I'll admit to growing increasingly pessimistic about the probability the world will get its act together and act on climate change. Australia's election of Tony Abbott and his denier colleagues certainly didn't help. This week's announcements from the USA and China are certainly promising, but words aren't action. Both are likely to see carbon pricing schemes in a range of measures to reduce emissions.
This week Ezra Klein, formerly of Wonkblog and now running his own show at the highly recommended Vox, voiced his pessimism. In his introduction, Klein writes:
I don't believe the United States — or the world — will do nearly enough, nearly fast enough, to hold the rise in temperatures to safe levels. I think we're fucked. Or, at the least, I think our grandchildren are fucked.Go and read Klein's piece. It's depressing reading, but come back and we'll turn to more optimistic views.
If you were going to weaponize an issue to take advantage of the weak points in the American political system — to highlight all the blind spots, dysfunctions, and irrationalities — you would create climate change. And then you would stand back and watch the world burn.
Also at the Vox, Brad Plumer takes a slightly more optimistic tone, arguing that while we're likely to miss the much discussed 2 degrees warming goal, there's still reason to hope we can reduce our impact substantially.
But if global greenhouse-gas emissions continue growing on their current trajectory, climate models suggest we could face around 4°C or more of warming by the end of the century (that's 7.2°F).Joe Romm of ClimateProgress also decided to reply from the optimist's perspective. Of note to me are the charts illustrating the drop in price for solar energy ($76.67 per watt in 1977 to $0.74 per watt in 2013) and for batteries. Solar energy really is our best option, and it is becoming increasingly viable. (I would love to go solar myself, especially with my aquariums going 24/7, but am in rental accommodation.)
On the other hand, if every country in the world followed through on the pledges that they've already made to cut greenhouse gases, then we could possibly limit that to somewhere around 3.1°C of warming, according to calculations by the Climate Action Tracker, which keeps tabs on government commitments.
Even those cuts are far from assured — most countries would need to adopt considerably more ambitious policies to limit emissions. What's more, 3.1°C of warming is likely to put a lot of stress on crops and the global food system, lead to significant sea-level rise, and bring increased heat waves, droughts, and so on. But 3.1°C is also still less than 4°C.
BOTTOM LINE: I think it is important for climate and policy experts to be realistic. But as politically difficult as serious climate action may be, there’s no doubt it’s something we could do, and I don’t see how anyone can know we won’t. Klein ends his piece:Sometimes I think we will end up with a manageable failure, but most of the time I'm not that optimistic. What would a manageable failure be? I sometimes think about what the Cairns Esplanade is like at a king high tide now, with water splashing through the board-walk, then imagine what it would be like with a highly optimistic 60cm of sea level rise. With 3 degrees warming our reef will likely be dead, and much of our tourism gone.
There are manageable failures and there are unmanageable failures. We’re currently on track for an unmanageable failure. I think it’s possible that we can slowly, painfully pull ourselves towards a manageable failure, but I’m not willing to call that optimism.Well, even a “manageable failure” would be far better than rendering large parts of the planet uninhabitable and reducing the carrying capacity to far below 9 billion people, which is where we’re headed. But I think it’s possible and indeed likely that we will quickly and not-so-painfully pull ourselves into an even better outcome.
On climate change, the truth has gone from inconvenient to awful. Right now we’re failing our future. And we will be judged harshly for it.
Maybe I should have titled this post Would you like the bad news or the even worse news first?