The greenhouse effect is a simple chemical reality: carbon compounds in the atmosphere trap heat, like a greenhouse roof. At … Continue reading Climate Change is an Existential Threat & We Can Solve It
For many Americans, climate change has long seemed like something remote in space and time, a crisis that would affect people in other places a long time into the future. For skeptics, it seemed like we didn’t have to prioritize climate mitigation in order to build a secure and prosperous American republic, even when thinking decades into the future. We are only just now beginning to see that the destabilization of Earth’s climate system is bringing real impacts directly into our communities, in the here and now.
The Third National Climate Assessment, released last month, makes this clear: Climate change is happening now, and it is affecting our economy and our daily lives in disruptive ways, and costs of dealing with this ongoing destabilization will only increase over time. In fact, the report specifically finds that “The observed warming and other climatic changes are triggering wide-ranging impacts in every region of our country and throughout our economy.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found, in its 5th Assessment Report (AR5), which was released in September, that the worldwide human community has a global lifetime budget of “burnable” carbon-based fuels. Beyond that, any further burning of carbon-emitting fuels would push global average temperatures more than 2°C higher than the historic norm, unleashing unmanageable climate destabilization. So, though existing reserves might allow us to use far more than the scientifically measured carbon fuel budget, those resources are in effect “unburnable”.
This is not a matter for ideologically driven debate. This is a question of hard numbers. A 2°C rise is the tipping point, beyond which it is projected climate destabilization will be irreversible, with complex feedback loops exacerbating the situation more and more. Beyond a certain point, probably well before we reach the full 2°C rise, the actual cost of adapting to significant destabilization of historically consistent climate patterns will exceed our ability to spend to respond.