Designing the Future

“The meek may eventually inherit the Earth
but first we need the geeks to save it for them.”

-Me

“And I suggest…that your spirit grow in curiosity,
that your life be richer than it is,
that you bow to the earth as you feel how it actually is,
that we – so clever, and ambitious, and selfish,
and unrestrained – are only one design
of the moving, the vivacious many.”

-Mary Oliver

Most of us who grew up with a certain kind of stability, assumed it would always be that way. Solid and stable. Until it no longer was. Until you lose your innocence, you don’t know you have it to lose.

I was 12. It was June 6, 1968 and still dark. The neighborhood was asleep and I was half-awake. The Sun was letting the world know it was about to bring light but not quite yet. I had my 30 Washington Posts to deliver and I crouched down to cut the cord that tied them in a tightly-packed bundle. When you cut the string, it pops pleasantly and the pile of newspapers seems to hop in relief to be free. The headline screamed at me and my breath stopped. Another assassination. Bobby Kennedy this time. I stood looking and not believing, the sick feeling sinking into me and making me feel heavy and sad. Not again I thought.

And later that year, our father would leave us. Disappear from view for a year that seemed like two; weakening his bond with us forever. He was 43 and volunteered for Viet Nam. In our final meal with him, the waitress said awkwardly, “I hope you come back.” No one else spoke.

There are those moments in life that stand out from all the others like a towering mountain rising from a desert floor. I was 14 when I learned my grandmother had fallen down her cellar stairs and died. I was in the Greenway house in the breakfast nook. I tried to picture it. Even now I try to imagine her tripping and pitching head first like a missile down the dimly-lit stairs, her useless arms flailing and grabbing air. That’s all I get: me trying to comprehend her death; flailing like grandma and grabbing air. Nothing. Just that scared feeling, the helpless horror, the vacuous void. Another loss to add to the pile that would eventually stack up like old newspapers in the garage. Numbness, yes, but no comforting understanding that might help it fit with the moments that came before and after.

Eventually all the grandparents would go, one by one, taking turns, and along the way, the great aunts and uncles. Slipping away. My dad’s affair and his departure for good this time. The divorce. And then more death: the parents and most of the aunts and uncles. And too many friends who died so beautiful and young. Somewhere along the line, you accept it as the way it is. It seems easier and harder at the same time. And where innocence once bloomed, the weeds of guilt spread out like a suburban lawn. Some version of this is life for most of us.

And yet despite all the personal pain and loss, we trusted the world would carry on. It never occurred to us to think otherwise. Anything can happen on the world’s stage and does: deception, betrayal, cruelty, war and death but we have always trusted the stage itself to remain solid, stable and true. Regardless of the people who come and go and what they do with their precious time here, we believed the world would endure as it has always been. Humans were too small to hurt the Earth we were told. Until we weren’t.

A little over a year ago, a team of 42 scientists announced that time was running out for the world as it has existed since humans arrived on the scene. Unless we radically arrest our production of greenhouse gas emissions, they warned, “nearly every terrestrial ecosystem on the planet — from forests to grasslands to marshland —will undergo ‘major transformations’ that will completely change the world’s biomes.”

“This will have consequences for everything from food and water security to public health,” we were told.

Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study, said, “If we allow climate change to go unchecked, the vegetation of this planet is going to look completely different than it does today, and that means a huge risk to the diversity of the planet. We’re talking about global landscape change that is ubiquitous and dramatic. We’re already starting to see it in the United States, as well as around the globe.”

And then four months ago, 150 scientists from 50 different countries warned “that a ‘mass extinction event’ precipitated by human activities is already underway – the first such event since dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid 66 million years ago.”

The report warned that “half a million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades.”

The chair of the group that drafted the report, Robert Watson, said, “The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being. Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge for decades to come.”

It is easy to swing from denial to despair as Al Gore once said, “without pausing in the middle and doing something about it.” The climate crisis deniers still exist, happy to play the role of the smiling liar, giving false hope to the hospice patient, and illusory comfort to those who can’t face the truth. And then there are the fatalists who have given up and suggest we join them.

In between, we have people like Hal Harvey and Robbie Orvis, who don’t have time or interest in denial or despair but, in the words of former Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest J. Moniz “promote pragmatic optimism.” Along with others, they have written a book, Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy and they lay it out in extensive detail, graphs and concise narration exactly how we might proceed in solving the most daunting challenge humans have ever faced.

We know what we must do. If we have any hope of a human future, we must take “immediate action” to address the climate crisis. The good news is that “a low-carbon future is within reach and perhaps as cheap or cheaper than a high-carbon one.”

In order to prevent “the worst impacts of climate change,” we need to keep “global warming below 2°C through the end of the 21st century.” In order to do this, we understand that we must achieve massive reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions. We also know that the longer we delay, the more difficult and costly it will become in the future.

The authors write, “The physics of our earth thus give us the following imperatives: The problem is enormous, it is urgent, and failure would be irreversible. Fortunately, there is still time to achieve a reasonable climate future, and many reasons to think it can be done. But time is of the essence; this option does not last long.”

According to Harvey and Orvis, “Nearly 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated by just 20 countries (over half of all emissions are generated by only seven nations). Focusing efforts in these countries offers the highest potential for emission reductions.” Within these countries, “emissions from energy combustion and industrial processes are the primary source of greenhouse gases, comprising more than 93 percent.” Targeting these emissions “has the greatest potential for reductions.”

They also write, “For energy and climate policy to be effective, a suite of policies is needed; there is no silver bullet in this business. To design an optimal suite of policies, a policymaker should consider policies of four broad types: performance standards, economic signals, support for R&D, and enabling policies. Together, they create a powerful symbiosis that can drive deeper carbon emission reductions than policies in isolation while increasing cost effectiveness.”

Providing us, “a roadmap to a low-carbon future,” the authors are blunt: “Quite literally, there is no path to a low carbon future other than the list below. Every policy idea must be measured against its contribution to one or more of these goals.”

Their list includes:

  1. Reduce electricity demand in the building and industry sectors;
  2. Reduce the carbon intensity of electricity generation;
  3. Reduce transportation emissions through efficiency, electrification and urban mobility;
  4. Reduce non-electricity industry sector emissions;
  5. Reduce deforestation and forest degradation in tropical forest nations.

In a few decades, we will know if we are on the right path to give future generations a chance at enjoying a stable planet close to the one we inherited. Until then, there is massive work to be done. We are fortunate that we have people like Harvey and Orvis and the other authors of this book to provide us with a clear, detailed map for the journey we must all take together.

To hear my interview with Robbie Orvis, tune into my Wake-Up Call show on KKRN (88.5 FM) on Tuesday, September 17, 2019 at 4:00 p.m. PDT or listen to it at kkrn.org. Special thanks to Pete Marsh for co-hosting this program with me.

Douglas Craig
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 30 years. He believes in magic and is a Dawes fan.
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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    I believe a problem for those who deny AGW is that they get all their information from googling. When I lived in Cheyenne we lost fourteen trees to beetle kill. Beetle kill has devastated the forests in the Rockies and I saw it daily when I would drive the forest roads. This beetle kill was not so much due to higher temps in the summer but due to warming in the winter. In just ten years I saw winter temperatures go from minus 30-40 for weeks on end to winters that never saw minus temperatures all winter. That was despite the Polar Vortex and the recent Snow Bomb.
    I saw Fort Collins go from one of the cleanest air cities to being in the top twenty dirtiest cities. I could see when I drove toward Denver how the smog could would envelop the skyline. I could see the Rockies clearer from my house in Cheyenne over a hundred miles away then when I drove down I25 along the front range 15 miles away.
    That happened in just ten years what will the next ten years be like?

