You might reasonably assume that the red line in this diagram illustrates what happens if humankind takes no action at all on climate change. But no, what the red line actually shows is what happens if we simply continue with all the plans and policies that we’ve put in place or are already planning.
In other words, if we do everything we already intend to do to mitigate climate change, we’re still on course to see global warming go through the ceiling, and then through the roof, and then through the sky, before the end of this century.
The point of no return for how much carbon gas we could have in the atmosphere before we hit the tipping point has been pegged at 350 parts per million. (That’s why Bill McKibben’s activist website is called 350.org.)
But we’re already well over 400 ppm, and on some months we’ve topped 450.
So we’re already over the cliff and, as things stand, are heading toward 1,000 ppm by the year 2100, which means average temperatures rising by up to 9°F.
Of course, decades before we reach that point, we will have already have brought on massive heat waves, global flooding, dead oceans, a complete breakdown in food and water supplies, and escalating extinction rates, all leading to wars, local and global, as society collapses in the scramble for food and water.
We will be, almost literally, toast.
Much of this is outlined by David Roberts in a post entitled “The awful truth about climate change no one wants to admit.”
It will take enormous effort just to avoid that fate. Holding temperature down under 2°C (approx. 3.5°F) – the widely agreed upon target – would require an utterly unprecedented level of global mobilization and coordination, sustained over decades. There’s no sign of that happening, or reason to think it’s plausible anytime soon.
Nor do most people even want to think about or talk about it. Instead, as Roberts explains, politicians want (and need) good news to pass on to their constituents:
There is not a politician on earth wants to tell his or her constituents, “We’ve probably already blown our chance to avoid substantial suffering, but if we work really hard and devote our lives to the cause, we can somewhat reduce the even worse suffering that awaits our grandchildren.”
Nor, for their part, are most climate scientists helping. In their case, they worry about being thought of as strident and then not being listened to:
And so they construct models showing that it is possible to hit the 2°C target. The message is always, “We’re running out of time; we’ve only got five or 10 years to turn things around, but we can do it if we put our minds to it.”
The same goes for environmentalists, which is why people like McKibben and Al Gore go on telling us the same thing they were saying 15 years ago: “There’s still time but we have to act now.”
The awful truth about climate change that no one wants to admit.Overall, these folks construct all kinds of models as to how we can do this relatively painlessly, like by sucking CO2 gas out of the atmosphere so that we can even supposedly keep burning moderate amounts of oil and coal. Roberts explains why this won’t work, that these approaches are at best “a dangerous distraction,” and that we’d be courting disaster since no one has a clue what would actually happen when they’re deployed.
So the message we Earthlings need to hear is never delivered.
There has always been an odd tenor to discussions among climate scientists, policy wonks, and politicians, a passive-aggressive quality, and I think it can be traced to the fact that everyone involved has to dance around the obvious truth, at risk of losing their status and influence.
The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit.
Meanwhile, last week, it was business as usual. President Obama approved the latest plan by Shell to drill for oil in one of the remotest regions of the Arctic, saying that the company’s activities will be “subject to rigorous safety standards.”
(Like in December 2012, when one of Shell’s drilling rigs ran aground near Kodiak Island and the two ships that tried to drag it to Seattle lost control of it during a storm and the rig eventually settled in shallow water with nearly 150,000 gallons of fuel and other toxic fluids still on board?)
A few days after approving the Shell plan, the President gave a commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy, telling students that “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security … and the world finally has to start reducing its carbon emissions now.”
On the same day, presidential candidate Jeb Bush told voters in New Hampshire that “for the people to say the science is decided on, this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you.” Honestly!
And then, the following day, there was yet another horrible oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara . . .