What Is Climate Breakdown?
Climate breakdown is the most recent term for what was previously known as global warming (that the average temperature of the earth is continuing to rise) or climate change (that the global climate has changed in an unprecedented manner). The phrase climate breakdown was made a journalistic standard by The Guardian after the recent IPCC report.
The IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, created by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization, including governments that participate in either organization. There are currently (as of 2020) 195 members in the IPCC. The IPCC creates reports from an assessment of the scientific papers that are published around the world, curating and summarizing what everyone has noticed about climate breakdown. After the assessment reports are created, they’re subjected to transparent review from scientists and experts around the world, before finally being published.
Speaking on the report, The Guardian mentions how the “hundreds of authors and reviewers [and a rigorous process] ensures that only the statements which are hardest to dispute are allowed to pass” resulting in a least-worse-case-picture—which is still highly alarming.
It boils down to, The Guardian reveals, a disheartening yet unsurprising “it’s as bad as we thought it was.”
What climate breakdown, as a term, encompasses is not only a change of some kind, and is far more encompassing than warming. This term grapples with the large-scale effect of the warming change. And the effect is the complete breakdown of the global climate in which humanity has grown and survived thus far.
The breakdown of ecosystems. The breakdown of agriculture. The breakdown of land where people live, and land where people don’t live, and the water that makes up the rest of the earth. The breakdown of every part of the global, natural system we rely on to survive and build our own human systems within.
In the IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land, they mention how land makes it possible to live and thrive, and to produce food and water to drink. Unfortunately, “the loss of biodiversity [is] unprecedented in human history.” Consumption and land use has risen, with human land use affecting 60-90% of forests and 70-90% of other ecosystems. Warmer temperatures and changing patterns of rain mean differences in the start and end of growing seasons (you may have noticed this yourself if you have a garden—think about when you’re supposed to plant to avoid frost, or if you depend on a rainy, cool spring—and think if that’s been the case for the last few years).
The over-exploitation of land has backfired on us; there’s a reduction of crops because it’s harder to grow things. More trees have died, and freshwater has been harder to come by. New deserts have been created, dust storms have risen, agricultural income has shrunk, many places are becoming unliveable, hurricanes and flooding have become more frequent and worse. The list goes on: the gist is that, as things stand, it only gets harder for not only other species, but humanity, the cause of all this change, to survive. Bringing the overall temperature down would bolster what we need to live.
The truth is this: we’ve made an unprecedented impact on the world. We’re doing the equivalent breaking not only our own toys, but our house, our yard, and our car too. To mitigate any of this, we need to not only stop smashing things—we also need to remember how to build.
• Keep an eye out for the new, in-progress IPCC report on the mitigation of climate change.
It’s okay if you can’t do everything, even if everything needs to be done. Start with what you can do, and go from there.
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—L.L. Barkat, from God in the Yard