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15-year-old climate activist to world leaders: ‘No time to continue down this road of madness’

15-year-old climate activist to world leaders: ‘No time to continue down this road of madness’


As U.N. climate conference kicks off in Poland, youth around the world demand urgent action.

Swedish 15-years-old Greta Thunberg decided to go on school strike every Friday at the parliament to get politicians to act on climate chance following Swedens hottest summer ever. (Credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Swedish 15-years-old Greta Thunberg decided to go on school strike every Friday at the parliament to get politicians to act on climate chance following Swedens hottest summer ever. (Credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Around the world, more and more young people are standing up to call for immediate action on climate change. And as this year’s U.N. climate conference, COP24, kicks off in Poland, one 15-year-old climate activist urged her generation to act on climate change in the absence of meaningful leadership from governments.

On Monday, Swedish student Greta Thunberg met with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to discuss climate action. Since September, Thunberg has been refusing to go to school on Fridays, choosing instead to strike school on her own in order to protest outside the Swedish parliament, all in an effort draw attention to climate change.

The outspoken student, who developed a passion for climate action at the age of nine and gave up flying on airplanes three years ago, has received widespread national attention in Sweden. Known for occupying her post outside parliament, people bring her food and politicians have come out to the steps to speak with her as she protests. She has since inspired individuals — including thousands of students in Australia — to “Strike 4 Climate Action” ahead of the COP24.

At a press conference following her conversation with Guterres, she said, “I told him that for 25 years countless people have stood in front of U.N. climate conferences begging world leaders to stop emissions. But clearly that has not worked, emissions are continuing to rise.”

“So, I will not ask them anything,” she continued. “Instead I will ask the media to start treating the crisis as a crisis. Instead, I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us. Because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness.”

This existential threat is a reality that has become starkly clear recently with the October release of U.N special report on the impacts of 1.5ºC (2.7°F) warming — the ambitious threshold that world leaders agreed to strive for under the Paris Agreement. The report warned that under our current emissions path, the world will surpass this level of global warming by 2040.

This finding was swiftly followed by the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment published at the end of November. This report warned that under a business-as-usual scenario without significant action to curb emissions, the global average temperature could rise by a staggering 5°C, or 9°F, by the end of this century.

And as scientists detail within the assessment, the impacts of climate change are already here — and going forward they will be wide-ranging, simultaneous, and cascading, affecting everything from seasonal allergies to traffic jams.

The Trump administration, however, has dismissed the reports’ findings, saying scientists are exaggerating. And despite new data showing that the past four years have been the hottest on record — a direct result of humans burning ever more fossil fuels — this year’s COP24 is being sponsored by coal. The U.S. is also reportedly planning a side event at the conference to promote fossil fuels.

As world leaders so blatantly ignore the urgency of the issue, Thunberg in her press conference encouraged other members of her generation to act. “We have to realize what the older generations have done to us,” she said, “what a mess they have created … [and] we have to make our voices heard.”

This type of youth activism is already beginning. In Australia last week, thousands of students inspired by Thunberg skipped school to demand action on climate change. And after the U.N. special report was released, thousands of protesters shut down five of the main bridges in London in a call to world leaders to step up their efforts to fight climate change.

And in the United States, the millennial-led Sunrise Movement — suddenly the most talked-about environmental group in Washington, D.C. — has helped to catalyze fresh calls for urgent climate action following the midterm elections. This includes supporting a “Green New Deal,” which, among other things, proposes swift action to transition to clean energy within 10 years.

Some of the attendees of this year’s climate conference have echoed this urgency. Upon announcing increased funding for climate initiatives on Monday, Kristalina Georgieva, chief executive of the World Bank, said of her fellow Baby Boomers, “We are clearly the last generation that can change the course of climate change, but we are also the first generation with its consequences.”

The goal of the COP24 climate talks, which will last for two weeks, is to decide how the goals of the Paris Agreement will be translated into a series of rules for how countries will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

As Thunberg argued on Monday, the world needs new rules if we’re going to have any hope of meeting the urgent challenge of climate change.

“Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day,” she said. “There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So we can’t save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed.”

“So, we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future,” she concluded. “They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.”

By: Kyla Mandel

Dec 3, 2018, 12:21 pm



10 facts you probably missed in the government’s climate report

Climate change will alter everything.

Residents wear masks as they watch the motorcade pass during President Donald Trump visit of the devastating Camp Fire in Chico, California on November 17, 2018. The National Climate Assessment, released last week, revealed a number of troubling predictions, including an increase in both the number and intensity of such wildfires. (Photo Credit: Paul Kitagaki Jr.-Pool/Getty Images)
Residents wear masks as they watch the motorcade pass during President Donald Trump visit of the devastating Camp Fire in Chico, California on November 17, 2018. The National Climate Assessment, released last week, revealed a number of troubling predictions, including an increase in both the number and intensity of such wildfires. (Photo Credit: Paul Kitagaki Jr.-Pool/Getty Images)

Perusing the approximately 1,600 pages of the National Climate Assessment, one thing quickly becomes clear: climate change is here and it is impacting literally every aspect of our lives. Its impacts are varied, simultaneous, and cascading.

