Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body, released a landmark report—the most comprehensive global climate report published thus far—that shows how quickly global climate change is accelerating.
The climate report was authored by 200 leading scientists who make it very clear that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of the extreme weather that's becoming far too common, from heat waves and wildfires to devastating winter storms.
"It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change," says Ko Barrett, the vice chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in a press briefing. "Each of the last four decades has been the warmest on record since preindustrial times."
According to the authors of the climate report, the extreme weather events that seem to be in the news on a weekly basis are only going to become more common if the world doesn't start taking climate change seriously.
"This whiplash—this increase in both extreme wet and dry events—is projected to increase through the 21st century," says Kim Cobb, a paleoclimate scientist at Georgia Institute of Technology. "We can now say global surface temps are reaching levels not seen in 100,000 years. The rate of warming since 1970 is higher than any 50-year period in the last 2,000 years."
Not only that, but global sea levels are rising at a rapid pace, too. According to the climate report, human influence is likely the main driver of the melting glaciers and the decrease in Arctic sea ice area. Because of that melting, the sea level rose an average of 8 inches between 1901 and 2018. By 2050, the sea level is expected to rise an additional 4 to 10 inches, whether or not greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.
"Even if net zero emissions are reached, sea level rise will continue because the deep ocean will continue to warm and ice sheets will take time to catch up to the warming caused by past and present emissions," reads the report. "Ocean and ice sheets are slow to respond to environmental changes."
While there's still time to make changes that could quite literally save the world, scientists say it needs to happen now. According to Climate.gov, it's a group effort between individuals, businesses, and federal entities. Here's how you can start making an impact in your own life.
How to Help Stop Climate Change
1. Rethink Your Mode of Transportation
Transportation accounted for 29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. When you choose to walk or bike instead, you're bettering your own health as well as the health of the planet. According to a 2015 study, an increase in bicycling on a global level could "cut energy use and carbon dioxide emissions from urban transport by up to 10 percent by 2050."
When you do use your car, do some extra planning. See if a coworker lives nearby that you could carpool with to and from the office. Public transit is also a great way to cut down on your carbon emissions. And instead of making multiple trips throughout the week to run errands, try to do them all at once. These infrequent trips will likely save you money as well.
2. Buy Less and Better
According to researcher Sabrina Helm, humans' overconsumption of resources is a leading contributor to global climate change. Focus on only buying what you really need, whether that's clothes, household items, or beauty products. Then when you do buy, opt for eco-friendly options that are made sustainably with responsibly-sourced materials.
3. Eat Less Meat
A 2019 study published in Animal Frontiers found livestock is responsible for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouses gases. That's why one of the best things you can do for the planet is eat more plants. In fact, a 2020 study published in Nature Sustainability found a widespread shift to a plant-based diet by 2050 could remove over 16 years of CO2 emissions.
When you're planning out your meals, consider going meatless—even just for one meal a day. If and when you choose to buy meat, focus on more sustainable and ethical options. For example, when ranking the most popular types, chicken and turkey tend to be better for the environment than pork and beef.
4. Reduce and Reuse First
Yes, recycling is great—but the "reduce, reduce, recycle" slogan is in that order for a reason. While recycling is great, the best thing you can do is first cut down on the amount of plastic you're buying. Then, before recycling, see if there's a way you can reuse that item in your home first.
Because recyclable items don't always get recycled, it's the best way to go about cutting down on the amount of planet-harming waste that's sent to landfills. Especially since municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the "methane emissions from landfills in 2019 were approximately equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from more than 21.6 million passenger vehicles driven for one year or the CO2 emissions from nearly 12.0 million homes’ energy use for one year." Yikes.
5. Use Your Voice
Sometimes we forget how much power we have when we speak up and use our voice. Talk to your friends and family about climate change and teach them small steps they can take every day to make a difference. You can also spread the word on a bigger small on social media, and/or by voicing your concerns to your elected officials. Even a short conversation could spark a huge amount of change.
For more ways to stop climate change, click here. We have plenty of ideas that can help you make a difference!