We Need More than a Climate Conference

December 13th, 2011 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on We Need More than a Climate Conference

Last week was the meeting of the U.N. Climate Negotiations in Durban, South Africa. As these talks usally are, progress was slow, and the only agreements among the gathered nations seem to be that a new level of talks will continue in the years ahead. This is pretty discouraging considering that many scientists believe that pretty dramatic efforts are needed if we are to meet the professed goal of limiting global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. The U.N. as well as many climate scientists, have adopted the 2° target as a dangerous number and one that should be avoided.

So what will happen if the earth were to warm 2° C.? So far, the world has warmed about 0.7°C above pre-industrial levels. However, because of what has already been created, we are already locked in for another 0.7°C. In 2010, the National Research Council released a report detailing some of the risks that can occur at the 2°C mark. Such a rise could mean a 400% increase in wildfires in the western U.S., a 15% reduction in corn yields, and an increase in severe droughts. Scientific records suggest that the last time there was enough carbon dioxide in the air to go beyond the 2°C mark, much of the world’s ice melted, with sea levels rising as much as 4-6 meters higher than they are today. Many low-lying lands would get washed away in this scenario.

With such a grim prognosis for what could happen as the planet warms, you would think that we are intelligent enough to all get on the same page and take immediate action to slow this process entirely, right? Well, sadly no. Ecofys, a consulting group, tracks and calculates the various pledges made by the world’s nations and it doesn’t look good. If all of the cuts currently promised by all of the participating countries were to get enacted (and that’s a huge if especially considering that many of the pledges are voluntary), then we would see a 3.5°C warming by 2100. In other words, the best efforts from our current promises are going to yield devastating results! Most climate scientists believe that a 4° increase would create a future that would make human adaptation very difficult, completely destroying many ecosystems.

So, the question is can we achieve the 2° target? Discussions about the environment rarely even come up in our political discussions in the halls of Congress, and right now don’t expect to see any legislation favoring action on climate change, especially when one political party doesn’t even believe that global warming is being affected by human activity. What many scientists believe is necessary is to treat climate change as we would a war, where we immediately go into an all-hands-on-deck approach, doing whatever is necessary. And yet, in our current state, we seem miles away from ever adopting this approach.

Many of us either have children, or will have children in the future, or certainly have nieces and nephews, etc. Their children and grandchildren will reap what we are now sowing, and right now, it does not look like a world that any of us would want to live in – or even could live in by the year 2100. The earth will continue to do just fine – it’s not about saving the planet. But it is about whether or not we as human beings will be able to survive on this planet we call home.

Right now, making radical moves, when for most people everything seems just fine, doesn’t seem or feel that necessary. And that’s the real battle. As long as we can comfort ourselves with the notion that everything is fine right now, and projections into the future seem difficult to truly imagine, then we will continue to create the circumstances that will lead to global warming, and a very unstable existence for future generations.

We need more than a climate conference. We need intelligent and compassionate action.