    • Avatar Doug Cook says:

      Bruce, anecdotal observations over a few years in one location is not science. There is no doubt there is warming. The problem lies in that how do you know that the global warming is because of a trace gas in our atmosphere? A gas that is a mere 0.037% of our atmosphere. AOC came out last week and claimed that if we don’t pass the green new deal, that Miami will disappear in ‘a few years’. Dr Craig wants us to believe that after 160 years of accurate tide charts, and more recent satellite data that shows a yearly sea level rise of about a width of a dime…that it will grow to 6-10 ft. There is no emperical evidence that catastrophic changes are happening. I don’t understand the need to exaggerate claims and predictions. Are we supposed to ignore the false claims from 20 years ago, and now believe the new ones? Sorry…I an not that gullible. How can you prove that the climate changes we are experiencing is man made and not naturally occurring?

      • Avatar Randy says:

        Doug, Can you simply point out where the science has been “faked” or is wrong?

        https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/

      • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

        Doug, the smog I talked about increasing in Denver is the same smog that puts seven California cities every single year on the American Lung Association’s top ten dirtiest cities in the nation list. Smog is caused by burning fossil fuels.
        And right now the melting in the Third Polar area is causing floods and earthquakes that are wiping out towns and killing people in areas so remote and restricted that there is no accurate data available.
        You want to debate population growth as a reason for warming do it, but trying to compare data from years ago to today is not a good comparison mainly because the population has doubled in the last 100 years and will increase, at the present rate, by another 20% soon. And if you really want to learn something see the film at Sundance showing the results of China’s one child only policy. The piles of fetuses left over from abortions, the girl babies left to die because women’s life is considered useless. Why are the majority of Chinese adoptions girls? Because the families sell their female babies to human trafficers which is better than the alternative.
        America should not be buying anything from China until they address their human rights violations. And not shipping from China to the US cuts fossil fuel burning unless they use sail boats.

        • Avatar Doug Cook says:

          Bruce, “…You want to debate population growth as a reason for warming”
          Where did I mention anything about population control?
          I also never mentioned smog. If you want to eliminate fossil fuels to mitigate smog…that is different than trying to change the climate. Two completely different subjects. You obviously didn;t read my comment.

          • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

            Doug, you mention “trace gas” and say you never mentioned smog. I didn’t say eliminate fossil fuel burning I gave you a fact that I have personally seen, not in some motel room studying science, smog is increasing and it is due to fossil fuel burning.
            And it is possible Miami could be under water in the future. Not because of AGW only but because of the, like all coastal areas, overdevelopment(population growth).

          • Avatar Doug Cook says:

            Smog is different than an increase in Co2. The country has done an admirable job in reducing smog. Since 1980 vehicle miles driven have increased 104%, but emissions of the 6 common pollutants have been reduced by 65%. But Randy and others don’t mention smog, they worry about temperature increase and climate change. Something that is more than likely mostly natural occurring climate change.
            So no, once again your anecdotal observations are wrong according to the science. Smog is decreasing, not increasing (except in China and India) In the 80’s I was stationed at March AFB in Riverside. The smog there was so bad during the summer you couldn’t see the San Bernadino mountains. In my recent visit this summer, there was a marked change from back then. So my anecdotal observation was the opposite of yours. I rather believe the science.

          • Avatar Randy says:

            ” I rather believe the science.”

            Might there be some reason why you cannot post links to the “science” you claimed to represent?

  2. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    Dr, Craig,

    Thank you for another poignant yet hopeful piece, and for continuing to remind us of the seriousness of our planet’s current status. Below is one potential bright spot:

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-electric-pickups-focus/ford-gm-rev-up-electric-pickup-trucks-to-head-off-tesla-id

  3. Avatar CHRISTIAN Gardinier says:

    Doug… We just ordered the book!

    Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

    Thanks for the enlightening article!

