In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its most recent and updated report on what we know about climate change, and it read like a marriage counselor giving a final word of advice to the partner causing all of the relationship turmoil. In simple terms, it said, we (humans) have a choice: We can either stop abusing the Earth or spend the rest of our days miserable on a hot-ass planet. The Earth is in the process of filing divorce papers against us. She is literally sick of our drama.
The panel reported that human influence is unequivocally responsible for the warming trends that have intensified the planet’s temperatures at a rate that has not been seen for the past 2,000 years. Unless there are immediate, bold and rapid reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane and carbon dioxide, there is no way we will be able to limit global warming to the targeted 1.5 degree Celsius necessary to slow catastrophic weather events. Due to our failure to limit emissions thus far, there are some changes that we cannot reverse, such as rising ocean temperatures and levels, the effects of which are being felt right now.
Last week, a hurricane hit New England while floods and heat waves ravaged Tennessee to the Carolinas. On Aug. 29, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ida barreled through the exact same area with category 4 force winds. It seems that now, extreme weather is our reality, so much so that the panel also changed and shifted a third of their report to address risk management and adaptation measures.
But we still have a shot at slowing warming and putting a clamp on worsening weather while we attempt to adapt to our new climate reality. Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels to cut methane, shifting to renewable sources for energy, investing in regenerative farming practices, and cutting the amount of meat we eat are all ways to show the planet that we are serious about change. Because if we don’t, Earth is clearly getting the house in these proceedings, and we will be left trying to calculate alimony and child support owed to the next generation for the damage we’ve caused.
Humans contribute to global warming through greenhouse gas emissions, two of which are extremely deadly to the health of the planet. Methane and carbon dioxide are like a waist trainer wrapped around the Earth. The contraption increases body heat that then activates the body to sweat. When you take it off, while you may have lost an inch or a pound of water weight, it’s not necessarily fat.
Some may argue as to whether or not this practice is necessarily healthy, but hey, if you need to get into a dress for a special event or get that Megan Thee Stallion figure, what’s the harm, right?
The Earth is essentially wearing the worst brand of waist trainer in the form of greenhouse gases. Methane pollution is a gas byproduct that, once put into the air, traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere thereby directly making the planet hotter. Just like the waist trainer, the methane gas creates an immediate reaction that causes the planet to “sweat” profusely. We experience the Earth’s “sweat” in the form of sea-level rise and extreme weather—hurricanes, floods, wildfires, heatwaves are all a result of the earth sweating too much.
Climate scientists agree that not only is methane pollution a major factor of global warming and climate change, but the only way to effectively defeat it is by addressing the driving factors of human participation.
Methane pollution can be attributed to a number of sources, but the biggest are agriculture and natural gas and oil operations. Reducing our reliance on such is the equivalent of expressing our love language to the planet. Every time we support a shift from oil and gas to renewable energy (solar, wind, water), it’s saying, “Earth, my love, I don’t need you to burn all your resources just so I can get $1.99 gallon of gas. I love you for YOU… be who YOU are naturally meant to be … I’m going to find us a Tesla.”
As we eat less meat for the health of our bodies and the planet, it is the physical embodiment of our hands reaching around the Earth to peel off that hot, sticky waist trainer one Velcro strip at a time. The process of detaching ourselves from greenhouse gases is not easy—we’ve become comfortable with our partner planet and pushed her to adjust to our needs. But again, our marriage counselor, also known as the IPCC, has said, Earth is in an unhealthy relationship with us, and either she has to take off the waist trainer or we’re all going to suffer.
Cutting back on pollution stops the process of heating the core, but the temperature may continue to rise before it returns to a reasonable level. This is the issue the IPCC describes and limiting the increase to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius. The report states that 1.5 is pretty much out by a long shot. We would have had to have ripped off the waist trainer at least back in 2017 by establishing bold action on climate.
Instead, the Trump administration wrapped it tighter by removing and rolling back federal EPA regulations meant to reduce pollution and protect the health and welfare of the American public.
Now we are faced with limiting global temperature rise to a target of at least 2 degrees. And while a half of a degree difference may not seem like a lot, it represents a catastrophic result: a third of global crop loss disproportionately impacting marginalized communities, extreme drought, increased storm intensity and a complete loss of ocean reefs.
Our inaction to date means that some of these effects are taking place right now. The recent floods in middle Tennessee brought death and destruction. More than 20 people died, and to show the sheer strength of the water, someone created a TikTok of a house being carried away in a torrent of brown water. If we are unable to slow the warming trend, we can expect to see even more devastation spread out across the places we call home.
I’m very hopeful that the planet will not divorce us and put us out. The recent IPCC report has given clear direction that we must heed the warning of the planet while planning for risk management and adaptation strategies.
In other words, our relationship counselor is begging us to listen. They are acknowledging the fact that we screwed up and are imploring us to take responsibility for our role in the demise of our relationship. The IPCC is giving us sound counsel to mend the breach and continue along a new, greener path that will ensure a stable planet for generations to come.
It’s now on us to listen and act.
Heather McTeer Toney is on the board of the directors of the Mississippi Free Press. This piece was published in cooperation with DAME, an independent, women-led and women–edited publisher that provides critical context around the political, cultural and societal issues of our time.
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