumental crises we face. Of course, they are worth doing, they make us “feel good.” But we need major sacrifices and financial commitments totaling hundreds of trillions - hundreds of trillions - of dollars, none of which the world is prepared to commit.

Meanwhile, all we can do is hope and pray that the U.N. and the scientists are all wrong.  

As I said at the top of this column, I deeply regret adding to our daily diet of depressing news.
Berl Falbaum is a veteran journalist and author of 12 books, including “Code Red! Code Red!: How the Destruction of the Environment Poses Lethal Threats to Life on Earth.”


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