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This Earth Day, like many recent ones, can be seen as a time for despair: the Earth is warming at an unprecedented rate and its inhabitants — us — aren’t doing enough to stop it. That’s one conclusion from the latest report by the world’s climate scientists. Despite this gloomy outlook, there are some reasons for optimism. For example, the costs of renewable energy are declining and the generation and use of this cleaner energy is increasing.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists, from the group’s 195 member countries, released a report calling for quick action to reverse dangerous climate change patterns.
In the period from 2010 to 2019, average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, the report found. But the rate of growth has slowed. Although this is a positive, the group warned that emissions must actually decline to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said in a statement earlier this month. “I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective. If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”
But, the scientists stressed, action to further reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses, which trap the earth’s heat, are needed now. Without emissions reductions, temperatures would continue to rise, they warn.
“It’s now or never,” IPCC report co-chair Jim Skea said in the April 4 statement.
This assessment follows a IPCC report in March that warned that 143 million people will likely be uprooted over the next 30 years by rising seas, drought, searing temperatures and other climate catastrophes.
“Under all global warming levels, some regions that are presently densely populated will become unsafe or uninhabitable,” the report said.
It can be hard to balance these dire warnings with the more hopeful message that we still have the ability to avert the worst outcomes of climate change.
We are already feeling the consequences of climate change. Think more invasive species, rising sea levels and higher average temperatures. If we don’t want these consequences to get far worse — and they are already catastrophic in some parts of the world — we need to make changes in our lives and to support policies that address climate change.
That means actions on a large scale: Incentivizing the production and use of renewable energy, adhering to national and statewide emissions reductions targets, for example, while also taking action as individuals — like considering fuel-efficient vehicles, using public transportation, recycling.
Earth Day provides an opportunity to appreciate our environment and celebrate the work done to protect it, but it is also a reminder of the responsibility to continue safeguarding our planet for years to come.