  4. Avatar Randy says:

    “That happened in just ten years what will the next ten years be like?”. Good question and one I often ask when discussing the clearcutting of our local ecosystems. The answer is in how much each one of us are willing to educate ourselves to the crucial facts we are dealing with, communicate with our fellow citizens about those crucial facts and do our collective best to make sure those facts are recognized in policy making.

    • Avatar Doug Cook says:

      Ten years? Let’s look at the last 100 years. The temperature has increased by about a degree. In the history of the world, a rather unremarkable climate change. And guess what Randy….hones are STILL not being flooded in the Maldives. Do you believe AOC’s claim that Miami will dissapear in just a few years if we don’t pass the green new deal?

      • Avatar Doug Cook says:

        They don’t have it wrong Randy. Your link ( and once again you never read your own links) supports my comment where temperatures have increased just about a degree in a hundred years. What is wrong is your claim that homes are being flooded in the Maldives, and AOC’s claim that Miami will disappear in a few years.

        • Avatar Randy says:

          If you accept that NASA and NOAA ‘have it right’then we are all0n the same page with AGW. Welcome to the real world.

          • Avatar Doug Cook says:

            Randy, I have always been in the real world. I don’t have to exaggerate claims like you seem to want to do. You think a one degree temperature change in a 100 years is catastrophic. I think it is a natural warming cycle. In order to defend your catastrophic claims…you gotta make crap up. Like AOC saying Miami will disappear in a few years. You didn’t answer me, do you believe that is a possibility? Or just more wild claims that will not come to fruition? You made up crap about homes currently being flooded in the Maldives, even though that is not true. Why do you have to exaggerate your claims?

          • Avatar Randy says:

            NASA

            “Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.”

            https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

        • Avatar Randy says:

          NOAA

          “Summer temperatures are projected to continue rising, and a reduction of soil moisture, which exacerbates heat waves, is projected for much of the western and central U.S. in summer. By the end of this century, what have been once-in-20-year extreme heat days (one-day events) are projected to occur every two or three years over most of the nation.”

          “The intensity, frequency and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s. The relative contributions of human and natural causes to these increases are still uncertain. Hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.”.

          “Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since reliable record keeping began in 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100. This is the result of added water from melting land ice and the expansion of seawater as it warms.

          In the next several decades, storm surges and high tides could combine with sea level rise and land subsidence to further increase flooding in many regions. Sea level rise will continue past 2100 because the oceans take a very long time to respond to warmer conditions at the Earth’s surface. Ocean waters will therefore continue to warm and sea level will continue to rise for many centuries at rates equal to or higher than those of the current century.”.

          https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

          • Avatar James Montgomery says:

            NASA and NOAA both say the earth has warmed 1.4 degrees since 1880. 1 degree since 1975.
            Sea levels have risen 10 inches since 1880.

  5. Avatar James Montgomery says:

    Pretty vague. We could use more specifics, like, perhaps
    *Design an affordable alternative energy engine that will retrofit into existing autos
    *Develop hemp-based alternatives to plastic packaging
    *Manage our forests scientifically, to prevent massive wildfires
    *Increase windmill production
    These are just a few possibilities.
    Policy ideals are just dandy, but it is not enough to say “reduce carbon emissions.” What the world needs now is practical technological solutions.

    • Avatar Doug Cook says:

      I agree Mr Montgomery. It is easy to yell at the top of our lungs…End fossil fuels!!! As we drive to out corner gas station. The trick is, how much of our economy do you want to destroy? Climate change alarmists don’t want nuclear energy…where is the power going to come from to power our needs? Wind and solar? Not very likely. My brother bought a Tesla recently. He had to wait 2 1/2 years for delivery. Spreading false catastrophic claims to push your agenda before technology had caught up is dangerous and will destroy the country.

      • Avatar Larry Winter says:

        “Spreading false catastrophic claims to push your agenda before technology had caught up is dangerous and will destroy the country.”

