Abortion and climate change: What will upcoming decisions mean in the long haul?

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This aerial view shows Glasgow Science Centre, where the World Climate Summit will be held in November. Photo by Shutterstock.

A new Texas law bans abortions at about six weeks, before most women know they’re pregnant. The U.S. Supreme Court has not stopped the law from going into effect. 

“The genius of the new Texas abortion law is that it's built to completely evade judicial review,” says Dahlia Lithwick, legal affairs correspondent for Slate. She adds that no one knows what this means for the future. 

On December 1, the court will consider a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. “As compared to this six-week ban in Texas, that looks almost generous, right?” says Lithwick. 

Also happening next month is the World Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland. It’s full of uncertainties, according to Umair Irfan, energy and environment reporter for Vox.com. “There are two broad categories of variables. One is what the planet will do, and one is what humanity will do. And figuring out, of course, what humanity will do is often the more difficult task,” he says. 

Irfan discusses five scenarios laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a consortium of the world’s top climate scientists. Each scenario is about what will happen if humanity acts a certain way. How much the planet will heat up in the coming centuries will depend on how much people are willing to change. 

The first and hardest to achieve scenario, Irfan says, would be to take the “Green Road.” That means shifting toward clean energy, increasing energy efficiency, drawing down fossil fuels, and lowering resource demands. All countries would work together to achieve a common goal, and by the middle of the century, humanity would zero out its contributions to climate change.

The second scenario is sometimes described as the “middle of the road” scenario. It envisions a slower move towards a common goal, and an economy with net-zero emissions after 2050. The result would be that the earth’s temperature would warm up to between 1.8°C to 2.4°C by 2100.

The third scenario would be the climate change pledges countries have made so far. If every country fulfilled its current existing obligations, their emissions would lead to about 2.7°C warming by 2100.

The fourth scenario envisions a world where solving climate change would become a low international priority — a resurgence in nationalism and a retreat from international cooperation. Although this is the least likely to happen, if it did, by the end of the century, the world will have warmed by roughly 3.6°C and sea levels will have risen catastrophically. 

In the fifth scenario, humanity doesn’t just do nothing about climate change, but continues to make it worse by burning coal, oil, and natural gas, and there’s little effort to mitigate emissions. The planet would see about 4.4°C of warming. Although dire, this is the least plausible of the scenarios. 

All the five scenarios were developed in the wake of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, when most countries in the world agreed to limit warming this century to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. 

Irfan says the scenarios are “an illustration of  the spectrum of possibilities. … One is not necessarily more likely than the other.” He adds that right now, “we're roughly in the middle of the road.”




Warren Olney


Andrea Brody