Saturday December 04, 2021

Saving the planet

October 16, 2021

If the planet’s two ‘great’ powers refuse to cooperate in a meaningful way in tackling the climate threat, we’re done for.

That harsh reality was made clear in September. The United Nations then issued a report on the likely impact of pledges already made by the nations that signed the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (from which President Trump withdrew in 2017 and which the US has only recently rejoined). According to the UN’s analysis, even if all 200 signatories were to abide by their pledges – and almost none have – global temperatures are likely to rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius (nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by century’s end. And that, in turn, most scientists agree, is a recipe for catastrophically irreversible changes to the planetary ecosphere, including the kind of sea level rise that will inundate most American coastal cities (and many others around the world) and the sort of heat, fire, and drought that will turn the American West into an uninhabitable wasteland.

Scientists generally agree that, to avert such catastrophic outcomes, global warming must not exceed, at worst, 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels – and preferably, no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Mind you, the planet has already warmed 1 degree Celsius and we’ve only recently seen just how much damage even that amount of added heat can produce. To limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, by 2030, scientists believe, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would have to be reduced by 25 percent from 2018 levels; to limit it to 1.5 degrees, by 55 percent.

Yet those emissions – driven by strong economic growth in China, India, and other rapidly industrializing nations – have actually been on an upward trajectory, rising on average by 1.8 percent per year between 2009 and 2019.

Several European countries, including Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands, have launched heroic efforts to lower their emissions to reach that 1.5 degree target, setting an example for nations with far bigger economies. But however admirable, in the grand scheme of things, they just won’t matter enough to save the planet. Only the United States and China, by far the world’s top two carbon emitters, are in a position to do so.

It all boils down to this: to save human civilization, the US and China must dramatically reduce their CO2 emissions, while working together to persuade other major carbon-emitting nations, beginning with fast-rising India, to follow suit.

Excerpted: ‘How to Save the World (From a Climate Armageddon)’