A Look at the Scope of the Climate Work Ahead
by Gaius Publius
One small but important piece of the climate puzzle post-Paris is the vast divide between the stated aspirational goal — to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degree Celsius over the pre-industrial level — and the commitments made by nations to achieve that goal. Naomi Klein expresses the problem very well in the short video above.
In sum (my emphasis):
The Paris Climate Deal Will Not Save UsI referenced that data here, quoting Scientific American (my emphasis):
The agreement will still raise global temperatures 3 to 4 degrees Celsius.
... The climate deal that has been negotiated at COP21 crossed multiple red lines: Scientific red lines, equity red lines, legal red lines, and more. The emissions targets outlined in the deal still amount to increases of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius—an increase incompatible with organized civil society. So today, protesters came together in the center of Paris to say that the deal cannot be the end of our climate justice struggle. ...
It is still difficult to say how much temperatures will rise by 2050 or 2100 due to the carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere known as the warming in the pipeline. There is a lag between any rise in CO2 levels and the heating that results, so the planet is locked in to further warming and to the chief repercussions such as further sea level rise. But the IPCC has released good estimates of the pipeline: the best case is that the average global temperature at the Earths surface will rise 1.5 degrees C by 2100, compared with 1990 levels. The worst case is 4.5 degrees C, and the most likely case is 3 degrees C.Best case–worst case analyses express a range with probabilities (likelihoods) assigned to values within that range. Here, the range of the warming in the pipeline is between 1.5°C and 4.5°C, with the highest likelihood value being 3°C. Note that this is just the statistical most likely outcome out of a range of possible outcomes under a given analytic scenario. Still, the lowest number in that range is already 1.5°C warming.
In his own assessment of the numbers, Dana Nuccitelli, a physicist who writes at the Skeptical Science blog known for deep analysis of these matters notes that the 1.5 degrees C case would only be possible if the world stopped increasing emissions by 2020 and then began reducing them by 3.5 percent a year. As he notes, that scenario involves extremely aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Other Studies Confirm This Conclusion
Compare that analysis, from the IPCC, with this very similar finding, from a peer-reviewed paper published in PNAS. The abstract is below (language alert, this is science-talk, but understandable if you take it slow; my emphasis):
On avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system: Formidable challenges aheadNotice that their most-likely (highest probability) temperature is not exactly halfway between the extremes, but still, these findings are very similar to the IPCC's. Caveat one: These are models, not measurements. Caveat two: Most models are wrong to the slow side.
The observed increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) since the preindustrial era has most likely committed the world to a warming of 2.4°C (1.4°C to 4.3°C) above the preindustrial surface temperatures. The committed warming is inferred from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates of the greenhouse forcing and climate sensitivity. The estimated warming of 2.4°C is the equilibrium warming above preindustrial temperatures that the world will observe even if GHG concentrations are held fixed at their 2005 concentration levels but without any other anthropogenic forcing such as the cooling effect of aerosols [airborne particles from burning coal]. The range of 1.4°C to 4.3°C in the committed warming overlaps and surpasses the currently perceived threshold range of 1°C to 3°C for dangerous anthropogenic interference with many of the climate-tipping elements such as the summer arctic sea ice, Himalayan–Tibetan glaciers, and the Greenland Ice Sheet. IPCC models suggest that ~25% (0.6°C) of the committed warming has been realized as of now. About 90% or more of the rest of the committed warming of 1.6°C will unfold during the 21st century, determined by the rate of the unmasking of the aerosol cooling effect by air pollution abatement laws and by the rate of release of the GHGs-forcing stored in the oceans. The accompanying sea-level rise can continue for more than several centuries. Lastly, even the most aggressive CO2 mitigation steps as envisioned now can only limit further additions to the committed warming, but not reduce the already committed GHGs warming of 2.4°C.
Giving Fire Back to Prometheus
Does this mean we're "doomed"? Not in my estimation. But I agree with those who left Paris with guarded optimism. Yes, it matters a great deal, the admission that 2°C is the wrong target. But there's one whale of a lot of work to do to force the desired result — hold warming to "just" 1.5°C, and then bring it down by planting and reforestation.
This may be the hardest work this species has ever done. In the beginning, as we emerged into civilization, we were given fire as a source of energy — all we had to do was burn it.
Prometheus, bringer of fire, punished for the crime of rendering less "the sum of human wretchedness" (Byron). Can we replace his gift with another?
Now at the other end of our civilized life, we have all the fire we want — all we have to do is not burn it.
Two Ways You Can Help
I've urged this before, but in light of the above it bears repeating endlessly. The paper I cited said unequivocally (my emphasis): "The estimated warming of 2.4°C is the equilibrium warming above preindustrial temperatures that the world will observe even if GHG concentrations are held fixed at their 2005 concentration levels". Holding "concentrations" fixed means making sure the current atmospheric CO2 concentration — 400 ppm — not increase. It means ... well, "stop now," right?
There's only one scenario under which that is remotely achievable. Let's say the "now" in "stop now" is 10 years, that the U.S. converts to 100% renewable energy in 10 years' time. I hear from friends in the renewables industry that this is doable if sufficient resources are committed to the task. We have those resources, just as we had them in World War II, but the "free market" won't solve this one, certainly not at the speed needed, and everyone reading this knows that. The "free market" is what David Koch manipulates every day of his life to increase his wealth. Only the government can force commitment of resources on the scale necessary, and I think everyone reading this knows that as well.
So the first way to achieve this goal is to spread the word as far and wide as you can — that a World War II-style mobilization is the answer, and the only one, in the long term. One group that's spreading that word is these people. You can help, either by joining with them or just by saying this to everyone you know:
"To get the best climate result, stop emissions completely at the earliest date possible. Every increase from 400 ppm is another climate wound our children will bear."I mean exactly that: Say it to everyone and say it now. If Florida real estate became worthless tomorrow and the whole country freaked about it, we'd have one shot to direct that energy. Let's direct it to a solution that can work. Again, your voice — Stop Now, Mobilize Now — is as needed as anyone else's.
A second way to help, and I mean this too, is to back Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Sanders gets it on climate, and he's the only viable candidate not beholden to the money that owns this country and its governance. You can contribute to his campaign here (adjust the split any way you like at the link). And thanks!