Today's IPCC report — the latest installment in a 30+ year effort by the world's climate scientists to warn humanity of the rapidly escalating dangers of the climate emergency (despite some folks' reluctance to listen) — comes at a moment when it feels like every aspect of the world is crumbling.
To be completely honest, my intention was to work through the full report today and help summarize the main points, but it was so comprehensive and damning I couldn't emotionally do it. I've covered every IPCC report since 2007, this was a first.
So if you'd like the nuts and bolts, here's my recommendations: A long Twitter thread by one of my favorite climate scientists, a 45-min chat with one of the report's lead authors, or work your way through the full report yourself in bite-sized chunks following this climate reporter's advice.
Before I get into some thoughts about the report — a gentle trigger warning here that this stuff is difficult to process — and if you need help, there are climate aware therapists who can help you through a crisis. (Also, my chat with Dr. Britt Wray about climate anxiety last week was really helpful for me!)
"Fossil fuels did this."
Beatrice Tulagan, Philippines climate activist
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” said the IPCC's Hans-Otto Pörtner, quoting the report.
“This report presents a harrowing catalogue of the immense suffering that climate change means for billions of people, now and for the decades to come. It’s the most hard-hitting compilation of climate science the world has ever seen. You can’t read it without feeling sick to your stomach," said Teresa Anderson, Climate Justice Lead for ActionAid International.
"I've seen many reports, but nothing like the new @IPCC_CH climate report, an atlas of human suffering & damning indictment of failed climate leadership. I know people everywhere are anxious & angry. I am, too. It's time to turn rage into climate action," said UN Secretary General António Guterres.
In short, this report describes a crime scene. In this morning's press conference announcing the report, political leaders from the UN spared no punches in naming the criminals: The fossil fuel industry and their enablers. In all my years as a climate reporter, that too was a first.
"Our atmosphere is on steroids, doped with fossil fuels. This is leading to stronger, longer, and more frequent extreme weather events. Climate change-induced disasters come with high human and economic impacts," said Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization.
I mean, damn. Can't get much clearer than that.
The very first conclusion in the report itself backs this up: "human-induced climate change has caused losses and damages to nature and people." Or, as IPCC lead author Ed Hawkins wrote on Twitter today, "burning fossil fuels kills people and ecosystems."
For all the excellent scientific predictions of rising temperatures and stronger storms of recent years, scientists have actually underestimated how quickly those changes will harm humans and the environment.
Even in the past few days, during the negotiations that finalized the report itself, powerful petrostate countries like the US, Russia, and Saudi Arabia fought line-by-line to weaken the reports conclusions and avoid having to pay for the harm their decades of pollution has caused.
One of the report's most important findings is that we're pushing up against a very important phase in the climate fight: We haven't yet peaked fossil fuel use as a civilization, but we're already investing significant time and energy in trying to suck it back out of the sky, through accounting tricks (like carbon offsets) and techno-optimism (like geoengineering) and just old-fashioned colonialism (like tree-planting projects in developing countries).
Such actions end up being worse than doing nothing, because they can lull us into a false sense of optimism that actually entrenches fossil fuel use. The report calls these kinds of actions maladaptation — and cites a major example as carbon-dioxide removal technologies. The best solution, according to the report, is just not putting the carbon up in the sky in the first place.
Basically, "net zero" is not enough. We've got to fight for zero. Zero fossil fuels is the only safe amount.
The same fossil fuels that are weapons of the climate emergency also help fund the weapons of war that oligarchies use to colonize and extract lives and livelihoods in places like Ukraine, Yemen, Nigeria, and Sudan. This report also showed, for the first time in a summary of this magnitude, that "historical and ongoing patterns of inequity, such as colonialism" are making the impacts of climate change worse for the most marginalized. More than 3.3 billion people — nearly half of all of humanity — are "highly vulnerable to climate change".
"Fossil fuels did this. The good news is, we know exactly how to reclaim our futures from the fossil fuel industry: by standing in solidarity with each other's fights," wrote Philippines climate activist Beatrice Tulagan on Twitter.
And, the best news of this report is that it provides a blueprint for where to go from here: a focus on ecosystem restoration, an economy focused on care. The very last conclusion in the report (SPM.D.5.3) is the one that got all the airtime and headlines in today's coverage, but the conclusion right before it (SPM.D.5.2) I think is the most important. It tells us exactly how we get out of this mess.
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, tomorrow, March 1st, is the first day of meteorological spring. That means the days are getting longer, the air is getting warmer, the world is waking up. Our long rest for reflection, care, and learning is ending — giving birth to an era of revolutionary change.
Spring — a spontaneous reawakening — is a brave concept. It's symbolic of this moment in history. Nature has spent billions of years fine-tuning itself to make the most good of the seasonal cycles, and chose to do it this way. We don't have that kind of luxury. We have to act now, together, with the best of what we have — in solidarity with each other — to take advantage of our one last shot to create lasting change.
No matter who you are, no matter the gifts and privilege you have, you are needed in this moment.
It's OK to despair. It's OK to grieve. It's OK to not engage on days you can't. And it's OK to fight like hell with every breath you have. Because what's at stake? In short, everything. I'm here to tell you, in the words of climate essayist Mary Annaïse Heglar, that home is always worth it.
So, so many people out there are doing amazing work on climate. Form community with them. Offer help. Take care of one another.
The goal isn't just solar panels or EV's or bike lanes, the goal is revolutionary change in all aspects of society. We must radically change how we relate to each other and to the world around us. Starting with inside each of us about what we think is possible.
At The Phoenix, we're working to build a community of climate revolutionaries like you, doing weekly chats and free skill-sharing sessions for each other.
Our next session is tomorrow, March 1, chatting in a Twitter Spaces with IPCC lead author Lisa Schipper (the same person who did the 45 min chat linked above!) about what it would look like for us to undertake pathways towards systemic change — in line with the science that was presented today. I hope you can join us.