Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Warming Wednesdays: climate talks in Qatar

Did you know that one of those periodic world climate meetings took place last week at Doha in Qatar. Probably not. It's not as if U.S. media had paid much attention.

Go ahead; watch this Al Jazeera video of the very controlled protest allowed by local authorities at the meeting venue. I found the "whole world watching" display very heartening. We're all in this together, though the effects so temperature increases will strike the poorest and weakest most. (H/t Juan Cole.)

You also probably will not be surprised to read that much news from climate researchers is discouraging. We're still hooked on energy processes that belch carbon.

Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project.

…The new figures show that emissions are falling, slowly, in some of the most advanced countries, including the United States. That apparently reflects a combination of economic weakness, the transfer of some manufacturing to developing countries and conscious efforts to limit emissions, like the renewable power targets that many American states have set. The boom in the natural gas supply from hydraulic fracturing is also a factor, since natural gas is supplanting coal at many power stations, leading to lower emissions.

But the decline of emissions in the developed countries is more than matched by continued growth in developing countries like China and India, the new figures show. Coal, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is growing fastest, with coal-related emissions leaping more than 5 percent in 2011, compared with the previous year.

“If we’re going to run the world on coal, we’re in deep trouble,” said Gregg H. Marland, a scientist at Appalachian State University who has tracked emissions for decades.

New York Times, Dec. 2, 2012

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson put that trouble into everyday language.

…What results have two decades’ worth of international climate confabs produced? By the World Bank’s reckoning, even if the nations of the world meet the pledges they have made to reduce carbon emissions, we’re still likely to see warming of more than 3 degrees Celsius — 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit — by 2100. And if the pledges are not met, which seems a reasonable assumption, there is a 40 percent chance that by the turn of the next century, temperature rise will reach the disaster benchmark of 4 degrees Celsius.

That passage does something we don't usually see. These discussions are ordinarily couched in numerical language of science -- and most of us can't translate Celsius into Fahrenheit without access to Google (guess this is why we all need our smartphones…)

Clearly, if President Obama wants to be remembered for his long game, he can't let another four years go by without trying to turn the United States toward leadership on climate change. We've made some progress toward reducing emissions. We need to make as much more as we can, since what we put out today, in human terms, essentially alters the climate forever.

Our brains and our institutions are not good at thinking about "forever," but we have no choice.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- unpleasant reminders of an inconvenient truth.

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