        Ya gotta luv it. Spreading false catastrophic claims to fight spreading false catastrophic claims.

    • Avatar Randy says:

      There are more than enough ‘solutions’ to get started and solutions are expanding at a rapid pace. If you listen to the Robbie Orvis interview and read the book the picture becomes more clear.

    • Avatar Randy says:

      I leased a Nissan Leaf about a couple of years ago for $100 a month and it costs about 1.5 pennies per mile to drive it. No tune ups, no oil changes, no broken starters or transmissions and NO EXAUST FUMES. You can find EV’s with less that 50k on them for under $5k. Volkswagon is coming out with 3 EV options and the Chinese are lightyears ahead of the US in EV technology because of the rooted in ignorance of denial.

      • Avatar Tim says:

        Even if we pretend electricity is clean (no emissions, no wildlife kills, no forest fires), there is still a reason a car that sold for $35,000 new is selling for $5,000 after just a few short years – those used Leafs have nearly depleted batteries. Be prepared to spend another $5,000 for a new battery pack. $5,000 every 50,000 miles adds 10 cents to your 1.5 pennies per mile cost estimate. A 50mpg hybrid camry or prius, on the other hand, costs 7 cents/mile in gasoline plus another cent & a half for a new $3,000 battery pack every 200,000 miles.

        Newer Leafs are better, but the 1st generation ones lacked battery cooling leading to prematurely short lives in hot climates like ours.

        • Avatar Randy says:

          I forgot to mention that the used Leaf’s I am referring to have over 8 bars left and would be great for city transportation with a rage of 60-80 miles. Just read about a Canadian who has developed a kit to upgrade older EV’s to new battey systems with higher capacity-more miles. Saw an electric Smart car in the Bay, original owner, 30,000 mi. for $3000.

        • Avatar Randy says:

          The Leaf I have(17) cost just under $20,000 with all the rebates. California is great and if ever state followed California’s lead we would have charging stations from coast to coast. I would throw in some campgrounds also so we can take our time from place to place.

    • Doug Craig Doug Craig says:

      I agree my article is vague and lacks specifics but please don’t judge the book by my article. The book is far from vague. It is full of specific, science-based solutions. Listen to the one-hour interview and read the book and then you will have your practical technological solutions. The solutions exist. The only question now is whether we will act in time. Further delay means disaster.

  6. Steve DuBois Steve DuBois says:

    The earth took 4.543 billion years to get to today — this moment. How fast can we destroy it? Climate change is important in many ways. Our air should be the most important thing to us. It’s arguably the most powerful thing we have. Without it, there would be no breath. Nothing would be able to live, to exist, or to thrive. Oceanscientists.org tells us oxygen makes up about 21% of the air we breathe and half of this oxygen is produced from the ocean. The message from esri.com, is that climate change will noticeably reduce oxygen in the oceans by 2030. Sciencedaily.com claims the ocean is losing its breath. Everyone should give thought to your statement: time is of the essence; this option does not last long. We need to keep breathing. I’m just saying …

  7. Avatar Common Sense says:

    Indeed Steve!….Clean Water and Air….more than important!….isn’t that what we are seeing locally on a Microcosmic level….the toxic Algae in the two ponds at Whiskeytown Lake on the north side of the Hwy. Climate change is Real….what we do about very soon will determine if our Grand kids will be around in 30-40-50 years.

  8. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    The north state is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the Green New Deal, and it means jobs, jobs, jobs. I’ve got zero tolerance for climate science deniers because the situation is much more dire than Dr. Craig’s article indicates. We don’t have decades. If we don’t act collectively now with massive pace and scale, we risk losing human civilization within a few centuries.

    • Avatar Randy says:

      “The north state is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the Green New Deal, and it means jobs, jobs, jobs.”

      I have visited remote villages in Ghana where the people exist, and have existed for hundreds or thousands of years, in environments resembling the Nevada deserts. We have all the resources to create a region of sustainable bounty and hopefully we will pursue that path.

