In September 1983, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sombre report warning of the impending consequences of climate change if no action were taken. The report titled "Can we delay greenhouse warming" estimated that 2050 temperatures would rise by 2°C compared to pre-Industrial Revolution levels if significant mitigation efforts were not undertaken. Sadly, four decades of procrastination and corporate obfuscation have kept us on that trajectory.
Today, with just 1.1°C of warming, we are already witnessing the severe impacts of climate change, from record-breaking heatwaves to devastating fires and floods and the loss of polar ice. Another 0.4°C of warming is locked in due to delays in Earth's complex biophysical system.
If we reach the predicted 2°C mark, we could face a collapsed Atlantic Ocean circulation, the extinction of coral ecosystems, a loss of nutrition in our food, and reduced crop yields. Innovation alone cannot solve this crisis; technologies like carbon dioxide scrubbers and geoengineering remain uncertain.
Ecology-based strategies like rewilding, suggested as far back as the 1980s hold promise, but time is running out as deforestation continues unabated. The EPA's report in 1983 recommended banning coal and oil as the most effective way to prevent climate disasters, a valid strategy. However, political and economic challenges have hindered such efforts.
While small mitigation efforts have prevented the most extreme scenarios, we are still on track for over 4°C warming, which would have catastrophic consequences, affecting billions of people and countless species. Urgency and seriousness should underlie our response to climate change, just as the EPA report concluded in 1983. It is not too late to reduce future impacts, but every fraction of a degree matters and will save lives.