By Robinson Meyer
Today a baby girl was born. Consider the years of her life—how she’ll think back to her childhood in the ’20s (the 2020s) and become a teenager in the ’30s. If she’s an American citizen, she’ll cast her first vote for president in the 2040 election; she might graduate from college a year or two later. In the year 2050, she’ll turn 31, and she’ll be both fully grown up and young enough to look to the end of the century—and imagine she may get to see it.
We hold the fate of that girl—and of the society she inhabits—in our hands. That’s the message of a blockbuster new report, released today, from the United Nations–led Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
While the report covers how climate change is reshaping the oceans and ice sheets, its deeper focus is how water, in all its forms, is closely tied to human flourishing. If our water-related problems are relatively easy to manage, then the problem of self-government is also easier. But if we keep spewing carbon pollution into the air, then the resulting planetary upheaval would constitute “a major strike against the human endeavor,” says Michael Oppenheimer, a lead author of the report and a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton.
This release concludes a trilogy of special reports from the IPCC. The first came last October, when it warned that even “moderate” warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius would generate irreparable damage; and the second was published last month, with a summary of how climate change will reshape the planet’s land surface.