Editorial: Climate change

Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying – and time is running out to fix it. That is the key takeaway from a recently released report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  

The World Meteorological Organization finds that the six years since 2015 have been the warmest on record, with 2011-2020 the warmest decade on record. 

As a result of human-caused climate change and a corresponding overall rise in temperature, there has been a sharp increase in droughts, floods, wildfires, heatwaves and severe storms – all of which show no signs of letting up. These disasters are not only driving people from their homes, but each instance is also responsible for billions of dollars in property and infrastructure damage. 

This latest report draws on research from around the globe and outlines, with much specificity, the path on which we are headed. And, according to that research, it will only get worse unless we take drastic action. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the report as a “code red for humanity.” It will take a global effort to rein in our future impact.   

Of critical importance is the need to bring down the temperature – or at least not allow the earth to get much warmer.  

The good news, if you want to call it that, is that if we can keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit), nearly 1 billion people would suffer through life-threatening heat waves. Some plant and animal species would go extinct. 

But 2 degrees, 3 degrees or 4 degrees of warming would bring much worse consequences, including catastrophic flooding, deadly heatwaves and irreversible collapses, like an ice-free Arctic or an Amazon rainforest that absorbs less carbon from the atmosphere than it releases in wildfires. 

While it is likely too late to reverse course abruptly, the actions we take now will have a significant impact on our future and that of our children. The research finds that if we can aggressively cut emissions, we can make a difference in the decades ahead. Benefits for air quality would come quickly, but global temperatures would take an estimated 20-30 years to stabilize. 

In Bar Harbor, a “climate emergency” was declared in 2019 and students at Mount Desert Island High School have been hard at work trying to quantify just what it will mean for the island community.  

“With only a 3.3–foot sea level rise, it will cost Bar Harbor $360,000 to repair roads alone and six addresses will be inaccessible to emergency services.” With 6 feet of sea level rise, it will cost Bar Harbor $3 million to repair roads and 750 addresses will be inaccessible to emergency services,” explained a student to the Bar Harbor Town Council in January.  

The U.N. report is further confirmation that the “alarm bells” scientists have been talking about for many years are full-on sirens at this point. To answer the call, every timeline for reducing emissions and fortifying infrastructure will have to be accelerated. 

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