Wide Awake

In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first installment of a three-part climate assessment report. As I wrote last month, this report focused on the physical science of climate change, confirming that global warming is “unequivocal” and that humans are without doubt responsible.

Last week, a draft of the second section of the report was leaked, well before its intended release next March. This part of the report focuses on the impacts of climate change and vulnerability of human and natural systems. While the report will certainly be edited and refined between now and its official publication date, the overarching message is undeniable: “human interface with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.”

Some of the key findings from the report include:
• Climate change will impact lives and livelihoods in almost all areas throughout the 21st century—costal zones will face rising sea levels; urban areas will grapple with extreme heat and inland flooding; and rural areas will struggle with insufficient access to drinking water.
• Climate change will reduce energy demand for heating and increase energy demand for cooling in the residential and commercial sectors.
• Agricultural production will continue to be negatively affected due to warming, drought, precipitation variability, and climate extremes, which will lead to ongoing increases in food prices. Yield from major crops (namely, wheat, rice, and maize) is already suffering from increasing temperatures and is expected to decline by 2% by 2050, even while demand is anticipated to increase by 14% during the same timeframe due to population increases.
• Melting snow and ice are altering hydrological systems, affecting water availability and quality.
• Climate change is likely contributing to increased human sickness and mortality rates, mostly attributable to extreme weather events, diminished food production, and lack of clean water.
• In response to climate change, animals have been forced to shift their seasonal activities and migration patterns. Many species may not be able to find enough suitable habitat to avoid extinction during the 21st century.
• Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts will slow down economic growth, expand poverty in urban areas and emerging “hunger hotspots”, and trigger new poverty pockets. Financial losses will increase exponentially with each degree rise in temperature.
• The time to act is now—the opportunity to reduce climate change risk will diminish over time and, in some parts of the world, has already expired.

The report goes on to explore adaptation and mitigation options, noting the general lack of action in this area to date and calling for a blend of technological innovation and ecosystem-based, institutional, and social measures. In the report, the IPCC emphasizes that “incremental” adaption and mitigation strategies will not be enough based on the “large consequences, persistent uncertainties, and long timeframes” related to climate change.

To deal with the realities of heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and costal flooding, drought, water scarcity, and food security, the report encourages the building of resilient infrastructure; shared action between the public and private sector; and even the formation of new systems of governance.

The report cites a deficit between the cost estimate for global adaptation and the current level of funding and investment. To help bridge the gap between long-term adaptation needs and current financial realities, President Obama announced an executive order last week that would incorporate resilience considerations into publicly funded projects (such as roads, bridges, and flood control), enabling states and communities to develop more durable and resilient infrastructure.

Scientists from the IPCC did find that reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades can substantially reduce the risks of climate change. The good news is that humans may still yet have a future on this planet. The bad news is that we likely won’t see any real positive change in pollution levels and the general health of our planet until the second half of the 21st century.

Which begs the question—in our super-sized, techno-based, fast-paced, consumerist society, will we have the discipline to pause and consider our critical next steps? Will we do what’s right for future generations and the planet, even if many of us won’t see tangible results in our lifetimes? Has the time come to set down our addition to immediate gratification in favor of a more sincere zeitgeist?

Perhaps the IPCC’s third installment of their climate change report (to be released in April), which will analyze ways that we can limit greenhouse gasses and mitigate risks, will provide us with some answers.

Do you think we’ll display the long-term vision needed to adequately prepare ourselves for climate change? Write to me at sara@greenbuildermag.com or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.

For more information about green building and sustainable living, visit www.greenbuildermag.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter at @greenbuildermag and @VISIONHouseGBM for regular updates and breaking news.

Posted: 11/5/2013 10:09:40 AM by Mary Kestner | with 1 comments

Mike Roddy
The best thing builders could do for the climate would be to stop framing houses with wood. Google my piece on the subject, The Real Score on CO2 Emissions and Construction Materials.
11/7/2013 4:14:25 PM

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