  9. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Wonderful article Doug. I have to tell a story that makes me believe that people can effect changes that make a difference. I went to college in southern California and hated living there because of the air quality. there were few days that I could see the Angeles Mountains. I hiked up trails to get above a smog bank that stretched as far as the eye could see. The sun was always red as it set through the smog. Schools didn’t let kids out for recess on bad smog days. It smelled like the air around a major airport and made breathing difficult. Fast forward a couple of decades after agressive emmission control laws, and I didn’t even recognize the area where I had spend so much time. I could see the mountains and the hills…. I was stunned. I felt as though I could live in that area….except for the population density and the traffic. Love your comment R.V., and I also think we should be looking at and collaborating with countries that are far ahead of us as far as conservation and active programs to deal with very real problems.
    Doug, when I read the predictions about our future in regards to natural resources, energy, and distribution of wealth between people of the same country I become alarmed. Not that we will become another “had the power and lost it” country like England or Spain, but that there may be fewer resources available to undo what has been done.

  10. Avatar christian gardinier says:

    R.V. nailed it again. This issue is complicated because it involves simple everyday personal choice, to community, state, national and international decisions. Quoting Bush, “America is addicted to oil” but he needed to say the wold is. We got into this out of connivence, greed, lies and of corse MONEY, at social, political and macro economic behavior. Also, I will include spiritual because some “Religious leaders” like one local mega church, who support tRump’s mostly Republican degradation of the environment for profit (not the Jesus kind of profit..) claim Climate Change is fake… It’s going to take change at all the above levels to get us out of this mess. At the political-economic level, the House New Green Deal and the Warren – Inslee plan gives a road map for us to use and at the international level we can get back into the Kyoto Climate Change agreement. As R.V. pointed out, California in many ways is indeed in a perfect position use use these road maps! But, we need to support folks like Audrey Denney and Elizabeth Bettencourt to facilitate this opportunity and action. Electing the same old tRumpublicans like the Dalhe’s and LaMalfa aren’t going to get it. Bettencourt (a scientist) and Denney (an agricultural expert) have the mixture of social – environmental and political understand to help us fight climate change at micro and macro levels! Not voting for them is a vote for the same ol oily – greasy – greedy mess that make life for our kids and grandchildren as will need to deal with this in a much more challenging circumstance! Let’s put or best and brightest to work for us on this issue!

  11. Doug Craig Doug Craig says:

    Thanks for all the excellent comments. I appreciate all of you. This is a pivotal moment in the history of our species and a true test of our intelligence, morality and wisdom. I recommend listening to Naomi Klein’s interview on Democracy Now! this morning. https://www.democracynow.org/2019/9/17/naomi_klein_greta_thunberg_youth_activists

  12. Avatar Randy says:

    Gretta Thunberg went before Congress yesterday, submitted a copy of the most recent IPCC report and requested they read it. Not too much to ask from the people who are responsible for making policy decisions that effect us all today, tomorrow and generations to come. Science tells us that the co2 we are pumping into our atmosphere today will be with us for hundreds and possibly thousands of years to come, driving global temperatures beyond the ability for our present biosphere to survive. There are solutions and and we do have opportunity to change coarse from the worse case scenarios that are certainly ahead if we do not act. Support the global climate strike, Sept. 20 through Sept 27, in any ways possible. We must replace the blind ignorance of denial with informed action.

    • Avatar Doug Cook says:

      “… we do have opportunity to change coarse from the worse case scenarios that are certainly ahead”
      Why do you want to believe the ‘worst case scenarios? When has ANY worst case scenario become reality? Name one worst case scenario that you can point to.

      • Avatar Randy says:

        Doug, You have proven yourself unable or unwilling to read and understand basic climate science but here it is again. I can only refer you to the science facts and what you do with those facts is up to you.

        NASA
        “Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.”

        https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/