David Roberts has a great post onÂ climate changeÂ that you should read.
In it, he summarizes some of the work of Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change.
For those with ADD I’ll summarize the summary (I’ve read the paper he links to, though the site with the pretty charts appears to be down at the moment):
- 1. Our rate of increase in carbon emissions is increasing. This is bad because the stuff generally stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years.
2. It’s much easier to hit our emissions targets if we start lowering our emissions in 2015 rather than in 2020 or in 2025. Waiting until 2025 basically assumes most heavy economic activity on the planet ceases. Barring worldwide nuclear war I don’t think this is going to happen.
3. Over the past 10 years our understanding of the negative effects of a 2 degree celsius increase in global temperatures by 2100 has gone from mostly bad, to a decent chance of being really, really bad. 4 degrees celsius has a good chance of being somewhere between millions of people die to billions of people die.
Much of the uncertainty has to do with negative feedback loops: You melt some glaciers that have carbon in them, the carbon is released into the atmosphere making the world warmer, which kills off some forests, which releases more carbon, so on and so forth. Eventually you get massive worldwide ecological and agricultural collapse, it just happens to be a tricky question to determine just how bad >2 degrees celsius would be. But when we’re considering whether millions should die so that we can continue to commute to work in single occupant cars we need to reconsider our place in history.
The only way this problem can be stopped is by massive international effort. The climate doesn’t care if we or the Indians or the Chinese burn some oil, and it doesn’t care if we burn it now or 50 years from now. We have a responsibility to future generations, and only by treating this the way we treated world war two can we do what needs to be done. A mass mobilization of resources to rebuild and adapt our infrastructure to our present realities. To build and deploy renewable energy sources, and to assist developing countries to do the same. Failing to do this is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable to our grand children and it’s unacceptable to the human race.
Seventy-two years ago humanity was called to defend itself against a seemingly unstoppable force. Millions sacrificed luxuries on the home front, while tens of millions died in battle or as civilian casualties. People felt fear, felt that defeat was possible, felt that failure was possible. But because of those challenges people had the opportunity to overcome their fears and do something amazing. Because everyone gets scared when things seem impossible. Heroes are those that understand just how crazy what they have to do is, and they do it anyway because know they have to. That is why we call them the Greatest Generation. Because they saved the world.
Today we can save the world. We must save the world. Our conflict is not with fascists with millions of soldiers, but it is with the dark impulses of ourselves. The impulse to ignore what we’re doing, to take the easy path, to let other people worry about the future. We cannot stand by and tell our grand children that the science wasn’t there, that the cost was too great, that we didn’t want to risk our livelihoods. They will not accept those answers, and neither will we when the time comes to explain just what we spent the 21st century doing.
We must be the next Greatest Generation.