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A Bigger Better Budget!

Written By: - Date published: 12:58 pm, October 14th, 2018 - 11 comments
Categories: Environment, global warming, International, Politics, science, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, useless - Tags:

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!

11 comments on “A Bigger Better Budget! ”

  1. Infused 1

    You will learn over time more and more as these reports are adjusted.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 1.1

      Any Floridian reading this will be wondering why ‘the authorities’ didn’t just adjust the coastline up a few metres prior to hurricance Michael.

  2. cleangreen 2

    Brothers and sisters – “we have 10 years to make fundamental change to the way we live and interact with our environment or else the planet will trip on feedback loops that will utterly destroy our global civilisation.”

    Martyn said this on TDB today; – and I responded saying that Government has already burned though a third of there first term and still no legislation has been produced or passed so I am fearful that we are looking much like the couple sitting there contemplating what else to put into that peanut butter sandwich.

    Jacinda! – where is our ‘tranformative Government please?

    At least back our public owned Kiwi Rail Helen Clark bought back for us and don’t pour any more money into roads for more trucks!!!!

    Just saying.

    • Timeforacupoftea 2.1

      But Taxcinda is prepared to tax us and pay cash to the UN or any other body that will take it.
      If New Zealand did change to zero carbon it won’t make a jot of difference to the worlds output of carbon.
      Half the world has not caught up yet with the lucky ones who have burnt coal for electricity and oil for transport.
      Ask the boat people escaping Africa, looking for jobs, cars, houses, food production, which only increases carbon use, which increases population through breeding and BAMB ! civilisation is all over by 2150.

      A fine is easier to stomach than be in opposition for the rest of her life.

      Just saying.

  3. Dennis Frank 3

    Just the latest in a long sequence of govt fudging that makes sceptics into deniers, eh? Inasmuch as the devil is always in the detail, you could call it the work of the devil. But the interface between governance and science is fraught by progress. Consider why.

    When science engages complex systems, precision is inherently impossible, so course corrections are essential when the necessity becomes evident. Science normally proceeds on the basis of amendment to theory via the latest discoveries. Public policy on climate change will therefore do a zig-zag every now & then, so we ought not to expect consistency! The precautionary principle remains our guiding imperative.

    • Bill 3.1

      Not sure I’m quite grasping you there Dennis.

      The relationship between atmospheric concentration and resultant temperature were and are fine.

      The amount of CO2 that could be emitted to bring about a given concentration was….will we say ‘accidentally precautionary’? And that was because models factored in a drop in emissions around the period of WW2, meaning that their budget to concentration relationship didn’t marry up with observable measurements (though it was all within the margins of error). Being within the margin of error, there was no “necessity” to make the change and, as I’ve argued, every reason to let the discrepancy ride.

      The politics behind the decision to correct the budgets is where the problem lies – not the science of it.

      • Dennis Frank 3.1.1

        Oh, okay, so it was a case of the detail being at the economic interface, not the scientific. Thanks for the clarification. I got jaded/cynical about the political spin around global warming policy so long ago I’m never going to take whatever the current policy is seriously enough to spend valuable time examining the entrails. I admire your diligence!

      • Phil 3.1.2

        Given that the difference between 1.5K and 2K rise is, at best, the displacement of 100’s of millions of people; that the 1.5K rise only has a 66% chance of success even if the necessary targets are both set and met; and that almost all emissions scenarios include ‘negative emissions’ which are essentially impossible to achieve at the scale required; then I think criminally negligent’ is a better description of current targets than ‘accidentally precautionary’.

        On top of that you have the fact that curently the Paris pledges add up to ~3K warming plus feedback from any tipping points that are exceeded; and the fact that the difference between the maxima and minima of ice ages implies the equilibrium warming is about double the short term warming.

        I suspect this adjustment is a result of political pressure to avoid mass panic as we do the climate change equivalent of entering the event horizon around a supermassive black hole: nothing much happens at the time but afterwards there is no going back.

        • Incognito

          So, climate change is not our “generation’s nuclear-free moment” but rather our generation’s “red matter”; man-made that, if not handled properly, starts a chain-reaction that inevitably leads to utter destruction of planets and civilisations.


          • Bill

            Hmm. Red matter also seems to act like a kind of time machine. Better not let government know, or next thing we’ll have it adopted as the backstop to the negative emissions technology backstop – we’ll be right as soon as we find the red matter. And what’s more, there’s no rush! 🙂

  4. Dennis Frank 4

    In regard to those who feel they “really, really need to jump right now if they want any chance of survival”, looks like Jerry Brown is feeling the heat: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jerry-brown-launching-own-damn-climate-change-satellite_us_5b9d8be5e4b04d32ebf923dd

    He’s now California’s longest-serving governor in history. Not bad for a zen buddhist! Held his own Global Action Climate Summit recently. “Planet, which was founded by former NASA scientists eight years ago, has already launched over 150 Earth-imaging satellites, the largest private satellite fleet in the world. Customers include agribusiness, government, mapping, environmental and other organizations.”

    “Brown, who called Trump a “liar, criminal and fool” earlier in the week for his attempts to dismantle Obama-era climate change efforts, has been at loggerheads with the president over his environmental policies from the start. But California, which is the fifth-largest economy in the world, has its own clout. Brown on Monday signed into law Senate Bill 100 which pledges that the state will obtain 100 percent of California’s electricity from clean sources by 2045.”

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