The AR6 Synthesis Report was released by the IPCC last Monday. This is, as you might have guessed, a synthesis of the IPCC's reportage over the last near-decade, with some new data and conclusions. I personally look at the IPCC reports as factually accurate texts with a great deal of rose-colored interpretation. This isn't the fault of the scientists writing the reports–they are working at the behest of world governments who get to dictate what, exactly, they say. So when a report like this comes out, it's important that we look closely, carefully, and with our bullshit detectors calibrated.
A very brief summary of this report is that the exploitation of current fossil fuel infrastructure all but assures (meaning, 100% this is gonna happen but they're scientists and can't say that) that the planet will cross the 1.5°C warming threshold that has been the goal of world governments. That's basically in the text, and the bottom line. The reason there are numerous headlines about the AR6 that say "World Near Catastrophic Warming" is because sensible people have interpreted the report to say so. But they will go on to tell you that, while we're near disaster, there is good evidence for hope. And I don't want to say that's untrue, because it's not–measures taken by have reduced emissions significantly if not to any real effect. So the needle can be moved, even by our mostly-disinterested leaders. What we need, then, is to give them more motivation to act.
The Heart of the Matter
The report, as you might expect, doesn't come to many new conclusions. Climate change and all the threats it entails are worsening. The window on action is mid-slam. We will become increasingly dependent upon remediation technologies like carbon capture in order to hit global emissions goals*.
We knew all this. The headline item, what should be raising every alarm and is raising some, is that the report confirms we are all but assured to overshoot the Paris Agreement goal of a 1.5°C limit to temperature rise. What the report and the papers don't say–rather cagily, I think–is that 1.5°C is the brink upon which things begin to tumble out of our control. We haven't talked about this issue for a bit, but a breach of 1.5°C, even a temporary one, is likely to begin knocking over various tipping points. These tipping points, once toppled, become runaway feedback loops. And that's the ballgame. The death of the Amazon Rainforest, the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice, the release of methane deposits from permafrost and sea beds–all of these tipping points and more will start snowballing until we are utterly incapable of stopping climate change or, for that matter, surviving what we've done to the planet.
Nothing else matters. Not really. This is the beginning of the anthropic extinction event–everything thus far has been simple prelude. If the tipping points fall, this is no longer a narrative from which humanity wrests any kind of happy ending. We go extinct. Pandas go extinct. Polar bears, penguins, whales, fish, squid. Lions, leopards, gorillas, elephants, wolves. Birds–all of them. Nearly everything. This is where we are now: the threshold of a very real abyss.
*Carbon capture is a scam and don't let anybody tell you different. It's a way to buy time to burn more oil and pass the buck off to your kids. We don't have the tech yet and we may never. Geoengineering is a scam too, while we're at it.
The Willow Project
This is why the Willow Project is such a big deal. And yeah, there are other new oil and gas leases being granted by the Biden administration, but Willow is emblematic of the disregard given to the president's own promises and the science of climate change. Last year, the International Energy Agency stated that no new oil and gas infrastructure can be built if we are to hope to stay below our emissions threshold.
For brand new infrastructure to be built despite these conclusions, despite campaign promises and all the pleading of science and protesters, well. The project's emissions on their own are not important. What's important is what they stand for. The Willow Project will continue pumping oil for around thirty years–a lifespan longer than the timeframe within which we in the United States are to reach our net-zero goal. This means that the powers that be are still entirely committed to keeping the economy going above all else (and keeping oil tycoons happy)–requiring that our net-zero accomplishment be achieved not by some mixture of low emissions and planting trees or restoring wetlands, but by the creation of sequestration hubs that themselves will require immense amounts of energy, if and when they ever become viable. And it's not just us. China has plans for a hundred new coal power plants. The gradual march of capitalism, "improving" lives across the globe, is further ensuring we lose this race*. Put realistically, and briefly, we're not going to reach net-zero, not as we are.
As we speak, despite the fact that the seas have risen only about 8 inches in the last 120 years, communities around the world are losing land, losing homes. Of all places that you would expect to be safe, the setting of a literal Nicholas Sparks novel is going into the water. Many of the people there have enough money to move their entire endangered homes away from the encroaching water. Some don't. But it should illustrate to you that no place is safe. These dangers are coming to everyone, everywhere.
*Climate change is very much not the fault of developing nations and I place no blame whatsoever on their desire to improve conditions for their people.
There are active fronts in the climate fight. Just as Cop City is a focal point for the fight against police brutality, Stop Line 3 is a long-running battle against fossil fuel infrastructure. The fight against the Willow Project is ramping up as we speak. Standing Rock and the Keystone XL fights were incredibly important battles–fought largely by Indigenous peoples who to this day make up the brunt of defenders in the struggle against climate change. Standing on these front lines, as with any fight, is costly–in money, in blood, in time. Contributing to these efforts is worthwhile, but more has to be done.
There are things that I can't encourage you to do. Someone is inevitably going to do them if we continue as we have, with almost no regard for the future of the planet and ourselves. For those of us wanting to contribute in other ways, I would reiterate that building a replacement for capitalism is a very valid way to go about this fight. Self-sufficiency is not nearly, nearly, nearly enough, but if we are able to spread this sufficiency through our communities, we will begin to take away dollars from people in amounts that become unignorable. (They will then criminalize sustainability, which is itself something we have to be ready for.)
Preparedness is the first step on the journey toward sustainability, which is the first step on the journey toward a future that still has ice. That's always been the case with this project, and it always will be. Everything you are able to do to prepare yourself for the catastrophes wrought by nature or our wrongheaded government is an act toward a livable future–if you are willing to promulgate that preparation into your surroundings. The IPCC report and others want to tell us that there is still time to act, to reduce our emissions and avert catastrophe. Whether or not that is true, there is still time for us to change our way of life, to adapt, to fight when we need to fight, and, in short, to save each other.