According to a piece written by Nicolas Stern for The Guardian
Human activities are currently emitting about 42bn tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, and at that rate the carbon budget – allowing us a 50-50 chance of keeping warming to 1.5C – would be exhausted within 20 years.
That statement jumped out at me. I’d been under the impression we only had something like three or seven years left before we blew the global budget for 1.5C. So I went digging.
This article from Carbon Brief presents the reasons for revising the available budget for up from three years of current emissions for a 66% of avoiding 1.5C to ten years for those same odds. In brief, the budgets that were contained in previous IPCC reports, although within accepted margins of error, were too low when compared to empirical measurements. So the budgets were increased, meaning that governments are now being told they can formulate policy on the basis that we can spew more carbon into the atmosphere than was previously thought.
Scientifically, that’s fine. But politically, it’s disastrous.
Up until last week, governments under the impression that they (and we) were well and truly skewered by the global warming hook were doing nothing. Now those same governments are being informed that they’re on the receiving end of some fortuitous wriggling. I can’t see a good political reason for not leaving them (and us) under the former impression and using those low, but within the margins of error carbon budgets to give them (and us) a hurry up.
On the basis that we’ve demonstrated an inability to act intelligently, I imagine our situation as being something like this –
There is a person who has to make a leap from some ledge, but they’re scared to do it. We, or who-ever, are on the other side of the gap imploring or encouraging them to just do it. We’ve probably all experienced such a situation – both from the perspective of the person offering encouragement, and from the perspective of the person who’s frozen up and unable to act. Usually there’s no immediate threat or danger bearing down on whoever can’t leap or jump. Usually, it’s just them seizing up because they’re generating fears about the size of the drop or the width of the gap and what might happen if they don’t quite make it.
But global warming’s a real threat bearing down on all of us. So lets throw a tiger into our imagined scenario. Now the person’s stuck between two fears. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that the fear of the tiger will outweigh the fear of leaping and they’ll jump. Of course, if they wait too long, the tiger will leap straight after them and they’ll wind up as tiger lunch. But if they arrive at a moment in their head where they think the tiger is racing up behind them and that they really, really need to jump right now if they want any chance of survival, then why would we yell across to them that we can’t see the tiger? Why would we give them that breather and that space to dither when we know that if the tiger actually does come into sight it’ll be too late because the tiger will just leap straight across the gap after them?
The politics of increasing the size of available budgets is precisely the same as saying “I can’t see the tiger”.
That said, it’s not as though governments were on the cusp of taking the great leap that’s required. For thirty odd years they’ve simply sat on their chuffs and done nothing bar talk a lot and carry on “as usual”. That inaction and the utter dearth of intelligence it betrays justifies shouting “Tiger! Tiger!!” I know many will disagree and say that I’m endorsing scare mongering and how that’s a bad thing. But global warming is real. And like the tiger, if we do get to see it in (how to say?) its “full majesty”, then we’re done for.
Lastly, and for any who’ve read this far and who are maybe thinking that increasing the carbon budget was simply done in the name of good science, and that any political ramifications of that are just unfortunate, I have this question. If the available budget was corrected because “good science”, then what about all those negative emissions that are embedded within models aimed at 1.5C and 2C that have no scientific basis whatsoever? Why haven’t they been stripped out of the models in the name of “good science”?
I wouldn’t know how to capture the complacency or stupidity of two people sitting down on a ledge to eat peanut butter sandwiches, and talking about how tomorrow they might try adding some cucumber, and isn’t the weather nice, and “Oh look! Hobbes!”