The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s Special Report was published last week and it all appears very doom and gloom. The essential takeaway is that we MUST limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-Industrial levels to prevent catastrophic damage, 0.5°C below the current target of 2°C.
The science of human-caused climate change is now so stark that even the Trump administration is having to admit it is happening. After months and months of flat-out denial, the White House U-turned, releasing a report in September predicting a 4°C rise in average temperature by the turn of the century if we continue on our current trajectory. But instead of drafting up policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions and fuel renewable energy growth ASAP, they skipped straight to five of Dana Nuccitelli's Five Stages of Climate Denial – saying it's too late to do anything about it.
Except they are wrong. It isn't too late, but we need to act sooner rather than later.
"We should limit climate change as much as possible, as quickly as possible. The report makes clear that even a half-degree increase in warming makes a huge difference – damaging our economy and our future," Keith Gaby, senior communications director at the Environmental Defense Fund, told IFLScience, adding: "We think it is possible to limit warming if we act boldly and quickly."
This means that while there are things that can be done on an individual level to cut down our carbon footprint (more on that later), the big changes will need to be made on a national and international platform. As the biologist and broadcasting veteran David Attenborough told BBC Newsnight earlier this month, we need politicians who "recognize what the danger is" and "will do something difficult".
Some politicians are content to bury their head in the sand when it comes to climate change, but others are happy to take the lead. See Governor Jerry Brown, who has pledged to make California 100 percent renewable by 2045, or Governor of Chungnam, Seung-Jo Yang, who announced that Korea's premier coal province will be shifting to green energy.
Of course, it's up to us to put them there – so one of the most important things non-politicians can do is to vote carefully.
"The biggest thing [individuals] can do is vote for candidates who will work to solve this problem. We really need smart government policies," Gaby continued.
"Elected officials should oppose the Trump administration’s attempt to increase carbon pollution, including their effort to cancel the Clean Power Plan, undermine the EPA’s clean cars program, and prop up the dirtiest coal plants."
Post-election, voters can help encourage their elected official to commit to a sustainable agenda by staying in touch.
"Many states and cities are limiting their carbon pollution – you should ask your state leaders to do the same. In the long term, we need to limit climate pollution by asking companies to pay when they put carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. That will reduce pollution and give companies an incentive to move to clean energy," Gaby added.
If you are in the US, you can find a summary of where your politicians stand on various issues, including the environment (here) and details on how to contact Senators and Representatives (here and here). There are other websites (including the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Resources Defense Council, and Parliament.uk) that offer information on how to get in touch with policymakers and industry power players to encourage the pursual of tougher environmental policy.
As far as diet is concerned, avoiding meat and dairy may just be the single best way to slash your energy consumption, according to an article published in Science this year. Researchers found a vegan world could shrink global farmland to less than 25 percent its current size and still keep everyone fed.
If you aren't quite prepared to give up brie and bacon entirely, reducing the amount you eat or rethinking the type you consume can help. Red meat like beef and lamb, for example, is responsible for 10 to 40 times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as vegetables and grains, reports Scientific American – and cattle alone is responsible for roughly 20 percent of US methane emissions, a gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The takeaway is that it isn't going to be easy.
"Limiting warming to 1.5°C requires us to reach a global zero emissions level of carbon-dioxide around mid-century. This is a formidable challenge, and therefore it is critical that if one is serious about this goal, then action is taken as soon possible and rather today than tomorrow," Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer in Climate Change and the Environment at The Grantham Institute for Climate Change, told IFLScience.
"The report shows that limiting warming to 1.5°C is not anymore a question of choosing one option we would like. Rather, it emphasizes that far-reaching changes will be necessary in all sectors if we want to limit warming to 1.5°C."
But it is possible to meet the IPCC's recommended limit of 1.5°C warming – and there is good reason to remain hopeful that we will.
"If we think about where we were five years ago compared to today, we've seen renewables booming on a whole different level," Kaisa Kosonen, a senior policy advisor for Greenpeace, told IFLScience.
"They are increasingly competing with fossil fuels, even without subsidies. In Finland, there are businesses now investing in wind simply because that is the cheapest way to secure power for the future without subsidies. We have countries and cities that have decided to phase out coal. Who would have imagined this just five years ago?"
"We are talking about cities that have decided to ban oil-based vehicles. We have countries banning oil drilling. All of these have started to accumulate in just a few years, so I think big change is coming and I think people are increasingly ready for it."