Measuring Denial

550 ppm and going up - don't worry? A precautionary ceiling of 450 ppm preventing dangerous climate change? Or back under 350 quickly before the Arctic melts irreversibly?

What is the Right Number to combat climate change?

Some time this summer a special National Academy of Sciences expert panel will deliver a report on Stabilization Targets for Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Concentrations:

"The stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and the avoidance of serious or irreversible impacts on the earth’s climate system are a matter of critical concern in both scientific and policy arenas. Using the most current science available, this study will evaluate the implications of different atmospheric concentration target levels and explain the uncertainties inherent in the analyses to assist policy makers as they make decisions about stabilization target levels for atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations."

What Right Number do you expect from the NAS expert panel? Then what?

Forget about the stupid deniers - yes, they are wasting precious time but they're just taking themselves out of the game. The real problem is deep and widespread denial of what scale of mitigation is necessary; denial especially by those who do know the science and do recognize that this is our responsibility.
The serious problem is leaders, scientists, policy makers, activists in insidious denial blocking needed change because the only mitigation strategies allowed are restricted to what is presently possible: attainable by incremental action within continuing business as usual: electric cars, green consumerism, green power, green jobs in a new green economy, etc.,

This is criminal denial because we are carbon addicts imperiling all future generations. No Draconian restriction on fossil fuel production or use allowed, just volunteer green shopping.

Scientists working on global carbon budget accounting conclude that in order to have a 60-70% chance of staying below 450 ppm / 2C - the presently agreed upon precautionary ceiling to protect against dangerous, uncontrollable, runaway warming - countries like Canada and the US with high, 20 tonne per capita annual GHG emissions must reduce emissions by 100% by 2020. (See Globe 2010: Climate Change Denial for detail and links.)

100% by 2020. Sure, you know that: this is common knowledge for all informed reading the business pages about the latest green products and technologies. This is the message from Al Gore and John Kerry in the e-mails from Repower America about action on the latest energy or climate bill. 100% by 2020 - no prob.

When we were out getting our pictures taken on 350 day back in October in the run-up to that needed deal in Copenhagen all of us knew that even staying under 450 by 2050 was already impossible within BAU:

"Staying below 450 ppm is technologically doable, but would be the greatest achievement in the history of the human race, by far. It would require a global effort sustained for decades comparable to what the U.S. did for just the few years of World War II (the biggest obstacle is not technological, but political ­ conservatives currently would never let progressives and moderates pursue such a strategy).

If 350 ppm is needed (and I’m not at all sure it is) then the deniers and delayers have won, since such a target is hopeless." (Joe Romm )

What if the NAS panel concludes that getting back under 350 fast before the Arctic melts irreversibly is humanity's only chance?

Maybe we should start measuring how deep we are in carbon addict denial.

There are ways of getting back under 350 fast. Once, in neocon days, I postulated depopulating Asia. MIT's Stephen Pacala has calculated that the wealthiest 7% of the global population produce more than half of all emissions while the remaining six billion individual carbon footprints are negligible. ( Barry Saxifrage on Pacala's insight: brilliant read.) So, maybe us 7% should ingest Jonestown Kool-aid.

Seriously, there are paths to emission reduction of a scale needed that we must be preparing to undertake. Fast. Or would you rather stay in denial?

by Bill Henderson
bill (at) pacificfringe.net