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Opinion: The chilling reality of a warming world

Kommentatorenfoto Irene Quaile
Irene Quaile
September 25, 2019

The latest report by the IPCC shows the impacts of climate change on the ocean and the earth's frozen regions. Urgent action is needed, says DW's Irene Quaile: If not now, when?

Antarktis Impressionen
Image: picture-alliance/blickwinkel/E. Hummel

There were times when the IPCC summaries were unable to indicate the full extent and implications of the changes to our ocean and the icy regions of the planet.

We had too little data, and too many gaps in our knowledge of the complex feedback mechanisms linking earth, sea, and atmosphere with our weather and climate patterns.

Since the IPCC was set up by UNEP back in 1988, it has struggled with a lack of funding and resources as it tries to synthesize the science being rapidly overtaken by the exponential warming of the planet.

A lack of data, especially on the vast ocean that covers 70% of our planet and the icy regionsof the cryopshere: the Arctic, the Antarctic and the "third pole" — the glaciers covering our highest mountains in the Himalayas region — was a fine excuse for those refusing to take climate change seriously. 

Irene Quaile-Kersken
Irene Quaile-KerskenImage: DW

It saved them from the tough task of questioning our economic system, based on growth and the exploitation of fossil fuels and other finite resources. 

The ocean? So vast it can take anything we dump in it. The Arctic or the even colder Antarctic? Melting? The icy mountains of the Himalayas? Who cares? Why should we?

No more excuses

Now, three decades on, with the third special report on the ocean and cryosphere following hard on the heels of the land use report and the 1.5-degree C special report, there are no excuses for business as usual. 

They all document the increasingly rapid and momentous pace of climate change and the undeniable connections between our lifestyle and a warming planet.

The latest report outlines how humans and nature will be affected by the impacts of climate change on the ocean and the frozen areas of the world — two earth systems which affect all of our lives directly or indirectly, the "global conveyor belt" that links the oceans of the world and in turn influences climate.

Now we know even the depths of our seas are warming, melting ice at the poles is changing weather patterns even in Africa and the tropics, dwindling glaciers are threatening drinking water supplies, the ocean is becoming more acidic and sea levels are rising faster than ever expected.

Not only small island states, but also some of the world's coastal megacities, are set to go under.

It's up to us

Forest fires are raging from the lush, wet, Amazon, to the once icy Arctic. We've seen heatwaves and droughts, even in what we think of as the temperate regions. Species of animals and plants are shifting polewards.

Two polar bears walk across the ice close to a pool of water
Polar bears are not the only ones at risk from melting iceImage: Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Mario Hoppmann

If you're not worried about polar bears or penguins, what might make you stop and reconsider are dwindling fish stocks, as well as shortages of fruit, vegetables, grain, and the unsustainability of our intensive agriculture.

We've spent too long dithering, justifying our inaction. Finding excuses not to cut down on driving or flying. Drawing out the switch to renewable energy. Easing our consciences about the wastefulness of our existence.

The alternatives are there. Save energy, use renewables, eat less meat, protect our greenery...  

What more does it take to convince each and every one of us in the prosperous, industrialized world that the days of our extravagant lifestyles are numbered, that they have to be numbered, if climate change is to be halted and the long- or even medium-term survival of our planet with its rapidly growing population is to be secured?

"Fridays for Future:" how easy it would be to leave it up to the younger generation. Sure, it's their future at stake — but we're the ones who are burning it up.