David Roberts at Vox.com posted a column a couple of weeks ago responding to peoples’ reactions to an earlier piece he’d written on the problems associated with trying to prevent the global temperature from exceeding a 2-degree Centigrade temperature increase in the next 50 years. The original piece was fairly pessimistic, but factual. In response, he got a range of comments, most of which, he says, were reactions to things he decidedly did not say. Teasing out of his responses to those mistaken assumptions, Roberts says what he really wants us to hear are:
It’s not hopeless. “Social change is non-linear. What will be technologically feasible in 2050, or 2080? What political changes will take place between now and then? We have virtually no idea.” Although he admits that, ” He continues, “Hoping for a fundamental shift in human consciousness and politics in the next 10 to 15 years amounts to hoping for a miracle. That’s what hoping for 2°C means — banking on a miracle. Which is fine. It’s great to have hope!”
Only ostriches benefit from keeping their heads in the sand as the globe warms up. And that’s temporary.
We should not give up. “We can’t un-ring the bell, though; every bit of CO2-driven warming is, for human intents and purposes, permanent. Sorry, then, but no one’s allowed to give up — our children and grandchildren will still be fighting this battle. Even if it does become finally, physically impossible to hit 2°C, so what? Carbon emissions still need to be driven to zero as quickly as possible to avoid even higher temperatures. The fight remains the same, no matter the temperature outcome.”
We should not abandon the target temperature. “The 2°C limit can be a useful marker, a statement of common purpose, without being the primary policy driver. For policy, there are more useful, less abstract, less distant goals, like the percentage of clean electricity in the power system, the rate of deforestation, or the level of investment in clean energy RD&D and infrastructure.”
Scientists are not big fat liars. Roberts points out that he did not “accuse scientists of faking anything, despite what a few Twitter trolls concluded. Climate modelers don’t have to make anything up or lie about anything to make 2°C scenarios work. They just have to tweak various contestable assumptions with a wide range of plausible inputs.” He admits that scientists could do a better job of communicating that information and those limitations but sheepishly suggests that scientists “can’t do everything.” Responsible reporters covering the subject have an obligation here as well.
So what is he saying? “Right now we are mitigating for 4°C and adapting for 2°C; we need to do the opposite. If we’re going to hit 3°C or 4°C this century, we need to start making the investments necessary to ameliorate the effects (a process somewhat deceptively known as “adaptation”). This is especially true in poorer countries already ill-prepared for natural disasters, food and water shortages, and resource conflicts. [T]he task ahead remains the same: to get to zero carbon, or as close as possible, as soon as possible; to prepare for a hotter, more volatile future; to protect the most vulnerable, who did the least to cause the problem; and, along the way, to tell the truth about how we’re doing.”
This summary is just that, a summary. I encourage you to read the piece in its entirety. It’s not as hopeless as it sometimes seems, but it’s certainly not a rosy outlook either, particularly if politicians and governments keep playing the ostrich.