What are our chances of making the grade proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change (IPPC)? The limit to global warming proposed by the IPPC is 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level. The world is now above 1.05°C and climbing. The latest report by the IPCC calls for elimination of additional greenhouse gases (GHGs), mostly CO2, in our atmosphere by 2060. Or else!
The or else implies a variety of unfortunate climate events will occur as the atmosphere and the oceans warm. We are already experiencing some of the effects with the warming at the 1.05°C level. These include drought; forest fires; flooding; crop failures; deaths from heat exhaustion; melting of glaciers and polar ice; and rising ocean levels, to name a few. Oh, then there’s also the polar vortex plaguing us in wintertime while polar temperatures are significantly warmer than normal.
The IPCC has developed a number of scenarios for our climate near-future. The differences between the scenarios are due largely to assumptions about how soon we can collectively get our act together and quit adding CO2 to the atmosphere. Of course one scenario just assumes business as usual; we keep adding CO2 to the atmosphere like we’re doing today. Most people in the know think that’s a very bad idea.
The scenario that gives us much more hope of survival is one called GWP* (for Global Warming Potential, the asterisk means that it refers to an aggregate of most GHGs). It postulates that we start reducing GHG emissions now and continue doing that at a constant rate until the net new emissions are zero. That gets us to the zero emissions point on 17 March 2060 — or so. At that point we will have warmed to just about 1.5°C.
What do you think the chances are of that happening?
Call me a cynic but I think that the chances of the world’s governments agreeing on and implementing the desired reductions very soon are somewhere between nil and zero. Governments with lots of low-lying land will definitely seek to accelerate the necessary GHG reductions. Others will drag their feet until the rest of the world gets desperate. Now keep in mind the thought that the later we start reducing emissions, the higher the necessary reduction rate will need to be if we are going to make that 2060 deadline. The business as usual scenario will put us at about 1.66°C in 2050 and 1.82°C by 2060.
Fortunately, the business implications of global warming are beginning to sink in. When the future of one’s source of income is in peril, the mind tends to focus strongly on reducing the pressure. So, many large corporations, even some of the major oil companies, are starting to move, but also many are resisting. Still, stockholders are getting restive and are actively haranguing boards to get moving. Not so fortunately, large organizations are slow to move, often taking years to make major changes. And we don’t have years before seriously getting started.
Those of us who feel the heat, or are worried about the future of their children, need to think about participating in the reduction of the current trend. The first order of business is to get informed about the real causes and impacts of climate change, not the claims of the deniers. Make sure your kids know about the problems as well as the ways of facing them. Some of the most powerful voices against global warming are under voting age (unfortunately).
Second, start thinking about how you personally can alter your life to use less fossil fuels and more sustainable energy sources (like telecommuting, for example). Eat less beef; cows are major sources of GHGs. Ditch your gas guzzler and get an electric vehicle. Think do I really need to go there? before traveling somewhere.
Third, pay attention to what your government is doing, as well as the companies with which you deal. Put pressure on them to change their ways, when needed. Change Presidents if you’re an American. Every year that the government delays action is a year where the costs of positive change increase.
And don’t forget: we’re all in this together; there’s no escaping it.