Another exceptionally warm winter in the Northeast.. Graphic courtesy of NOAA

As if to validate my doom and gloom about us and the climate from a couple of weeks ago, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday released its Synthesis Report for the Sixth Assessment (AR6) for 2023, summarizing where climate change research worldwide stands now. The picture is unencouraging at best.

I also received a number of emails from readers who agreed to feeling discouraged, but also environmentally undaunted — a weird kind of postmodern oxymoron.

Highlights of discouraging facts from the IPCC report include:

• The first sentence, “Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming.”

• The report states with “high confidence” that climate change-related heat extremes have already spurred local losses of hundreds of animal species, including mass death events on land and in the ocean.

• Some climate change impacts, such as retreating glaciers and thawing permafrost, are already approaching irreversible.


• Reported with “very high confidence” is the fact that extreme heat events related to climate change have resulted in increases of human deaths and suffering in all regions worldwide.

• Human activities have “unequivocally” caused increases in greenhouse gas concentrations since 1750.

• Greenhouse gas emissions in the 2010s decade were greater than any other decade on record. The good news about this seems to be the rate of growth for those 10 years was lower than the rate of growth in the 2000-09 decade.

• The report states with “high confidence” that of the total carbon dioxide emissions generated by humans since 1850, about 42% of it occurred between 1990 and 2019. (This is kind of mind-boggling, in part because it has been understood with a pretty high degree of likelihood since the 1970s — including by oil companies — that serious problems would ensue from unchecked CO2 emissions.)

• And sure enough, the report states with “high confidence” that since 1970, global surface temperature has increased faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years.

• Also with high confidence, the average rate of global mean sea level rise increased from about 1.3 millimeters per year between 1901 and 1971, to about 3.2 to 4.2 millimeters per year between 2006 and 2018. “Human influence was very likely the main driver of these increases since at least 1971.”


• The report also indicates with high confidence that: “Ecosystem-based adaptation approaches such as urban greening, restoration of wetlands and upstream forest ecosystems have been effective in reducing flood risks and urban heat.”

So on this glimmer of hope, here are some of the comments from environmentally undaunted readers:

• “I, too, … am gloomy about the future. But I live next door to a woman who refuses to give up and has been fighting for carbon pricing despite many setbacks. She and her fellow volunteers may be unlikely to succeed, but it cheers me to watch them.”

• “It’s more than an uphill battle and I’m sick of it, but the stakes are just too high to give up. … Even though I’m known as the local cynic, I do find tidbits that make me hopeful, sorta, for at least a while. … Citizens Climate Lobby has been urging members to lobby Congress for nearly 15 years because that’s where the real work needs to be done. Against all odds, I keep hoping Congress will do the right thing. You have likely seen Peter Monro’s opinion piece in the (Portland) Press Herald … in which he pointed out the futility of acting individually/locally on climate change and encouraged people to adopt a broader focus. … At least we can see some evidence of more people engaging.”

• Earlier this year, a reader wrote: “As a Master Maine Guide since 1977, I have witnessed firsthand the terrible destruction of our trout and salmon fishery. … I just wanted to mention the one statistic that makes me pessimistic about the whole deal — the entire Earth burns 90-100 million barrels of oil a day — a day! How in the world is anything going to change if we keep burning oil at this rate? Well, as you pointed out, it’s your grandson who is going to witness the worst of it.”

• Also earlier: “I’ve been scrapbooking Morning Sentinel articles on climate change for a few years. I have one spiral notebook full of articles and another about three-quarters full. I will give this to my grandchildren in a few years so they will see that, at least, we were warned about the consequences of our actions, in addition to our inactions. On the cover, I state, ‘We were warned.’ … (Fifteen years ago I made) a short video of my (then) 5-year-old granddaughter gazing at a stream and catching leaves flowing downstream. She looks up and says, ‘Papa, will this all be here when I grow up?’ I told her then, I didn’t know.”


• In a one-word response two weeks ago, a reader expressed undaunted hope by simply stating, “Greta.”

Climate change and its effects are happening right now, not in some blurry, unreal, post-apocalyptic science fiction video game future.

“Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred,” the IPCC report states. “Human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.”

In other words, it’s happening right in the backyard. It’s happening whether you notice or not, whether you care or not, whether you believe it or not. Whether you feel any responsibility to the place where you live, or not.

What, then?

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected] His book “Winter” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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