Now that the tide seems to be turning, at least a wee bit, it’s a good time to recall the bad old days – like, say, two years ago – when most folks in the US “climate community” were still discretely minimizing the urgency of the situation. That, of course, was before Jim Hansen started telling us we less that ten years to bring global emissions to a peak. And before Al Gore brought the rhetoric of “planetary emergency” into common usage. And it was, less famously, before “Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change,” better known as “the Exeter Conference,” provided the occasion by which the scientific community, by whatever mysterious process that scientists use when deciding these sorts of things, finally decided to set aside its traditional reserve and start speaking frankly.
If you think there’s a whiff of panic in the air, you’re right. If you want to know the details, this is the place for you.
If you’ve spent any time at all on this site, you know that we’re partisans of the “Two Degree Limit” school, and that we argue that an average planetary warming of greater than 2C would threaten us with global, not merely local, climate catastrophe. In this new study, WWF (also members of 2C school) go onto the bad news, reviewing a number of recent modeling studies that indicate that we’ll hit 2C between 2026 and 2060, and that when we do the Arctic will warm three times as much. The consequence will be hard to exaggerate, and the lesson clear — 2C is too much.
In this report, a few of our German friends come right out and think the unthinkable. Indeed, in Implementing the Kyoto Protocol Without the United States: The Strategic Role of Energy Tax Adjustments at the Border, Frank Biermann and Rainer Brohm of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research go so far as to argue that, if the U.S. remains indefinitely outside a future greenhouse regime (assuming we ever get one) even existing world trade law would permit the European Union to enact “well designed” and “comprehensive” border adjustments against its exports.
Want some freedom fries with that
As it becomes obvious that there will be no rapid decarbonization (not, at least, on the scale needed to avoid a global climate catastrophe) unless “the rich” pay the costs of that rapidity, the question of who is rich, and how rich, is taking on a strange new importance. Which is why we like this little calculator. The data behind it, by the way, is taken from the work of Branko Milanovic, whose new book Words Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality sets the gold standard, when it comes to, well, measuring international and global inequality.
The Chinese government is preparing to impose minimum fuel economy standards on their burgeoning auto fleet, standards far more stringent than those in the US. To be clear, the new standards aren’t intended to address China’s rapidly rising carbon emissions, but rather to force foreign automakers to introduce the latest hybrid engines and other technology into China, fast, in hopes of easing the nation’s swiftly rising dependence on oil imports. Which, actually, makes excellent sense. And the situation is not without its humorous sidelights. Here’s one: the New York Times article, China Set to Act on Fuel Economy; Tougher Standards Than in US, reports that “two executives at Volkswagen, the largest foreign automaker in China” .. told the Times that “They had no choice but to agree.”
Those damn Market-Leninists!
The German Scientific Advisory Council on Global Environmental Change (WBGU) has just released Climate Protection Strategies for the 21st Century: Kyoto and Beyond, and it’s a milestone. For one thing, it calls for a 2C “guardrail” to prevent dangerous climate change. For another, it promotes an idea which has long and unjustly been marginalized by calling for “Contraction and Convergence” to be the basis of the post-Kyoto regime.
This is a big step forward for a major quasi-governmental think tank, even a European one, but it remains to be seen how much traction these ideas will win. Even if the E.U. were to adopt the WBGU’s proposal for convergence to equal per capita rights in 2050, the South’s response would remain uncertain. Continue reading “Landmark Study from Old Europe!”
You know that the international trade talks are in trouble. What you may not know is that Cancun saw the emergence of a newly coherent Southern negotiating bloc – the “Group of 21” – and that it may (cross your fingers) portend good news spreading even as far as the climate talks. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but here’s an interesting analysis by Focus on the Global South’s Walden Bello, who by the way just won the Right Livelihood Award. In it, Bello discusses “the possibility that the Group of 21 can serve as the engine of South-South cooperation that goes beyond trade to coordination of policies on investment, capital flows, industrial policy, social policy, environmental policy.”
Mike Davis isn’t the only writer to say “global warming” while commenting on the California fires, but his Perfect Firestorm is probably the only essay to link the outsized economic damages to “stupid development,” or to note that “Republicans tend to disproportionately concentrate themselves in the wrong altitudes and ecologies.” Read this one; it’s short and anything but sweet.
Perhaps you’ve read Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts. More likely you’ve looked at the cover photos, grimaced, and turned away. But do take a look at Our Summer Vacation: 20,000 dead wherein Davis ties this past August’s wave of European heat death to the more routine suffering of the poor and the forgotten, and then shares his personal greenhouse nightmare: a positive feedback caused by the now almost inevitable melting of the Arctic ice cap.
Speaking of August, 2003’s was the Northern hemisphere hottest on record, and according to the Earth Policy Institute’s Janet Larson, whose detailed numbers nice supplement Davis’s, it actually accounted for 35,000 deaths.
Speaking of greenhouse body counts, the estimate of 160,000 deaths a year has been in the news lately, thanks to a new report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The majority of these deaths occur in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, where people are more vulnerable to malnutrition, malaria, and diarrhea as hotter temperatures settle in and floods and droughts become more common.
This figure demands to be put in perspective. Here’s one place to start: the World Health Organization estimates that indoor air pollution causes 1.6 million deaths per year. That’s an even power of ten greater than the greenhouse body count, and this time the situation is crystal clear: the killer here is poverty, pure and simple.