From the Peter Foster column, The Copenhagen emissions gap, in the Financial Post comes the following graph, which compares what the Copenhagen Accord says we need to do regarding emissions to avoid severe climate impacts, and what the IEA says we’re on a path to do:




I feel compelled to point out yet again that the 2C/450 ppm line in the sand is not nearly as certain as a lot of people would like us to believe; increasingly, it feels like an exercise in whistling past a graveyard. We’re currently at a warming of about 0.8C above pre-industrial times, and we’re already awash in “it’s worse than we thought” observations, with decades of additional warming already unavoidable, barring the extremely rapid, massive roll out of a CO2 extraction technology.[1] I find it increasingly hard to convince myself that the “right” level of CO2, meaning one that avoids catastrophic sea level rise, a freshwater crisis far worse than the drought gripping various places around the world today, acidified oceans, increasingly severe tropical storms, etc., isn’t much closer to James Hansen’s 350 ppm than the “official” level of 450 ppm. In other words, since we’re currently right around 390 ppm, the chances are good that we’ve already passed the maximum “acceptable” CO2 level.

For those who didn’t get the perhaps too subtle title, it’s a reference to one of my favorite moments in a movie, the scene in Apollo 13 where an engineer and one of the astronauts not on the mission are struggling to come up with a way to power-up the Command Module, and the engineer finally says in exasperation, “You’re telling me what you need, and I’m telling you what you’ve got.” In the case of our emissions, far too many people are still saying, in effect, that because it’s too “hard” (read:expensive or inconvenient) to decarbonize at the rate science says we must that we therefore “need” to emit a lot of CO2 for decades. What we’ve got, in terms of our remaining emissions allowance, is far less. Spaceship Earth, like Apollo 13, illustrates what happens when a human view of the universe comes into conflict with the universe itself.

[1] I’ve become convinced that the single least convenient fact about climate change is CO2’s long atmospheric lifetime. Virtually every time I talk to a newcomer about climate change I find that he or she holds the often unstated assumption that if we got serious about CO2 and cut emissions “a lot” that the level of it in the atmosphere would drop in a matter of weeks or months and we’d be well on our way to defusing climate change. The fact that we’re locked into our past and current emissions essentially forever in human terms almost universally terrifies lay people when they first hear it.


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