October 14, 2009

Zero by 2050

There is much speculation as to why GOP Sen. Lindsay Graham has come out in full-throated support of the Senate climate change bill. Perhaps it's simply that he had what the Nation's Mark Herstgaard called (in a post for Grist, mind you) his "Oh, shit" moment. You know the one:
an instant when the full scientific implications become clear and [you] suddenly realize what a horrifically dangerous situation humanity has created for itself.
I had mine last year sometime from reading too much Joe Romm late at night. But a new report from climate scientists should do it for just about everyone else. Forget everything you think you know about addressing climate change. It's accelerating faster than anyone predicted and the changes are of greater intensity and variety.

According to Germany's chief climate scientist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber and his advisory council known as the WGBU, if we want to keep warming down to levels that can support human life, the US and must go carbon free by 2020, other industrialized nations must follow five to ten years later and China by 2035. By 2050 the world's net emissions must be zero.

Can I hear an "Oh, shit!"

The "good" news is that Schellnhuber endorsed some amount of emissions trading between the developed and developing world, so that the deadlines are somewhat fuzzy. But the hard line in the sand has been drawn. Zero by 2050.

And even that is just to give us favorable odds of success. As Hertzgaard says:
In fact, even the "brutal" timeline of the WBGU study, Schellnhuber cautioned, would not guarantee staying within the 2 C target. It would merely give humanity a two out of three chance of doing so--"worse odds than Russian roulette," he wryly noted. "But it is the best we can do." To have a three out of four chance, countries would have to quit carbon even sooner. Likewise, we could wait another decade or so to halt all greenhouse emissions, but this lowers the odds of hitting the 2 C target to fifty-fifty. "What kind of precautionary principle is that?" Schellnhuber asked.
I don't imagine we Americans are really up to the task. The spirit may be willing, yet the body politic is weak. But, hey, we do love to gamble, don't we? It's sort of the national past-time. And this time we're playing for the only marble that matters...

Photo by Broken Haiku used under a CC license

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