The threshold at the end of the world 

Standing on the edge, which door will we take?

click to enlarge WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - sobering report A new report from the Intergorvenmental Panel on Climate Change says we need to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent globally in the next 12 years.
  • sobering report A new report from the Intergorvenmental Panel on Climate Change says we need to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent globally in the next 12 years.

Late autumn and the incumbent ancient festivals, especially Halloween, are about nothing if not liminality. "Liminal:" from the Latin "limen," which means "threshold."

In art school, liminality is a big deal. Thresholds between reality and imagination, wo/man and machine, high and low art, even between different levels of light, as in twilight and dawn, offer rich ground for thinking and creating new realities.

Halloween and the mighty jack-o'-lantern (of Celtic origins in Ireland) are rooted in this liminal season of autumn, anchored between the light and life of summer and the literal darkness and death of winter. So how appropriate that at the heart of this fall's liminality, the 30-year-old Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on climate change, a report whose conclusions are nothing short of terrifying—namely, we're on course for a global temperature rise of 3°Celsius.

In case you've been away on a South Pacific island with no cell connections, the message is we're facing a very scary threshold, indeed. But then you might have already realized that firsthand as rising ocean levels and the dead coral reef at your doorstep meant saltwater was burbling up through your island's shaky foundation.

But, please, don't take my word. Go beyond the headlines yourself.

It's so cool reading reports as crucial as this one in their raw, unmediated form, meaning no media outlets, even this one, are interpreting things for you. It's also hugely satisfying, something we all need to use before we lose it, or at least before we forget we can.

At you'll learn tons, including about the IPCC itself, a panel set up in 1988 by the UN—the last great hope we have for any global undertaking—and the World Meteorological Organization.

Imagine that! Global organizations were already concerned about climate change back in '88! It was also the same year one of my superheroes, Dr. James Hansen—one of the world's foremost experts on climate and the way it's changing; one of the foremost experts to oppose tar sands oil since it contains more than twice the carbon of other fossil fuels; and then-director of NASA's Institute for Space Studies—testified before the U.S. Congress that it was 99-per-cent certain climate change had already begun. If you're curious, you can find The New York Times' 1988 coverage of Dr. Hansen's testimony in its archives.

For now, though, here are just a few of the report's more harrowing conclusions.

The No. 1 scary fact: As mentioned, at the current rate the climate is warming, we're on track for a 3°C increase in global temperatures since the annual amount of CO2 emissions is expected to hit 54 to 56 gigatonnes by 2030.

By comparison, the International Energy Agency reported that in 2017 global CO2 emissions hit 32.5 gigatonnes—an all-time high and especially worrisome trend as global energy demands rose by 2.1 per cent that year alone. All this after the 2015 Paris Agreement aimed to cut emissions to keep global temperature rise to between 1.5° to 2°C.

The IPCC report also concluded that if we increase that temperature rise even by that half-degree (from 1.5° to 2°C), we can expect:

• Insects, which are vital for pollinating food crops and other plants, will be nearly twice as likely to lose half their habitat.

• 10 million more people would be affected by sea-level rise.

• The Great Barrier Reef would totally die off, as opposed to some of it staying alive if the rise is kept to 1.5°C.

The list goes on, and I'm sure you can find more about the frightening outcomes with just that half-degree difference, but given the above, can you picture what would happen with a 3°C rise? It strikes real terror into my wee half-Irish heart.

All of which brings us to our threshold, our liminal moment like no other.

I trust the IPCC. We're at a turning point with no turning back. As nations and individuals, we need to cut our carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. That's only 12 years away. But we can "avoid the worst aspects of climate change" if we "act decisively and innovate and invest wisely," as Sir Nicholas Stern puts it.

We'll have to grab every opportunity, big or small, convenient or not. It's late October and I still haven't turned on the heat in my office. But I have a sweater on. It's great if we take the bus or bike more often, let's say 45 per cent of trips, buy an electric car if we can afford it, or simply double up on travel.

It's even better if we all press all politicians and power brokers for policies that will meet that 45-per-cent threshold—investing in clean power, reforestation and adopting carbon capture technologies.

At the dinner table tonight, we can cut way back on meat or stop eating it, period. Call it my "cut the meat to beat the heat" mantra. More on that later.

In the meantime, consider this: Since the Second World War ended, we boomers and subsequent generations have been pretty much spoiled. We can barely imagine collective action or even a small sacrifice to achieve a common good much greater than ourselves. But we know better now, just as we know better about cancer and smoking, so here we stand, on the edge of a precipitous threshold.

All we can do is grab our neighbour's hand and see which door we walk through...

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who's been working on the climate file since 1992.

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