New UN climate report: Livability deteriorating now; ending carbon use is the only answer

There’s a new report out from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and it’s apparently a rough ride.

The IPCC has three “working groups” of scientists. Working Group 1 (WG1) deals with “the physical basis” of climate science — the physics, the mechanics of climate change. The latest Assessment Report (AR5) is being released over the next year, and the WG1 AR5 “Summary for Policymakers” (the “executive summary”) was released late last year. We covered that briefly here, though I’m now going through it more deeply. Stay tuned.

Working Group 2 (WG2) deals with “impacts, adaptations and vulnerability” — in other words, effects and consequences. Working Group 3 (WG3) deals with mitigations — what we can do. What was release just recently is the executive summary — the “Summary for Policymakers” — of WG2 for the latest Assessment Report.

Did I say it looks like a rough ride? For a sense of how rough, start here. At the link you can read the WG2 AR5 “Summary for Policymakers” in scribd form. If you want to download the PDF, click here.

As I said, this is new and most of us are still absorbing it. For now, I want to focus on this. The last figure in the report looks like this (the “You Are Here” markup is mine). I explain it below:

You Are Here. North or South, Mr. & Ms. Americans-with-Children?

“You Are Here.” North or South, Mr. & Ms. American-with-Children?

This figure really jumped out at me, especially in light of my recent push for “Zero Carbon awareness” (Zero Carbon means drastically cutting all carbon emissions — not just stabilizing them — until we get to zero carbon use, zero carbon emissions).

Here’s a description of the diagram that I wrote to a discussion group recently:

 “You Are Here” is today, the crossroads. Interesting decision tree. To put this in simple terms, that really is “Now”, and we’re going to head north (to the top-right “good” circle; roughly the RCP 2.6 scenario; or warming of 2–2.5°C from the pre-Industrial norm) …

… or we go the bottom-right “awful” circle (roughly RCP 8.5; the MIT “no policy” outcome; or +7°C) … all by 2100.

“Carbon neutral” is the current approved “sell,” and it needs to be pushed against, presented as unacceptable. Carbon-neutral is the same as “Keep Koch in walking change” and will lead to the worst outcome.

It hands us the nightmare, the bottom-right circle, since the hard and constant push back against any restriction always comes from Money (people who own trillions in unmonetized carbon assets, plus all of their enablers) and these people don’t do “incremental” or surrender. Barring some kind of general panic, the only “incremental solution” we’re going to get will have the paper-thin force of a politician’s (or carbon industry’s) PR campaign.

Put simply, without a general panic or discontinuous, step-wise jump in mass awareness, we won’t get those middle outcomes. Naomi Klein has it nailed in that regard. And starting from “now” (the circle on the chart) all delay drops us off the “You Are Here” mark and down to the next decision point below, our path to +7°C.

“Zero Carbon now” is a route to the best outcome, but it’s the only one. I think that’s a fairly simple message to be selling. The implications of Zero Carbon are a Manhattan Project–style rationing-and-buildout regime, as described here, and I agree people aren’t ready to hear that yet.

The only way to stop carbon is to … stop. Not a hard concept, but it needs to be presented simply and more often than it is. I’m hearing a lot of “it’s dire.” Not enough “the answer is to stop.” You can help with that.

I’ll have much more as I read and absorb the report. In the meantime, this is, I think, not incorrect, though I’m temporarily more optimistic than the writer. Something to think about, I think.


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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