The world is ablaze and we must act now

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

A view of Southern California wildfires from the International Space Station. Image: Randy Bresnik/NASA Johnson/Flickr

Wildfires are incinerating forests in the American West, Turkey, Greece and Siberia, destroying millions of acres, burning entire towns to the ground, and blanketing vast regions under plumes of smoke stretching thousands of miles. The term "megadrought" is now used to describe droughts that last for decades, baking the landscape, leaving once-brimming reservoirs dangerously low, and threatening to leave whole cities without water. In Germany and China, torrential storms recently dumped a year's worth of rain in a matter of days, causing floods that swept hundreds of people to their deaths. Hurricanes and typhoons are occurring earlier, with higher frequency and strength, devastating island nations and coastal communities.

"Human influence on the climate system is now an established fact," the United Nation's Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, says in its newly-released Sixth Assessment Report, its first major report on the science of climate change in eight years. "In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least two million years," the report states.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the report a "code red for humanity." The 4,000-page document offers a detailed synthesis of over 14,000 scientific papers, painstakingly reviewed by 234 experts from 66 countries. They were assisted by over 500 contributing authors and received over 78,000 editorial comments prior to publication. The report includes the warning, "unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius will be beyond reach."

Those two temperatures define what scientists, policymakers, world leaders and climate activists have long identified as the narrow range, the lower and upper limits of global heating caused by humans, that we as a species can allow to occur if we hope to maintain a livable planet. According to this new IPCC report, we have already heated the planet by about 1.2°C over pre-industrial levels. While that may sound small, it has already had planet-altering impacts.

"We shouldn't be thinking about this as though there is a magic line at one-and-a-half degrees [Celsius] or at any level below which we're safe and above which we're not," climate scientist Bob Kopp, one of the IPCC report's authors, said on the Democracy Now! news hour. "Every bit of warming… increases the risks that we face."

In 2015, almost every nation signed the Paris Agreement, the landmark climate treaty that affirmed each country's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. More than five years later, the rulebook for how the Paris Agreement will be implemented has yet to be agreed on.

The United States, as the world's wealthiest nation and its historically greatest polluter, has a responsibility to act, not only to rapidly transition its own economy off of fossil fuels, but to help fund that transition globally.

While campaigning for president, Joe Biden promised ambitious climate action, in stark contrast to his climate-change-denying predecessor. After taking office, Biden immediately blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, but allowed the Dakota Access pipeline to continue operating. He also refused to halt construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, where thousands have gathered this summer to join indigenous-led protests and where many have been violently arrested. Biden has also urged OPEC oil producing nations to increase production to bring down gasoline costs.

Nevertheless, Biden has included elements of a Green New Deal in his "Build Back Better" agenda, setting new, higher standards for energy efficiency and clean energy, expanding incentives for clean electricity, electric vehicles, and clean energy manufacturing, and creating a Civilian Climate Corps. Budget Committee Chair Senator Bernie Sanders has just submitted a $3.5-trillion budget framework to fund these initiatives and more. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledges to pass the bill by mid-September using the Senate's reconciliation process to defeat an expected Republican filibuster.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is moving ahead with its "COP26" climate summit in Glasgow this November, after cancelling the meeting last year due to the pandemic.

"The Glasgow summit, COP26, is going to be perhaps the most significant we've had," said Bangladeshi climate scientist Saleemul Huq on Democracy Now! "It's [time] for the rich countries to do what they agreed to in Paris: keep the global temperature below 1.5 degrees and provide $100 billion a year to developing countries to tackle climate change. They promised but didn't deliver."

The costs of shifting to a renewably-powered, fossil-fuel-free society will be enormous. But the costs of inaction are incalculably higher, not only in dollars, but in suffering, displacement, destruction and death. Global mass movements for climate justice, many led by youth, are growing. Ultimately, this is the greatest hope for change during this crucial, narrowing window to save the planet.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Image: Randy Bresnik/NASA Johnson/Flickr

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.