The IPCC’s latest climate report is dire. But it also included some prospects for hope.

The striking thing is not the bad news, which is not really news for those who have followed the science closely. It’s the report’s insights on possibilities for cautious optimism. From The Guardian August 13, 2021:

The first response many of us have to a cancer diagnosis is terror, horror and the conviction that we’re doomed. For those who haven’t been paying serious ongoing attention to climate chaos, reminders that we are facing catastrophe can bring the same kind of response. But if you’ve been through cancer or been close to people who have, you know that the usual next phase is figuring out what the treatment options are and, in most cases, going all out for them. The good news is going to be that you got approved for a promising new treatment, are responding well, you are in remission, feel healthier, have a good prognosis. That there are things worth doing that make a difference.

Climate change is a nightmare, and this summer’s floods, fires and extreme heat, from China to Siberia to British Columbia, are reminders that the problem is rapidly growing worse. Yet the striking thing about the IPCC report released earlier this month is not the bad news, which is not really news at all for those who have followed the science closely. It’s the clarity about possibilities, which I found hopeful.

What was remarkable in the IPCC report was put most succinctly in University of Leeds climate physicist Piers Forster’s pair of tweets on Monday, outlining the good and bad news from the report. The bad news was familiar: we are seeing “more intense and more frequent” weather extremes. We are close to 1.5C of warming and will reach it by mid-century. But the good news is that there is, Forster reported, “much more certainty that if we get to net zero CO2 its contributions to further warming [are] also likely to stop”. At net zero, “the temperature change should even start to slowly go into reverse.” That is, we can halt and even reverse some of the devastation.

Or as the report itself put it, on p. 120 of the fifth section:

Deliberate removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere could reverse … some aspects of climate change. However, this will only happen … if deliberate removals are larger than emissions. Some climate change trends, such as the increase in global surface temperature, would start to reverse within a few years. Other aspects … would take decades (e.g., permafrost thawing) or centuries (e.g., acidification of the deep ocean) to reverse, and some, such as sea level rise, would take centuries to millennia to change direction.

In other words, it’s a long shot. It will take heroic effort, unprecedented cooperation, and visionary commitment. It would mean making profound changes in our societies, economies, our ways of doing things. But it is possible to do. And we know how to do it.

Read more in The Guardian here.