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It May Be Too Late to Stop Catastrophic Warming From Happening

2012/11/08

I’ve got good news and bad news.

President Obama during his acceptance speech.  Photo: Climate Progress.

President Obama during his acceptance speech. Photo: Climate Progress.

The good news is, US President Obama was re-elected.  Now, that doesn’t mean anything is going to be done about climate change.  But at least, Americans didn’t elect Mitt Romney, the man who thought that stopping sea level rise and healing the planet were good punch lines.  And, even better, President Obama actually mentioned climate change in his acceptance speech:

We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet

Now, will that translate into any kind of action?  We can only hope.  But in the mean time, the good folks at Climate Progress have done their best to give the President some ideas of actions that could in order to deal with the USA’s carbon addiction and the warming of the the globe.  These include:

  • Talking to the people about climate change with respected scientists and “Republicans of good conscience”.
  • Taxing consumption rather than income (what Ralph Nader once called “Tax What We Burn, Not What We Earn”)
  • Ending subsidies to polluters
  • Putting in place financial mechanisms that will allow and encourage middle-class families to invest in home renovations (that improve energy efficiency) and in renewable energy projects.
  • Getting tough on China by assessing imports according to their carbon footprint.
  • Investing in electrified rail networks – the apparent direction of transportation as petroleum prices continue their inevitable rise.
  • Investing in green tech research.

(Sounds like some great ideas for Canada too!)

Now, the bad news….

Image: PWC

Image: PWC

As you may know, +2 degrees Celsius is the maximum warming that the world’s governments have set as a target.  However, according to scientists, +2 is probably the point where “dangerous” warming become “catastrophic” warming.  Either way, according to a new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, we may be “too late for two degrees”:

Our Low Carbon Economy Index evaluates the rate of decarbonisation of the global economy that is needed to limit warming to 2oC. This report shows that global carbon intensity decreased between 2000 and 2011 by around 0.8% a year. In 2011, carbon intensity decreased by 0.7%. The global economy now needs to cut carbon intensity by 5.1% every year from now to 2050. Keeping to the 2oC carbon budget will require sustained and unprecedented reductions over four decades.

Governments’ ambitions to limit warming to 2oC appear highly unrealistic.

Unfortunately, the conclusions gets worse:

Even to have a reasonable prospect of getting to a 4°C scenario would imply nearly quadrupling the current rate of decarbonisation.

And when considering that prospect, remember how climatologist Kevin Anderson has described a 4 degree world:

a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.“

I don’t know if I should cry or laugh.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura permalink
    2012/11/08 8:37 pm

    I’m tending more toward the cry…4 degrees C is unthinkable.

    • 2012/11/08 9:27 pm

      What bothers me, on a personal level, is that on Thursday, I’m giving a talk to high school students about climate change and I’m not sure how I’m going to address this “forecast” for the future. I want to tell them the truth, but I also don’t want to discourage them… Any ideas?

      • Laura permalink
        2012/11/09 7:29 am

        Well, we both know that you can’t snow kids! They need the truth; but I would put more emphasis on some of the encouraging shift (finally) that we are beginning to see–as mentioned above.

        Our big challenge is to keep this front and centre on the platforms of policy makers so that we can get as much forward change as possible. I believe that when policy starts to change, the entire movement will gain momentum as it will actually affect consumer choices; which then publicly acknowledges that our choices have consequences for the earth.

        Science does have margin of error involved and our planet has an unerring ability to heal itself–if we would give it a fighting chance. Students need to know that it is never a wasted effort to give it all you’ve got to do the right thing. Even when the odds aren’t in your favour.

        Wish I could hear your talk with the students. I’m pretty much going off the
        grid for a week myself–to spend some time with a really nice area of this
        planet!

      • 2012/11/09 7:32 am

        Thank you! And enjoy your time “off the grid”.

  2. Laura permalink
    2012/11/09 7:34 am

    …and, once policy does change, we need global citizens to support the restrictions that policy makers put in. Perhaps some conversation with students about how to get these policies into the hearts of citizens–so that we don’t finally convince the politicians and have boycott from the masses. High school students are our soon-to-be adults. They have a better mindset toward Eco-friendly practice and we need that mindset as policy changes roll in.

  3. Laura permalink
    2012/11/09 7:48 am

    Good luck with the high school talk–you’ll be terrific!

  4. 2012/11/11 4:32 am

    Oh wow, I hope the talk with the students went well! I am sure it did.
    Thanks for sharing the link to the PWC report. That’s going to be my Sunday read.
    Do you remember me mentioning the newspaper article on the 2 degree target recently? There seems to be more and more media coverage. At least, we are starting to talk about it now…
    I also liked the ideas for action-list. Hope, Obama has read it too. 😉

    • 2012/11/11 7:56 am

      The talk is actually this up-coming Thursday… and I’m nervous 🙂
      Regarding the action-list: That is one of the most frustrating things about action against climate change… there are so many great ideas of what we can do. But, until we (globally) agree on the severity of the problem, we won’t act.

  5. 2012/11/11 6:56 pm

    Oooops, I am sorry! Good luck for Thursday, then.
    Have you seen this post already? http://www.treehugger.com/environmental-policy/considering-move-canada-after-election-here-are-some-tips-treehugger-types.html

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