The last climate warning: heatwaves and the IPCC leak

July 27, 2021


Records everywhere, and at the same time, a leak to the press of a preview of a part of the major report on the climate crisis. It doesn’t sound like a coincidence.

In Lytton, Canada, 49.6º was recorded at the end of June, during a historic heat wave that has caused a fire in the area, wiping the population off the map. Other records were also broken during those days in a multitude of cities as diverse as Seattle, Moscow or Benni Abbes in Tunisia.

Climate change is no longer denied by anyone. Or at least no one who thinks of anything other than his or her own benefit and those who let themselves be manipulated by the first ones.

According to a recent Yale University study, more than 90% of people surveyed around the globe assume that climate change is a real and very serious problem. Unfortunately, there is still some doubt about two crucial issues:

The first issue is that a third of society or more do not believe that it is human activities that are primarily responsible for climate chaos in most countries.  In Indonesia, the most serious case, this percentage would be over 80%. Truly incredible for the current knowledge, which does not admit any doubt in this regard. Natural phenomena not only have nothing to do with it, they are actually helping us.

Just as there were fires before humans even existed, there are fires now, both natural and human-induced. Of course there have been many previous climate changes caused by the interaction of orbital cycles or Milankovitch cycles with the carbon cycle. But this particular cycle is undoubtedly being caused by anthropogenic emissions, as evidenced by the fact that following these same “astronomical cycles” or orbital variations, if it were not for the barbarity of greenhouse gases that we have emitted into the atmosphere, we would be heading towards a rather cold period, not one of dangerous thaws and 50 degrees south of Canada.  In other words, natural cycles are playing in our favor, otherwise everything would be much worse than it already is.

The other key issue is how to react to the problem. Some advocate simple reforms, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which do not renounce Capitalism, and therefore growth. Meanwhile, others clearly advocate – supported by science – that there is no way to decouple growth from the use of materials and energy. The dematerialization of the economy is magical thinking. And it is only possible in some graphs manipulated by the delocalization of part of the production in other countries to disguise pollution data. The atmosphere has no borders and pollution ends up being distributed and affecting everyone.

However, being very clear, here there are not only doubts, there are interests that seek to feed those doubts in order not to lose privileges.

The companies that used to spend millions to deny that climate change even existed, now, since it is no longer possible to cover up the elephant in the room, seek to promote these doubts about the origin of it, emphasizing that the earth has always changed, that it is no big deal, etc.

In the magnificent book “Merchants of Doubt”, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway tell this story through the analogy of the tobacco industry, and how it dedicated itself to financing studies that were favorable to it, even going against all known science. Another great book that speaks to these issues is Nathaniel Rich’s “Losing the Earth”, originally published in The New York Times, which tells the story of the crucial decade of the 1980s, when we already had all the data to understand the risk of continuing to ignore climate science. At least for the survival of our civilization as we know it. Because, as the leaked IPCC Panel II report now relates,

Life on Earth can recover from major climate change by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems. Humanity cannot.

And the IPCC, due to its internal functioning, tends to be conservative, since it has to reach a consensus on a series of positions among the scientists who voluntarily collaborate in the report (increasing its prestige, not its income). In other words, the most daring opinions are usually left aside. So they usually fall short in diagnosis and their reports tend to be always corrected for the worse.

And we have a big problem because the leakage – and all the most cutting-edge scientific literature on tipping points – indicates that the global climate point of no return may be very close to being exceeded (if it has not already been surpassed), because there are a series of positive feedback mechanisms that mean that, if one of the crucial subsystems of climate functioning is destabilized, the whole chain will be affected. This is very easy to understand with an analogy with the human body, if your liver fails, the kidneys will be affected, this will affect the stomach or the heart, and multi-organ failure would be the last and fatal scenario.

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The way could – most probably – be as described: the warming affects the poles much more than the rest of the planet due to the phenomenon of polar amplification -that is, albedo and other mechanisms cause greater warming where ice is lost, the Arctic is thawing so fast that the cold water is affecting the thermohaline circulation (AMOC), and may even paralyze it. The thawing is, in turn, causing the land to start emitting more methane into the atmosphere, which had been stored for thousands of years in the permafrost, and it is doing so at a rate that may make the process unstoppable. And there are other more complex mechanisms that interact with the Amazon -which may turn into savannah- or the phenomena of El Niño (ENSO) and La Niña, which will see their frequency and intensity increase, such as heat waves, hurricanes, etc. In other words, goodbye, climate stability. The worst scenario, and not at all improbable, is the so-called Hothouse Earth, in which inertias would lead us to a new unbalanced state several degrees above pre-industrial temperatures, and in which no certainty about life would remain unquestionable.

Given this situation, the only alternative is to make the population radically ecologically literate, so that they understand the necessary and inevitable changes that are going to happen.

The only thing we can choose is whether we wait for them to happen, through shocks and crises, or at least try to plan a response that will help us through a historical period that in any case will not be easy.


Teaser photo credit: Photo by Maud CORREA on Unsplash 

Juan Bordera Romá

Juan Bordera Romá is a screenwriter and journalist. He has worked on documentary, series, theater, radio and television projects. Has written for the main Spanish media such as CTXT, ElDiario, ElSalto or Público. Degrowth activist in Extinction Rebellion and the Transition Network.

Tags: climate denialism, extreme weather events, fossil fuel companies