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Whither climate policy?

With the impending change in U.S. administrations, we can look forward to a more rational science-based climate policy (I say “more” because Republicans in Congress will throw up impediments), but will it — will anything — be enough? In these extracts from an article originally published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (here), a climate scientist explains where we are and what can be done now.

“As a climate scientist, I know all too well that we are running out of time to avert climate catastrophe. In fact, we’ve already run out of time. It’s too late to protect everyone. From ‘zombie storms’ in superheated oceans to wildfires so widespread … they’re creating ‘smoke waves’ that blanket the country … to an unprecedented Atlantic hurricane season …, climate change is now an ongoing, rolling threat from one place to another.

“The carbon we either do or don’t choose to emit could shape not only the climate threats we must contend with in the decades ahead, but those that loom over the next 10,000 years. At this point it’s a matter now of limiting, rather than preventing, the damage. … [E]ven if every country meets their … commitments under the Paris Agreement …, that gets us less than halfway … to limiting average global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius …. We need to keep warming below that level … to avoid some of the worst—and in some cases irreversible—impacts. … [And while] the Paris Agreement is a good starting point, we need to go well beyond existing Paris commitments now to achieve the reductions that are necessary ….

“[T]he good news is that there is much that President-Elect Biden can do almost immediately once in office[:] … use diplomacy to negotiate powerful international agreements …, issue executive actions to insure higher vehicle fuel efficiency standards, tighten regulations on polluters, and block massive additional fossil fuel infrastructure—such as the Keystone XL pipeline. … [He] has put forward … ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions and support for both regulatory and market-driven policy measures …. There is real opportunity for meaningful climate legislation ….”

Comment: Realistically, you can’t get political support for saving the planet 10,000 years from now, and any plan based on that will provoke fierce resistance. People care about right now. They care about jobs, feeding their families, things that matter to them, not a future they won’t live to see. Many people in our country make their living in fossil fuel industries, and even if they accept that climate change is a real and present threat, they’ll feel they can’t afford climate change mitigation. Coal miners are a prime example. So the key to making it work is technology making it possible to replace fossil fuels with “clean energy” combined with policies to smooth the transition by replacing the lost jobs with new and better jobs. That’s been a tough nut to crack; in Appalachia or Wyoming, how do you replace the coal mining jobs that paid $80,000 to $120,000 a year? Education and information also play a role; if people understand that climate change is driving more destructive storms and wildfires, they’re more likely to accept the need to do something about it. But individuals can’t do much; the changes needed to wean humanity off fossil fuels are so massive they require societal-scale organization and investment. All we can do as individuals is demand and vote for these actions.

Related article (read it here): The damage done by Trump’s policies will linger for years.

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  1. Mark Adams #
    1

    There are problems with the protocols. One is the pure voluntary nature of the Paris accords. There are no meaningful penalties on nations failing to meet goals. The United States has actually met its goals as if it had been in the accords all along. Of course this maybe all from low lying fruit.

    There are projects that have been anything but carbon neutral. And nations are reluctant to embrace nuclear power.

    The bottom line is American society runs on cheap energy. So does the rest of the world. Except a few nations such as North Korea. North Korea has gained all the glories of energy collapse after Russia stopped providing petroleum. The nations industry, and agriculture collapsed, and there is hunger and starvation in the nation.

    When one gets down to the brass tacks of saying reducing the United States emissions to that of 1910 which is the level of emissions we would need to meet to actually meet proposed carbon dioxide goals. I doubt Americans will tolerate the pain of getting to the levels proposed when members of the global south or China are allowed to increase their level of CO2.

    There is broad but shallow support for all things environmental. We love th3e buffalo, but there is little chance that the northern or southern herd will be back on the face of the Earth, and no chance the woods buffalo of the original Northwest will thunder through the woods. Brining them back would change North and South Dakota, would revive the water table over time, bring back the prairie, and trap a large amount of carbon dioxide. We may even see buffalo ladies dance, or have some dances with wolves. None of which is at all likely to happen as t would mean we are ok with waste, sacrifice and nature being truly important.



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