This article was published on: 10/29/19 10:04 PM
By Samantha Liptak
It’s Halloween, which means costumes, candy and scary movies. Fear turns to fun on October 31 because Halloween lets us seek scary thrills that can’t hurt us. And when we feel like the threats closing in on us, we just turn off the TV or turn on the lights. But there is one terror that we can’t escape, no matter the time of year.
We’re talking climate change. Here are five of the scariest, most bone-chilling facts about climate change to get you in the mood for terror this season (and hopefully also scare you and your fellow trick-or-treaters into action to address it).
In its 2018 special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we only have twelve years to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. The year 2020 is now only two months away — leaving us just a decade to halve our emissions to avert the worst climate impacts— yet little has changed regarding our release of greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2017, carbon emissions increased globally by 1.7 percent. In 2018, they increased further, up 2.7 percent from the year before. And 2019 is expected to have one of the highest rates of increase on record.
The U.N. climate report and subsequent reports have warned us that global carbon pollution must be cut in half in the next 10 years for us to avoid catastrophic, irreversible damage to our planet. And yet we’re going in the opposite direction. That’s terrifying.
“We’ve wasted the three decades since we were first warned by scientists that the climate was changing in perilous ways,” Bill McKibben, co-founder and senior advisor of 350.org, said in an Earth Day Network press call on October 22 — the beginning of the six-month countdown to Earth Day 2020. “Earth Day 2020 marks the beginning of the last crucial decade.”
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has compounded the research released in the 2018 IPCC report, stating that 20 of the warmest years on record have occurred in the last 22 years.
“The long-term temperature trend is far more important than the ranking of individual years, and that trend is an upward one,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas stated in a press release. “The degree of warming during the past four years has been exceptional, both on land and in the ocean.”
The years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 had the highest temperatures since 1880, and 2019 is keeping pace to be another record year.
Are you scared for our future, yet?
Imagine dressing up as a frog for Halloween and having to explain to younger generations what it was and why it’s gone. Half of all amphibians are at risk of extinction due to climate change — so this could soon be a reality if we don’t act soon.
Extinction is a natural phenomenon, claiming about five species per year. But some experts suggest we’re in the midst of the sixth mass extinction — one that is caused mostly by human activity.
Scientists estimate dozens of species of plants and animals currently go extinct each day —nearly 1,000 times the natural rate. By mid-century, as many as 30 to 50 percent of the total species found on Earth will have disappeared.
Allowing this to continue is “a crime equivalent to tossing books from the Library of Alexandria thoughtlessly into a fire, erasing the shared inheritance of all mankind,” according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Science in a review from 2009.
Species diversity is crucial for ecosystem resilience, and without it, ecological communities will not have the strength to withstand change — especially not the change we’re throwing at them.
The impacts to human health are much scarier than any clown movie.
Rising temperatures — coupled with a growing number of people in cities and an increasing population of elderly— have increased heat-related deaths, according to a 2018 study in The Lancet.
The report concluded that the lack of adaptive capacities and effort toward reducing emissions threatens human lives and the national health systems people rely on, by pushing services to their limit and disrupting core infrastructure.
But hyperthermia is not the only risk climate change brings to human life. Higher temperatures worsen air quality, negatively affect crop production, increase the spread of infectious diseases and threaten freshwater deposits.
A warming world also increases the intensity of natural disasters.
While instances of wildfires have decreased over the years, according to the WMO, the burn area and intensity of fires have increased. Wildfires are currently ripping through California — claiming more than 94,000 acres of land, 129 million trees and displacing 200,000 people to date in the San Francisco Bay Area .
Hurricanes are reaching new extremes, too. The frequency of high intensity hurricanes — ranked as categories 4 and 5 — has increased over the last 30 years. It has become immensely more difficult to escape these storms unscathed, and it will only get harder in the future.
Have you noticed that the Halloween season doesn’t feel the same either? If we can’t wear a full costume without sweating then something is wrong, right?
That’s because climate change is shifting the seasons. Falls, winters and springs are growing shorter, while summer extends into the supposedly cooler months. North American winters are losing snow and ice as a result — making prime ski destinations, well, not prime.
This not only makes dressing up in a full-body werewolf costume uncomfortable but also disrupts the natural interactions between species, their habitats and their migration patterns. BOO.
The world has been aware of climate change since the IPCC formed in 1988. Scientists and the public rallied around environmental policy, but many global governments had a different idea.
They were going to ignore it.
Countries contributing most to global emissions have the best chance of curbing climate change, but leaders are doing little to address it.
The United States, for example, is the second leading emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the leading emitter per capita. Still, U.S. President Donald Trump has confirmed plans to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement — which would have held us to reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025 — allowing industries to remain mostly unchecked.
The U.S., unfortunately, is not the only country making the wrong promises — protecting the fossil fuel industry and proposing environmental rollbacks — or failing to follow through on policies that will actually help the environment.
China continues to build coal-fired power stations despite investing in alternative energy sources like solar and wind. The United Kingdom, while an ambitious global leader in climate change policy, is reducing its targets for cutting emissions.
We’re not in a Hollywood studio, helplessly in the hands of sadistic screenwriters. We can actively choose to change the ending of our story — and for that we should feel hopeful.
Younger generations are taking matters into their own hands and striking for the climate. They’re skipping school completely to plead for an end to inaction toward climate change.
“Together and united, we are unstoppable,” Thunberg said at a rally in New York City. “This is what people power looks like. We will rise to the challenge. We will hold those who are most responsible accountable. We can, and we will.”
Earth Day 2020 will be the largest global mobilization for the environment in history. EARTHRISE plans to ignite intergenerational support of the movement planned for April 22, 2020 — combining a half century worth of action with the passionate demands of today’s youth activism. Join the movement.
This Halloween we must face our fears. The human-made monster that is climate change won’t go anywhere if you just close your eyes or turn off the TV. Action and advocacy are the only way to flip the script — and not wind up like your favorite victim at the end of the horror film.
Samantha Liptak is a junior studying journalism and environmental studies at American University. She is an intern at Earth Day Network.