The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its latest report on our planetary ecosystem. It’s as bad as you think. In short, global net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 were 12% higher than in 2010 and 54% higher than in 1990. Even if the nations attending the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last November implement all their pledged greenhouse gas reductions, we are highly likely to warm the planet more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the baseline year of 1850, meaning that within a few decades, the wildfires, hurricanes, and floods we’ve been enduring recently will be remembered as the good old days.
The 1.5 Celsius standard has been a longstanding goal because it minimizes further consequences of climate change; we’ve already warmed the planet 1.2 degrees Celsius. But Climate Action Tracker, a scientific organization that monitors governments’ compliance with pledged carbon footprint reductions, estimates that in a best-case scenario (all nations fully implement their Glasgow reduction commitments) temperatures rise 1.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. Again, that’s the best case. A more realistic scenario has temperatures soaring 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit). At that point ecosystems will be so disrupted there’s no telling how anyone will thrive.
All of which has me re-thinking our charitable giving.
The Fabulous Wife and I are extremely modest donors; you’re never going to see our names on the wing of a building. Nonetheless, we think it vital to pay our good fortune forward. I won’t say how much we donate to whom — that’s between us and the recipients. But last year half our donations went to non-profits that reduce human and animal suffering. The next-highest category, comprising a third of our total giving, was environmental organizations — and that’s the part I’m re-thinking.
At this point I question whether any preservation efforts matter. Sure, we can pass laws and revise tax codes so people are incentivized to reduce their carbon footprint. I’m all for it. But I don’t foresee the Russian or Brazilian governments following suit, and they control the fates of Siberia and the Amazon rain forest, the planet’s biggest terrestrial carbon sinks. Nor do I see OPEC or the fossil fuel industry encouraging us to reduce consumption of their products. And I don’t see ordinary people, especially Americans, reacting constructively to the higher prices and lifestyle changes a meaningful reduction in our collective carbon footprint requires. Remember how splendidly everything went when we asked everyone to wear masks and save each other from a deadly disease? Good luck telling everyone driving pickup trucks and SUVs to switch to electric sedans — or bicycles.
I’ve proposed to The Fabulous Wife that we redirect the money we’re giving to environmental groups toward the non-profits that reduce human and animal suffering. It’s a bitter pill — committing ourselves almost exclusively to short-term palliative care and abandoning hope of long-term wellness — and she’s not reconciled to taking it yet, so we’ll mull the idea a bit longer. But, I’m incredibly sorry to say, it’s become clear to both of us that trying to save the environment that nurtured us is a lost cause.