The Paris Agreement of December 2015 reached an historic compact to limit global warming to 2ºC and to try for the even lower goal of 1.5ºC. Yet the current plans made by individual nations will cut emissions by only half the amount necessary. Each nation must put forth updated plans in future years in hopes that the 2ºC target will be met, but there are no legal requirements regarding how much each country should cut emissions, only that they publicly monitor, verify and report their activities. (New York Times, “Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris”, Dec. 13, 2015). Some scientists consider the Paris Agreement bogus, including James Hansen, the prominent U.S. scientist turned activist, who told the Guardian, “It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘ We’ll have a 2ºC warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises.” (The Guardian, “James Hansen, Father of Climate Change Awareness, Calls Paris a ‘Fraud’”. December 12, 2015)
Other scientists consider the 2ºC target unreachable. In its recent Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) used a new method, the carbon budget, for assessing how much more carbon can be added to the atmosphere. The exact size of the budget is uncertain and controversial, but the IPCC estimated about 500 gigatons carbon (GtC), to have a two thirds chance of 2ºC warming. (IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, p. 27.) The amount of “permissible” CO2 is actually far less as there are other factors that can eat into the carbon budget, including future deforestation and non-CO2 emissions like methane, a relatively short-lived carbon-based gas that is twelve times more potent than CO2. If permafrost and/or sea ice thaw too much, vast quantities of methane could be released and bring us to one of the game-changing “tipping points”.
Emissions have grown dramatically since 1988 when climate change became widely acknowledged, despite efforts like the Kyoto climate treaty. The good news is that the growth rate for emissions has been dropping recently and it is possible that emissions for 2015 may be slightly below 2014. Still, this does not mean that emissions have peaked. There must be a rapid decline in emissions beginning very soon, a decline that will be fraught with difficulties. Richard Heinberg has written extensively about the problems of switching over completely to renewable energy, from intermittancy and storage problems with renewables, to low energy return on energy investment (EROEI), to the inability of renewables to provide the quantity and quality of energy available with fossil fuels. Heinberg concludes that renewable energy cannot “support our current growth-based industrial economy while saving the environment” and says we should ask “what kind of economy renewable energy can support”. (Resilience, “Our Renewable Future”, Richard Heinberg.)
Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester in Britain, points out that many studies modeling climate change are only able to produce 2ºC of warming by introducing “negative emissions” technologies like carbon capture and storage into their models. (Washington Post, Chris Mooney, “The Magic Number”, Nov. 29 2015.) Yet these are unproven technologies. Imagine a sudden carbon burp from gigatons of carbon captured and stored underground escaping! One group of scientists called for geo-engineering in a recent letter to The Independent. They said that the Paris agreement is far too weak to achieve the 2º C target and offers “false hope”:
“The time for the wishful thinking and blind optimism that has characterised the debate on climate change is over…. Our backs are against the wall and we must now start the process of preparing for geo-engineering. We must do this in the knowledge that its chances of success are small and the risks of implementation are great…We must look at the full spectrum of geoengineering. This will cover initiatives that increase carbon sequestration by restoration of rain forests to the seeding of oceans. It will extend to solar radiation management techniques such as artificially whitening clouds and, in extremis, replicating the aerosols from volcanic activity.” ( The Independent, “COP21: Paris deal far too weak to prevent devastating climate change, academics warn”, Jan. 8 2016.)
Then there is all the controversy about the safety of the 2ºC target. Under pressure from the island nations and their supporters, the Paris climate conference acknowledged that 1.5ºC degrees is a safer target. Yet we already have “dangerous climate change” with just a 1ºC rise in temperatures. Just ask the 14 million people of Pakistan who were left without homes after the flooding of the Indus River in 2010. Or those who lived through Katrina or Superstorm Sandy. The climate change resistance organization 350.org is so-named because prominent climate scientists say that we need to keep carbon in the atmosphere down to 350 part per million (ppm). But, we are already at 400 ppm. If the 2º C target is reached, carbon in the atmosphere will be in the vicinity of 530 ppm, a long way from 350ppm.
Climate chaos is only one environmental problem created by the disastrous way of life brought to us by the “male System”. Scientists tell us that we are beginning the Sixth Extinction of life on earth, due to human impacts as severe as the meteor that ended the regime of the dinosaurs.
Climate chaos is only one environmental problem created by the disastrous way of life brought to us by the “male System”. Scientists tell us that we are beginning the Sixth Extinction of life on earth, due to human impacts as severe as the meteor that ended the regime of the dinosaurs. (Time, “The Sixth Great Extinction Is Underway and We’re to Blame”, Jeffrey Kluger, July 25 2014.) This time death comes from climate chaos, but also from pollution and the guns, bulldozers, chainsaws, and plows destroying wildlife and wildlife habitats. According to the Planetary Boundaries Framework, updated in a 2015 article in Science, two core boundaries have been crossed that can “drive earth into a new much less hospitable state”: climate change and the loss of “biosphere integrity” (which includes biodiversity loss, species extinction and the impact of humans on ecosystem functioning). Two more (non-core) boundaries have also been crossed: land system change, including habitat loss, and altered biogeochemical (nitrogen and phosphorous) cycles. Five more deadly boundaries are in the wings, including ozone depletion, ocean acidification, freshwater shortages, and aerosol loading in the atmosphere. The fifth boundary, the “introduction of novel entities”, we used to just call pollution, but now, besides worrying about organic chemicals, we are faced with radioactive materials, nano-materials and micro plastics. (Stockholm Resilience Center, “Planetary Boundaries 2.0 – New and Improved”.) The changes humans are making to the earth are so extreme that we are entering a new geological epoch, the anthropocene.(Time, “The Sixth Great Extinction Is Underway and We’re to Blame”, Jeffrey Kluger, July 25 2014.) What a legacy!
The governments of the industrialized world want us to believe that climate chaos and all the other assaults on the earth can be contained while business almost as usual continues. Preserving capitalism, economic growth and rich people’s wealth is their priority, not the earth! What shocked me about the carbon budget is that 500 GtC is just about the same amount of carbon that humans dumped into the atmosphere from 1861 until now. (IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, p. 27.) They want to double the damage done already! The “male System” is killing life on earth and must be stopped!