Essay: ‘On a Fast Track to Climate Disaster’

“The jury has reached a verdict. And it is damning,” declared UN Secretary-General António Guterres after the recent issuance at the UN of the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The report “is a litany of broken climate promises. It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world,” he said.

“We are on a fast track to climate disaster,” continued Guterres.

Guterres went on: “Major cities under water. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals.  This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies.”

“We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5° Centigrade [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit] limit agreed in Paris [at the UN Climate Change Conference there in 2015]. Some government and business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another. Simply put, they are lying,” said Guterres. “And the results will be catastrophic. This is a climate emergency.”

Guterres, who became the UN’s top official as secretary-general in 2017, is former prime minister of Portugal. Earlier, for 17 years he was a member of the Portuguese Parliament. He’s an experienced international diplomat, for a decade the UN’s high commissioner for refugees.

The UN report came as a parallel report was issued by a grouping of U.S. government agencies led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It, too, presented a damning picture.

Among other things, “Sea level rise will create a profound shift in coastal flooding over the next 30 years by causing tide and storm surge heights to increase and reach further inland. In addition to the rise caused by “emissions to date,” “Failing to curb future [greenhouse gas] emissions could cause a rise of up to “7 feet by the end of this century.”

The UN report was issued and the presentation by Guterres made at the UN in New York —across the East River from Long Island, among the ground zeroes for climate change impacts.

In Suffolk County, announced recently was a $1 million plan for county projects to “counter the impact of stronger storms and increasing flooding resulting from climate change,” as Newsday described it. “Projects could include beach nourishment, wetlands restoration and open space acquisition,” said Newsday, summing up the plan. County Executive Steve Bellone said: “This is all of us stepping forward to say that we have to aggressively address coastal resiliency.”

The reaction of Kevin McAllister, president of the Sag Harbor-based organization Defend H20—who has been in the forefront in Suffolk in speaking out about climate change and what is being done and not being done—says of the plan: “Open space acquisition, particularly with coastal lands, is a meaningful endeavor in response to a rapidly rising sea. Wetland restoration is, of course, important but let’s be clear, expanding and revegetating wetlands is very different from dredging new ponds for mosquito reduction, the current county priority, which is, in fact, contrary to the absorption of floodwaters. As to so-called beach nourishment, this is a strategy that is both environmentally and economically unsustainable and that only delays and makes more costly what really needs to happen—moving back from the edge and out of harm’s way.”

Published last week was an article titled “Climate Adaptation Is Going To Be A Disaster” by Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University and co-author of the book The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change. He wrote that “reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases by switching from fossil fuels to climate-safe renewables is the easier way to deal with climate change. Wind and solar energy are now the cheapest energy sources…”

Getting at the cause of climate change—mainly the burning of fossil fuel: coal, oil and gas—and not simply dealing with its effect, is key. That’s completely possible technically. The resistance is from vested interests: the coal, oil and gas industries, and their political clout.

Published in 2020 was 100% Clean, Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything, a book by Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. It details the huge potentials of “WWS”—”Wind-Water-Solar”—through onshore and offshore wind, wave and tidal power, solar photovoltaic and concentrated solar power and other green energy sources. Green energy is the way out of the looming climate disaster. Dr. Jacobson is also a co-founder of the aptly named The Solutions Project.


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