The price of procrastination

Months ago I wrote a piece about the seemingly agonizing pace at which we’re combatting climate change. It still seems agonizing. Here is an explanation of why and how fast we need to change, as well as some positive steps we call all take to reduce global warming.

My main message is: procrastination hurts. The more we delay taking active measures against global warming, the more it will cost us when we finally start. There are two reasons for this. First, as long as we do nothing, or not enough, the level of CO2 will keep increasing and the atmosphere will continue warming. Second, since we’re working against a climate change deadline, the rate at which we need to stop emitting CO2 must increase. The recent heatwaves in the Western US and Northern Europe, as well as the recent hurricane Ida, are clear examples of why these estimates may be too conservative.

A simple chart shows the problem. In the chart below I show the escalation cost: the percentage we collectively need to reduce CO2 each year, depending on when we start, to get to a 50% reduction by 2030. The chart omits methane and other greenhouse gases from the above discussion; adding them adds to the urgency. Here are the assumptions:

  • The level of CO2 in the atmosphere will continue to increase at the rate of about 0.6% annually unless mitigation efforts decrease it.
  • The goal in this chart is, by 2030, to decrease total global CO2 emission levels to 50% of those in 2012. [The ultimate goal is to have net-zero emissions by 2050.]

For example, if we had started reducing emissions this year, our goal is to reduce emissions by 8% every year until 2030. If we wait until next year to absolutely start reducing global emissions then it will require a 10% annual reduction to make the 2030 goal. And so on until, if we wait until 2029 to start reducing CO2, we will have to cut emissions by 56% that year to make the grade since the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will have increased 6% by then.

Meanwhile the largest emitters are still making promises but showing little action. Also meanwhile, a draft IPCC report, leaked before its scheduled release in February 2022, shows that, under current trends “we’re heading for three degrees Celsius at best” rather than the 1.5 degrees that is the current IPCC climate change goal. If that leak is to be borne out then the numbers in the chart may be too low.

Needed steps

So what can we do, individually, to get the CO2 reduction process going?

These are just a few of the steps needed to keep us out of a heat death future. Take as many of these as you can ASAP. Think of more. The future is the responsibility of all of us.

  • Badger the VIPs Greta Thunberg started it with her “How DARE you!” speech at the UN but it probably will take continuing pressure on the large emitters, and regulators, to provoke action instead of promises. This is the case for relevant corporations and government agencies.
  • Insulate your home Home heating and air conditioning, much of it gas-powered, is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions. Better insulation can cut that cost.
  • Eat less meat I know, it’s hard but meat production is also a major source of greenhouse gases.
  • Trade your gas guzzler for an e-mobile Plugin electric vehicles are emission-free IF the electricity that powers them is from sustainable sources (wind, hydropower, solar). They also tend to have lower maintenance costs.
  • Keep on teleworking Covid-19 may have suddenly made you a full-time teleworker. We’re now in the “great return” phase. Try to keep on working from home at least half-time.
  • Get more efficient gadgets When you buy or replace appliances, make sure that they are high efficiency rated.
  • Replace your gas appliances From stoves and ovens to home heating systems go for electricity over gas. A heat exchanger for heating and cooling, for example.
  • Avoid long-distance jet travel Modern passenger jets are significant sources of carbon dioxide; one coast-to-coast round trip can counteract your telework car emission savings for an entire year.

Do as many of those items as you can afford. If enough of us start acting instead of complaining, and continue to do so, then we may just avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Time’s awasting!

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