I always know something big happened when “climate change” ends up on Twitter’s trending topics list, and that’s exactly what happened on Oct. 8. Two weeks ago, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a huge report that painted a grim picture of the state of the environment and the drastic changes that the world must make to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The biggest takeaway from this report was that human society and energy use need to be fundamentally restructured within the next 12 years to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
IPCC’s latest report really didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know — it merely said it more clearly and more urgently. The part that made big headlines, however, was that Earth is already almost 1.5 degrees warmer than it was before the Industrial Revolution. For many years, 1.5 degrees Celsius was considered the maximum amount of warming to not cause radical changes in weather and geography. This new report found that to halt global warming at 1.5 degrees, the world’s carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall by 45 percent in the next 12 years.
There is no denying that the IPCC report is scary: It put climate change fears into all-too-clear terms, and gives plenty of reasons to worry about the state of our country, our world and our species. However, the responses that I’ve seen to this report, and to the fear that results from it, have been troubling.
In the last two weeks, I have seen a flood of jokes about an impending apocalypse. Even before the IPCC report came out, this bleak viewpoint was gaining steam. Former advocates of fighting climate change, like British social scientist Mayer Hillman, have been quoted saying that “we’re doomed,” and that it is time to simply accept the world is becoming more and more uninhabitable, and that the work to undo the damage of climate change is so huge and difficult that we may as well give up, roll over and enjoy the earth while it lasts.
Columnist Mike Pearl called this group “climate change edgelords” in a VICE article: the people who believe in the reality of climate change, but are quick to debunk every possible solution and see optimism around climate change as futile. I wish this went without saying, but climate change nihilism is just as bad, if not worse than climate change denialism.
What’s so strange about these climate change edgelords is that they (generally) really do care about the environment. A lot of the people who I’ve seen throw up their hands at the IPCC numbers were once staunch advocates of doing all that could be done to slow down climate change. Perhaps seeing the effects of climate change in hard numbers, and realizing that the world is most likely going to become more than 1.5 degrees warmer, feels like a failure, and failure feels like a reason to give up.
The reality is that the world may fail at stopping temperature rise at 1.5 degrees, but we must remember that controlled failure is far better than utterly giving up. If climate change levels off at 2 degrees, that will cause major changes, but it will be far better than a rise of 2.5 degrees. Addressing climate change is not a clear-cut issue, and though we may miss a crucial target, that is not a reason to say that optimism about the future of the planet is worthless. After all, the IPCC also found that if world keeps releasing carbon at its current rate, it will be 4.8 degrees warmer compared to preindustrial levels by 2100 — avoiding that future seems worth it to me.
I am saying this as someone who has edgelordy tendencies around environmentalism; I am part of the few who believe a lot of the current policies used to tackle climate change are ineffective, that 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of fossil-fuel use and that your stainless steel reusable straw won’t do much to undo the damage of the economic and political systems that wrings Earth of its resources at an astonishing rate.
I hate the form of environmentalism that tells consumers that global warming would disappear if we just turned off our lights or took shorter showers, and I think it’s archaic to place blame for environmental degradation on individuals, rather than the institutions that are actually doing damage. I fully accept that there is not much that I, as one individual, can do to stop climate change. But that does not mean I will give up.
In the face of statistics like those from the IPCC, it is very easy to surrender to the bleakness of it all. I hope that the IPCC’s report functions not as a reason to be paralyzed by fear, but as an impetus to change tactics. The situation is not ideal, but the things that we do now will impact the climate of the future.
The things we can do now include pivoting away from coal and fossil fuels and toward wind, solar and nuclear energy; investing in carbon capture technologies; limiting the energy use of transportation vehicles; and restoring ecosystems to the best of our ability. The most crucial step, though — the one that I worry will be overlooked the most — will be to hold our institutions accountable. That means pushing huge corporations to reevaluate their business practices, and it also means electing public figures who care about the environment. If anything, the IPCC report showed the world that every tenth of a degree counts, so instead of wallowing in fear, it’s time to start acting like that.
Kylie Harrington is a junior majoring in journalism. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Pale Blue Dot,” runs every other Monday.