Javier Hernández, Director of the Climate Research Center, Sonoma State University
I am addressing this open letter to the Sonoma County government government officials, the California governor, and to all policymakers in the world, especially to those in areas where climate change-related phenomena (extreme heat, droughts, wildfires, heavy rainfall, floods, hurricanes, sea-level rise, storm surge, tornadoes) and other geophysical processes exacerbated by climate change like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, etc. are already causing ample biophysical, social and economic devastation.
More recently, scientists like myself, are confirming that climate change-related processes are happening much earlier than expected and that urgent and massive emergency action must be undertaken.
Climate change accentuated phenomena are impacting us now and their frequency and intensity are set to increase even if all anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions are stopped today. For this reason, even though stopping anthropogenic GHG emissions and drawing down existing carbon in the atmosphere at maximum speed is still very important to mitigate climate change, it is paramount to deploy deep climate adaptation strategies in order to better cope with our present and future climate reality. Deep climate adaptation means to undertake all the necessary economic, structural, organizational, societal, etc., transformations to minimize the impact of climate change vulnerabilities particular to each region.
This open letter is not intended to convince anyone on whether climate change is happening or not, or whether is occurring because of natural forces, mostly human activities or a combination of both factors. The aim of this open letter is to discuss the most important problem related to climate change, the issue of living in a world where climate change enhanced phenomena are impacting us now and will become the norm in our very near future.
I’m a very distressed climate scientist that has done research on extreme weather and its relations to climate variability and change. I’ve experienced firsthand the devastating impacts of climate change accentuated phenomena, with more powerful Hurricanes impacting my homeland of Puerto Rico and more frequent and larger wildfires in California where I currently live. I am in the front lines of the climate change apocalypse.
The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) Report of October 2018 presented a dire state of the climate which, in reality, understated the true, even more disastrous, state of the climate. The Report claimed that with global CO2 emissions reductions of 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 and zero emissions by 2050, the average global temperature increase above pre-industrial times would likely stay below 1.5º C. The exclusion of the self-reinforcing climate change amplifying feedbacks (f.i. ice sheet disintegration, loss of albedo effect, heat storage by the oceans and release of methane from melting permafrost) in their climate change models, makes those suggestions irrelevant and misleading. The Report suggests that there is still a “carbon budget” that safely allows for more GHG emissions, which is not supported by the more realistic models that include the amplifying feedbacks, and by the now almost constant extreme and usually “unprecedented” climate change-related events happening around the world. There is no safe carbon budget left.
Because of those amplifying feedbacks alone, the increase of 1.5ºC is going to be surpassed significantly sooner than 2030, even if all anthropogenic GHG emissions are stopped immediately. The current global average temperature increase is close to 1.2º C and many areas of the Earth are already beyond a 1.5º C increase. For instance, Canada is at about 2 times the global average temperature increase and the Arctic Region (including Northern Canada) is at about 3 times the average.
The already major activation of the self-reinforcing climate change amplifying feedbacks, as a consequence of anthropogenic GHG emissions, makes the existing climate change mostly irreversible and leaves a short, but difficult to quantify, time for humans to mitigate further climate change aggravation by stopping all GHG emissions and removing GHG from the atmosphere, before a runaway climate change gets established.
As a scientist and as a being of this world I argue that we must stop debating whether we act or not on climate change. My position on the issue is clear, we must take bold climate action to prepare our societies for a more extreme world at the brink of societal collapse. We must embrace the fact that more devastating climate change effects will occur in the near future, so we must quickly begin our deep adaptation process to live in this new more climate extreme world.
If we don’t want to witness the end of organized civilization as we know it, we must act now. For that reason, I urge local, state and federal/national policymakers to accept the scientific consensus and the empirical reality that climate change is impacting us now and that it will continue to impact us in the immediate and long term future. After acknowledging our climate reality, I ask policymakers at all levels to issue official climate disaster state of emergency executive orders to make all resources available to deal with the climate change crisis which, ultimately, has the potential for the extinction of humanity.
I urge our governments to develop emergency measures that would allow us to prepare all of the infrastructure (roads, dams, buildings, parks, bridges, emergency-response infrastructure) and essential sustaining systems like farming, water supply, and health care, in our communities to the impacts of climate change. If we take bold action now, we can employ every able person in our communities in the 100% renewable energy transformation, infrastructure resiliency efforts and environmental restoration measures that would allow us to be better prepared to cope with climate change impacts now and in the very near future.
The impacts of climate change will not stop in the near future, even if we dropped all of our GHG emissions to zero. For that reason, I urge policymakers to focus on developing a more just and resilient local, national and global society that would allow all of its members to have a dignified life under our current and future climate reality.
In order for all of this to happen, policymakers need to accept one very important fact, we cannot continue with our current unsustainable economic activities that view the Earth as merely a collection of resources to be exploited in eternity for the sake of never-ending economic growth and wealth accumulation. Our voracious economic growth since the industrial revolution, almost exclusively dependent on fossil fuels, is what brought us here and it needs to stop if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
If we want to avoid the worst of the very likely climate apocalypse in our horizon, we must act now and work together to build a more just and resilient world for us, our children and all of humanity. It is impossible to put a brake on all of the climate change impacts that will threaten us now and in the very near future, but we can still mitigate Climate Change, build more resilient communities, restore key ecosystems and relinquish old unsustainable practices that would allow us to live a dignified life in a more climate extreme world.
José Javier Hernández Ayala, PhD
Assistant Professor and Director
Climate Research Center
Geography, Environment and Planning Dept.
Sonoma State University