The report was released a week ago on November 23. It details the costly and accelerating consequences of increased global temperatures on the United States. The congressionally-mandated assessment is authored by hundreds of scientists, many from 13 different federal departments and agencies.

In it, scientists warn that without significant climate action and fewer fossil fuels, annual average global temperatures could increase by a staggering 9 degrees Fahrenheit — 5 degrees Celsius — or more by the end of this century compared to pre-industrial temperatures.

But what about the report’s other findings? Here are 10 facts about how climate change will impact various aspects of our lives, according to the National Climate Assessment.

1. Firefighting will cost billions

At the front of many people’s minds are the California wildfires this year. According to the NCA, climate change is estimated to be responsible for doubling the amount of forest area burned by wildfires between 1984 and 2015. And that number is only going to increase.

Under the report’s higher emissions scenario (RCP8.5) where temperatures rise un-checked — a likely scenario considering the current administration’s fondness for fossil fuels — the total cost for firefighting in the Southwest could reach $13 billion between 2006 and 2099. In this scenario, the report also expects the frequency of very large fires (those greater than 5,000 hectares) could triple.

And wildfires will be especially difficult for tribal communities, the assessment states, “due to a lack of fire-fighting resources, insufficient experienced internal staff, and remote locations.” Coordinating firefighting efforts is especially tricky for these communities too because it involves working across fire-prone areas with various jurisdictional controls.

2. Allergies will increase

Higher temperatures mean longer growing seasons in some areas, and with this comes longer pollen and allergy seasons. In fact, the average length of the growing season has increased by two weeks since the start of the 20th century, becoming slightly longer in the West than the East.

Ragweed, for example, responds to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air by producing higher quantities of allergenic pollen. An increased prevalence of hay fever has also been linked to climate change. And, according to scientists, “climate-induced changes in oak pollen are projected to increase the number of asthma-related emergency department visits in the Northeast, Southwest, and Midwest.”

3. Playgrounds will get hotter

The science is clear that children are incredibly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change — and part of that danger stems from their playgrounds.

“Children are particularly susceptible to high heat and can be exposed through daily activities,” the report states.

Children are exposed to extreme heat during daily activities, such as at the playground. Image via the National Climate Assessment, Credit: Vanos et al. 2016.

As one image from the report shows, surface temperatures were measured using infrared thermography in one playground in Phoenix, Arizona in September 2014. On the left side, image A, a slide and dark rubber surface left exposed to the sun reached between 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius) and 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 degrees Celsius). Image B shows black powder-covered steps reaching 136 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius) in the direct sunlight.

Put simply, higher temperatures could mean children’s safety is threatened even further.

4. Dairy cows will feel the heat too

The symptoms of heat stress are well known in humans, but as the report notes, this extends to animals as well. This has consequences for their health and safety as well as the food they produce.

Dairy cows are highlighted in the report as being “particularly sensitive” to this. Heat stress, it explains, negatively affects their appetite, rumen fermentation (“a process that converts ingested feed into energy sources for the animal”), and lactation yield. And with more frequently higher temperatures, the quality of cows’ milk is also hurt — the percentages of fat, lactose, and protein all decrease.

In 2010, heat stress impacted the U.S. dairy industry to the tune of $1.2 billion. Over the next 12 years, the industry expects to see a decline in production of about 0.60-1.35 percent due to heat stress, with larger impacts in the Southern Great Plains and the Southeast.

5. Public and private property will be underwater

There are 49.4 million housing units along America’s shorelines — and a whopping $1.4 trillion-worth of homes and business are located within just an eighth of a mile from the coast. The risk to coastal properties of sea level rise, coastal erosion, and strong storms has been well documented.

“There are already indications,” the report states, that homes in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Norfolk, Virginia are “unsellable” due to recurring flooding.

Under the higher-end climate scenario, RPC8.5, it’s likely that anywhere between $66 billion and $106 billion worth of real estate will be below sea level by 2050. But it’s not just the owners of these properties who are going to feel the impact when their homes and businesses are hit.

Eventually, “diminished real estate values are likely to result in lower tax revenues and reduced community services,” the NCA explains. And beyond this, roads, bridges, tunnels, pipelines, all of the public infrastructure that provides important services to communities, will also be impacted. Some of this will also have national implications — coastal areas are home to international ports and critical energy infrastructure.

And there are costs to maintaining this property too. In California, for example, it’s expected to cost between $9 to $12 billion in order to alter major commercial ports in the area to adapt to 6 feet of sea level rise.

6. Transport will get worse

Water — from the sea and from the air — will disrupt transport networks.

In the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, intense precipitation will cause air travel to be delayed, and cargo shipments by rail and truck to be impacted too. In Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, more intense tropical cyclones will interrupt shipments to the region “more frequently and for longer periods” the report states.

