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WASHINGTON — We waited too long.

We thought that technology would save us. We were wrong.

Millions will lose their homes. Millions will lose their livelihoods. Millions will suffer from illness, poverty and starvation. Species will disappear. The divide between the haves and the have nots will grow exponentially. Autocracies will rule. Killer storms will become routine. Small island nations will cease to exist.

It will be like those bad sci-fi catastrophe films from the 1950s.

Not 1,000 years from now. Not 100 years from now. Beginning just 20 years from now. Most adults and children living today will witness it.

The United Nations has issued the direst warning for the human race in its history.

Climate change is real and happening now and without a massive global effort there no longer is much we can do about it. It isn’t a political theory to be breezily dismissed by right-wing power brokers who don’t want the status quo to change. It isn’t a left-wing tool to raise mass hysteria. This is pure science, agreed upon by all the world’s most preeminent scientists.

There is little we can do to prevent what the U.N. report said will be massive wildfires, destroying millions of acres, dead coral reefs that feed the seas, food shortages, homelessness, rootlessness, droughts of biblical proportions, floods the likes of which we have not yet seen. The most popular U.S. beaches will simply disappear. The Midwest breadbasket will become a desert.

All because the world inevitably will get one to two degrees warmer in just a few years. The U.N. report, which even climate change scientists said they found “shocking,” said that without an immediate and large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth’s atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit or 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040.

It sounds preposterous. How can one degree or even one-half of one degree do so much inconceivable damage?

It’s the butterfly theory of “Jurassic Park” fame. A butterfly flaps its wings and thousands of miles away a hurricane is born. It’s the fabled tipping point. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. As the Earth warms, glaciers melt, weather patterns change, coral reefs die, species die, crops wither, coasts flood.

The New York Times figured out that if the world warms 1.5 degrees, 350 million people will live in severe drought. If the Earth warms two degrees, 411 million people will not have nearly enough water. Unbearably hot weather will afflict us. We are all connected; we just don’t realize it yet.

One hundred and ninety-four countries are signatories to the Paris Climate Accord which set a goal of containing warming to no more than 3.6 degrees above preindustrial levels.

The United States – the biggest contributor of man-made carbon dioxide, which is worsening climate change — pulled out of the agreement, mocking the whole concept that humans are to blame and humans can make a difference. The United States officially does not endorse the specific findings or underlying concept of the new U.N. report. The White House has cut funding for global climate mitigation by two-thirds and is trying to stop funding all climate change research.

Without America’s leadership, other countries find they have less incentive to make costly changes in the burning of fossil fuels. They give lip service to the concept but throw up their hands in frustration. How can a tiny country of a few million people make a difference if the most powerful country with 325.7 million won’t even recognize the danger and vows to increase drilling for oil and mining for coal?

Even if met, the goals of Paris will no longer be enough to stave off certain disaster for millions of people. Without reducing the use of coal from 40 percent down to at least 7 percent by 2050, the Earth will warm 2.7 degrees.

Future societies, in their underground shelters and pockets of safety, will wonder why we were so determined to ignore the facts, why we cared so little about our Earth and the future, why we were blasé and did so little to save the planet.

It really is like science fiction; the world’s leaders refuse to believe that the alien spaceships mean us any harm. By the time the nukes go off, it is too late.

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Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.

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