Climate change. It’s not just coming… it’s happening. Just ask Seattle.
This graph was generated by Exxon scientists in 1982. We can now check their predictions 40 years later. The scientists predicted a carbon dioxide level of 420 parts per million — today’s measured level is 418 parts per million and before the industrial revolution it never rose above 300 parts per million. The scientists also predicted a world temperature increase of about 1.0 degrees Celsius. Current temperature increase from 1982 is 1.0 degrees Celsius. The astonishing accuracy of these 40-year predictions is not because this science is easy — but because this science is hard and people understand how important it is to get it correct.
So… Exxon knew. We have squandered 40 years, 2 generations, to prepare for and/or curb the effects of global warming. We have squandered them because of the efforts of large corporations, the wealthy, and the politicians and propagandists whom all that money can buy. And today, incredibly, there is still a debate on whether to even have a “Green New Deal” when we should be debating just how immense such a program should be. There are no quick fixes here — and because we have squandered time, the solutions now will likely cause a reduction in our expected Western standard of living. However, I think a reduction is probably better than a complete collapse — which is what will happen if we foolishly continue to delay our efforts.
Thank you for this. We’re tipping on the edge of this cliff… heading toward a free-fall. So frustrating!
I completely agree the rise in greenhouse gasses is the single largest issue facing mankind in this century. Thanks for the chart, Kevin.
How we got here is an important story to understand. The increase of ~121ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere was caused primarily by two activities: deforestation and the burning of hydrocarbons. Deforestation and the conversion of high CO2 density (primarily tropical) forests to agricultural land was the primary driver of the increase in CO2 for much of the hundred years since the dawn of the industrial revolution. This is a direct function of population growth requiring more agricultural hectares. CO2 increase follows population growth quite closely until the past few decades. Then, hydrocarbon combustion became ascendant.
As low-income countries such as China industrialised, they became huge emitters of CO2 while the West became both more concerned with CO2 and global warming and also offshored much of their manufacturing industry (at least relative to GDP). The West (US, EU, Japan, UK) have actually reduced emissions by ~8.8% since 1990 while China’s have risen nearly 450% to become the world’s largest by more than a factor of 2 (30%). Certainly, some of China’s emissions (and global shipping’s and Middle East oil production) should be allocated to the West, as the end consumer of a decent amount of that hydrocarbon release, but the vast majority still belongs to China, especially in the production of cement. This is likely to worsen as the Chinese middle class grows and, for example, the diet goes from soya to pork to beef, entailing massive increases in CO2 emissions.
Unless and until we can establish a global framework and coordination, national unilateral policies will have little to no effect. If the US, for example, reduced CO2 emissions to zero tomorrow, the world would still be producing 85% of what it does today – and likely more as the remaining industry is further off-shored putting manufacturing in much less-stringent regulatory regimes, increasing dirty shipping, and so forth. And lastly, if the US were to unilaterally go to zero CO2, other countries such as China would be even less incentivised to cut back. Global CO2 release may actually increase.
Solving this global coordination issue is probably impossible until China becomes at least a quasi-democracy, and their people insist their government move to cleaner policies as has happened in the democratic West. Until then, God help us all.
There are lots of figures in your response but you didn’t cite your sources so not sure what to make of them. Most are, however, balkparkish with my understanding, so for now I’ll take them at face value. However, these numbers miss the general point: The United States has created most of the runaway effect all on its own for decades now. Kicking the can down the road by citing China as a key contributor is more of the same that the US has been doing for years; it’s just another excuse for inaction.
In this UN report,
Click to access EGR19ESEN.pdf
Figure ES.2 (page 6) yields two immediate observations:
a) The China didn’t contribute more CO2 than the US until *after* 2000 (a generation after the Exxon research)
b) Even with their tremendous growth, the Chinese CO2 contributions fall far short of the US on a per capita basis. Even with the slight per capita reduction of the US, it is still the undisputed worse global polluter.
In fact, per capita, the US has been the primary polluter on the planet for the last 40 years. So, looking at China to “fix” things is just another excuse by the US to shirk reasonable responsibility. Military leadership code states “rank has its responsibilities.” In this way, the dominant position of the US in the world means more is required of it, not less. Indeed, the US position means it has more to lose to climate change, not less.
Worse yet, the US abdicated any climate leadership with the last administration — and China was only too happy to step into the void. The US will find it now harder to convince other nations, including China, of policy — particularly now that Europe began looking East. This again points to the US squandering opportunities of climate leadership. Democracy has little to do with it. Corporations, those non-corporeal entities with “free speech,” care little for the quality of the environment. But they are made up of organic entities that do. As I’ve told many a politician, “If you think fighting climate change is expensive, wait until you see the costs of not fighting it.” There are no excuses for the US not to step up its game — but moneyed interests are not inclined to do so.