Certain areas will also be affected by a lack of precipitation. In the Mississippi River and Great Lakes, for instance, shifting between high and low extremes in water levels limits boat traffic. This subsequently impacts jobs and the ability to get goods from one place to another, both domestically and internationally.

Road damages are expected to cost up to $20 billion by 2090 under the high-emissions scenario. And inland flooding will leave some 2,500 to 4,600 bridges across the country at risk, costing between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion in damages each year by 2050.

The figure shows annual vehicle-hours of delay for major roads (principal arterials, minor arterials, and major collectors) due to high tide flooding by state, year, and sea level rise scenario (from Sweet et al. 2017). Years are shown using decadal average (10-year) values (that is, 2020 is 2016–2025), except 2100, which is a 5-year average (2096–2100). One vehicle-hour of delay is equivalent to one vehicle delayed for one hour. Source: Jacobs et al. 2018, reproduced with permission of the Transportation Research Board.

There are currently more than 60,000 miles of roads and bridges located in coastal floodplains, the report notes — and they’re already vulnerable to the effects of storms and flooding.

The above image details how traffic delays are projected to get worse over the years under different emission scenarios due to high tide flooding across the eastern United States.

7. Megadroughts will last a decade

The water cycle in the Southwest has already been altered by climate change, the report states. This includes changes to the snowpack, which, come spring, is a vital resource when it starts to melt. With warmer temperatures, snow may fall as rain instead, which while useful in the moment, doesn’t collect in a future stockpile of frozen water.

Less snow means less water. And with earlier arrival of spring, there is less snow to last into the summer season. “These changes,” the assessment states, “attributed mainly to climate change, exacerbate hydrological drought.”

Scientists estimate that climate change accounted for between 10 and 20 percent of the reduced soil moisture experienced during the 2012-2014 California drought. Climate change is also responsible in part for the ongoing Colorado River Basin drought as well as declining runoff in the Rio Grande.

The assessment states that with more greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures will rise and the Southwest will get drier; “more frequent and severe droughts” will be experienced as a result. “Higher temperatures sharply increase the risk of megadroughts — dry periods lasting 10 years or more,” the report explains.

8. Tropical fisheries will decline

As ocean waters warm, species will shift to new areas where they’re better suited to specific temperatures. For example, a fish population could move northward as its original habitat zone gets too warm. But there won’t be many species adapted to the extreme temperatures the other fish are abandoning. This not only hurts the fish populations but also those dependent on them for food.

“Because tropical regions are already some of the warmest, there are few species available to replace species that move to cooler water,” the report explains. “This means that fishing communities in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico are particularly vulnerable to climate-driven changes in fish populations.”

As the assessment notes, fish catch potential is expected to decline by 10 to 47 percent with a 6.3 degree Fahrenheit (3.5 degree Celsius) increase in global temperatures, compared to fish levels between 1950-1969. Meanwhile, in Alaska, fish catch is actually expected to increase by about 10 percent.

9. Hospitals will be hit by storm surges

We know that climate change will make hurricanes stronger and wetter, and that sea level rise will bring with it bigger storm surges and more frequent flooding. As a result, more people will likely be hurt, turning to hospitals for help. But what happens when the hospitals are also impacted by the storm?

As the assessment notes, hospitals along the mid-Atlantic and Southeast are increasingly at risk from storm surges. It maps out which hospitals in these areas will likely be impacted by different levels of storm.

Hospitals at risk from storm surges during hurricanes. Data from National Hurricane Center 20181 and the Department of Homeland Security 2018.

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, for instance, four of the 38 hospitals — 11 percent — “face possible storm surge inundation following a Category 2 hurricane.” This could increase to 26 hospitals (68 percent) under a Category 5 storm.

In Charleston County, South Carolina, seven of its 11 hospitals (64 percent) would be at risk from a Category 2 storm, increasing to 9 hospitals (82 percent) with a Category 4 hurricane.

“The impacts of a storm surge will depend on the effectiveness of resilience measures, such as flood walls, deployed by the facilities,” the assessment states.

10. Agricultural regions will need more weather stations

Climate change will undoubtedly impact crop yields in America’s agricultural regions. For some, this might mean more bountiful harvests (such as for wheat, hay, and barley); others, like fruit, nut, vegetable, and nursery growers, will be hurt by the shift. This will especially be the case when higher temperatures coincide with “critical periods of reproductive development,” the report states.

Due to the amount of variability depending on the type of crop and where it’s being grown, “climate-smart agriculture can reduce the impacts of climate change,” on crop yield, the assessment explains. However, in order to do this, producers need to have accurate climate forecasts, as well as adopt new management strategies for dealing with the changing weather conditions.

Currently, 23 states, including Oklahoma and Nebraska, have one or more publicly funded agricultural weather networks, the assessment notes. But if farmers are going to successfully adopt new climate-friendly practices, “a network of weather stations is required in agricultural regions.”


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