“Climate collapse has begun.”
While those four words should come as no surprise, they signal a significant shift in human history. We are leaving an era where weather conditions were relatively stable and predictable and are entering an era where volatility is the only guarantee.
Those four words were part of a statement recently issued by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in response to the news that this summer was the three hottest months on Earth in recorded history.
Global temperature records were broken in July and August, according to data collected by the Copernicus Climate Change Service. Last month is estimated to have been 1.5°C warmer than the pre-industrial average.
The correlation between record temperatures and extreme weather events is hard to ignore. Canada is emerging from its worst wildfire season yet, with more than 15 million hectares of land engulfed in flames so far. The effects were felt locally, with poor air quality due to the widespread smoke.
This summer also saw a hyperactive hurricane season in North America, fueled by record-breaking ocean temperatures. Last week, the coastal city of Derna in Libya was hit by catastrophic flash floods. More than 11,000 people have died and thousands are still missing.
The climate crisis is no longer close. It’s here.
So what does this mean for humanity?
On the one hand, it doesn’t mean that all is lost.
While it is not possible to completely stop climate change (that ship has already sailed), it is still possible to avoid the worst-case scenario. Government and corporate actions now will determine the quality of life for generations to come.
The effects of climate change are clear. For decades, scientists have predicted how global warming will affect the environment. The consequences include higher temperatures, more severe storms, increased drought, rising ocean levels, and greater loss of species. For humans, this translates into food insecurity, infrastructure failures, economic challenges, serious health risks, and displacement.
While many of these issues are already in play, leaders must get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate additional complications. It is unacceptable to continue failing to meet emissions reduction targets. Investments in green energy and effective climate policies are needed to incentivize reductions in the public and private sector.
One way or another, the climate crisis will require action. Municipal, provincial and federal governments are already grappling with the costly and deadly effects of environmental disasters compounded by a warming planet. Along with mitigation, adaptation and planning are key to a liveable future.
You don’t have to look far to see the benefits of progressive environmental adaptation.
Prior to the construction of the Red River floodway, Winnipeg was subject to severe flood cycles that displaced residents and damaged infrastructure. Prime Minister Duff Roblin pushed through the project despite public and political opposition at its significant cost. The levee and its subsequent expansions are estimated to have prevented billions of dollars in flood damage locally.
The current generation of Manitoba politicians should take a page from the history books when designing climate policies for the future. An elevated vision can pay long-term dividends.
Climate action and adaptation are not an individual burden. It is a collective issue that depends on ambitious leadership.