Tuesday, December 08, 2009

will the coming return of the dustbowl be someday known as "the good years?"

"The dispossessed were drawn west- from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out.... They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless - restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do - to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut - anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land." -Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (image via)

The facts about what climate change will do to our planet, both the already inevitable, the very likely and the current trajectory toward extinction, in detail here (pdf):

A refreshingly honest and sobering article here, deserves to be required reading for all, particularly right now:
They say that everyone who finally gets it about climate change has an "Oh, shit" moment--an instant when the full scientific implications become clear and they suddenly realize what a horrifically dangerous situation humanity has created for itself.


Schellnhuber and his WBGU colleagues go a giant step beyond the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN body whose scientific reports are constrained because the world's governments must approve their contents. The IPCC says that rich industrial countries must cut emissions 25 to 40 percent by 2020 (from 1990 levels) if the world is to have a fair chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. By contrast, the WBGU study says the United States must cut emissions 100 percent by 2020--i.e., quit carbon entirely within ten years. Germany, Italy and other industrial nations must do the same by 2025 to 2030. China only has until 2035, and the world as a whole must be carbon-free by 2050. The study adds that big polluters can delay their day of reckoning by "buying" emissions rights from developing countries, a step the study estimates would extend some countries' deadlines by a decade or so.

Needless to say, this timetable is light-years more demanding than what the world's major governments are talking about in the run-up to Copenhagen. The European Union has pledged 20 percent reductions by 2020, which it will increase to 30 percent if others--like the United States--do the same. Japan's new prime minister likewise has promised 25 percent reductions by 2020 if others do the same. Obama didn't mention a number, but the Waxman-Markey bill, which he supports, would deliver less than 5 percent reductions by 2020. Obama's silence--doubtless a function of the fact that Republicans are implacably opposed to serious emissions cuts--allowed Hu to claim the higher ground at the UN. Hu went further than any Chinese leader has before, pledging to curb greenhouse gas emissions growth by a "notable margin" by 2020. Obama dropped his own bombshell, however, urging that all G-20 governments phase out subsidies for fossil fuels. "The time we have to reverse this tide is running out," Obama declared. Alas, the WBGU study suggests that our time is in fact all but gone.

Obama, like other G-8 leaders, agreed in July to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial level at which human civilization developed. Schellnhuber, addressing the Santa Fe conference, joked that the G-8 leaders had agreed to the 2C limit "probably because they don't know what it means." In fact, even the "brutal" timeline of the WBGU study, Schellnhuber cautioned, would not guarantee staying within the 2C target. It would merely give humanity a two-out-of-three chance of doing so--"worse odds than Russian roulette," he wryly noted. "But it is the best we can do." To have a three-out-of-four chance, countries would have to quit carbon even sooner. Likewise, we could decide to wait another decade or so to halt all greenhouse emissions, but this lowers the odds of hitting the 2C target to fifty-fifty. "And what kind of precautionary principle is that?" (read more)

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