Friday, November 04, 2022

Climate Change: Winning slowly

Five years ago David Wallace-Wells published "The Unihabitable Earth", looking at the horrifying consequences of what-were-then-likely climate change scenarios. Today, he has something of a followup in the New York Times, "Beyond Catastrophe: A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View". Its a very long article, but the TL;DR is this:

Now, with the world already 1.2 degrees hotter, scientists believe that warming this century will most likely fall between two or three degrees. (A United Nations report released this week ahead of the COP27 climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, confirmed that range.) A little lower is possible, with much more concerted action; a little higher, too, with slower action and bad climate luck. Those numbers may sound abstract, but what they suggest is this: Thanks to astonishing declines in the price of renewables, a truly global political mobilization, a clearer picture of the energy future and serious policy focus from world leaders, we have cut expected warming almost in half in just five years.
Basicly, we're winning slowly. While we're not on track for a safe climate yet, we've probably taken the worst outcomes off the table. But we can and need to do more. There's an obvious tie-in with Marc Daalder's Newsroom piece today on how Calling time on 1.5C doesn’t mean giving up. Daalder focuses on the non-linearity of climate change to point out that every tenth of a degree makes a difference, and a 1.9C world is significantly better than a 2C one; and he presents the challenge as keeping that temperature as low as possible even if we miss the 1.5C target. I'd go further. Climate models include the idea of "overshoot", where slow action means that we miss safe targets, but eventually come back down again. So our job is firstly to fight for 1.5 (or 1.4) degrees - but if we're going to miss it, make sure that any overshoot is as low and as short as possible, and that temperatures rapidly fall afterwards.

That of course requires policy - so whether we can do it depends on how hard we push politicians. So our task is to push those politicians hard. Make it clear that the old politics of the status quo / protecting vested interests / business as usual / "counting it differently" is done, and that if they want a future, they need to offer us one. And if they don't, we are going to vote them out on their arses.