The Crisis of Climate Disruption
With global warming causing unprecedented climate disruption, society faces a crisis that threatens its very viability. The scientific consensus is that we need to reduce the global emission of greenhouse gases by at least 80% by mid-century at the latest in order to avert the worst impacts of global warming and to reestablish the more stable climatic conditions that have made human progress over the last 10,000 years possible.1 While this may be difficult, the earth does not recognize how hard it is for us humans to change; it will respond to the physical changes we cause on its own schedule. We cannot avoid this decision – maintaining the status quo and not moving aggressively toward climate neutrality is also a decision, and a tacit admission that we are willing to risk the potential collapse of our civilization.
Higher Education is necessary to successfully eliminate this threat – a challenge of massive proportion which will require transforming our economy, our institutions, our daily lives within a generation, and hence requires the active leadership of higher education to overcome. No other institution in society has the influence, the critical mass and the diversity of skills needed to be successful.
Human activities - primarily burning fossil fuels and destruction of natural systems - have led to the increase in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide above historic highs of 280 parts per million over the past 650,000 years, to over 380 parts per million today. This is driving global warming and causing changes in the climate system with potentially devastating effects on social and natural systems.
These changes are already being observed in various forms in different areas, such as prolonged drought, heavier rain falls, retreating glaciers, melting permafrost, loss of sea ice, and rising sea levels. The impacts of these changes are disrupting transportation, energy, agriculture and health systems, and are expected to increase.
Climate disruption will stress water resources, challenge crop and livestock production, increase risk from rising sea levels and storm surge, and threaten human health. It will also interact with other social and environmental problems exacerbating their impacts, and threatening to undermine international stability and national security. The US Pentagon has said that climate change poses a greater threat to the US than does terrorism, and increasingly the Department of Defense is focusing on climate change as a key strategic issue.
Taken together, these interrelated challenges that will be made worse by climate disruption underscore the urgency with which the climate crisis must be met.
ACUPCC institutions are meeting rising to this challenge by creating comprehensive climate action plans for promoting education and research on these topics and potential solutions; pursuing climate neutrality in specific campus operations; and publicly reporting on their progress.
Further resources on the science of global warming, climate change, and climate disruption:
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- US Global Change Research Program
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- American Institute of Physics
- Climate Change at the National Academies
- The Ohio State University - Carbon Management & Sequestration Center
- University of California, Irvine - Climate Change Science & Policy
- University of Colorado, Boulder - Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
- University of Maine - Climate Change Institute
- University of Maryland - Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC)
The latest results of this global scientific consensus are laid out in the Fourth Assessment Report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in 2007. ↩