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Five smart new things to read about climate change
Alex Steffen, 14 Jul 09

Five climate change pieces with something new to say:

Two degrees of global warming -- the target the G8 nations last week approved as a maximum temperature rise allowable due to climate change (and which many argue is being made inevitable by slow political action in G8 nations) -- has been played in the media as a "moderate" target. It's not. Real Climate writes about a two-degree goal:

"[E]ven a “moderate” warming of 2°C stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society, leading potentially to the conflict and suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations. Global warming of 2°C would leave the Earth warmer than it has been in millions of years, a disruption of climate conditions that have been stable for longer than the history of human agriculture. Given the drought that already afflicts Australia, the crumbling of the sea ice in the Arctic, and the increasing storm damage after only 0.8°C of warming so far, calling 2°C a danger limit seems to us pretty cavalier."

Compared to a three-degree rise, aiming for a two-degree temperature rise is playing Russian roulette with one bullet instead of four. That doesn't make it safe.


Developing nations at the G8 summit demand rich nations reduce CO2 40% by 2020. This demand got largely ignored or played as pure politics in most of the English-language media, but there's actually a very real point to see here: if we want to both dramatically curtail emissions by the middle of the century and provide for greatly more widespread prosperity, it's not enough for rich countries to meet their obligations in three or four decades. Rich countries need to meet their obligations first, both because they have the economic means to do so, and because it is their blazing of a path to climate-neutral prosperity that will clear the way for billions in the developing world to follow as they climb out of poverty. A set of goals which are ambitious decades from now but vague over the next two decades, well those are next to useless.


Ally Alan Durning (a brilliant researcher whose work frequently appears here at Worldchanging) details what's to love and hate about the Waxman-Markey climate bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives. A couple key bits:

"I hate that Waxman-Markey allows 2 billion tons of offsets each year. That’s too many by an order of magnitude. Offsets are too slippery; you can never be sure if you’ve reduced emissions overall or just moved them around. W-M’s offsets provision could blow a hole in the cap – and the cap is the only guarantee we’ll meet crucial goals. This offsets number is, in my view, the bill’s biggest flaw.
"I hate that Waxman-Markey’s goal for 2020 is a paltry 17 percent reduction below 2005 levels. President Obama’s clean-energy stimulus and budget investments, the 2007 federal energy bill, new fuel-economy standards announced in May, and new programs in Waxman-Markey for efficient buildings, vehicles, and appliances—these initiatives alone might take the United States to a 17 percent drop in emissions. Even without cap and trade."
"I love W-M’s “strategic reserve”—a stockpile of permits that authorities will accumulate to help buffer prices. To establish the reserve, authorities will withhold a share of each year’s permits, typically 1- 3 percent. The reserve will have the effect of tightening the cap in normal years, but if permit prices spike upwards (rising by 60 percent above their three-year average), it will temper the market by releasing permits. Smart policy! This reserve is a clever, cap-protecting alternative to an off-ramp, which would generate cap-busting extra permits if prices spiked."
"I love many of its technical features: W-M provides for unlimited “banking” but tightly limits “borrowing”; has few barriers to bidding at its permit auctions (low barriers to entry are among the best safeguards against market manipulation); uses quarterly, uniform-price, sealed-bid, single-round auctions (don’t ask); incorporates a battery of protections against market manipulation; allows linkage with European and other cap-and-trade systems, at the discretion of federal authorities; and allows any recipient of free permits to offer them on consignment at the main federal auction."


Building bright green prosperity is now the U.K.'s official economic strategy, says Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

Factories producing energy-saving products, construction companies erecting renewable energy systems, scientists working to develop new nuclear power, mechanics maintaining hybrid engines and people installing insulation in homes: this is the workforce of the future. So as we meet our international obligations, we must seize the opportunity for a comprehensive transition to a greener, cleaner future for Britain - one which is fairer, stronger and more prosperous for all.

Two weeks ago, the government launched Building Britain's Future, setting out our radical plan for recovery and beyond into a digital, low-carbon, high-technology age. We will pursue a new, more active industrial policy - investing towards a nationwide high-speed broadband network by 2016, building a world-class modern infrastructure and supporting future industries such as biotechnology, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and financial services. And over the coming fortnight we will push further ahead with a series of announcements on electric cars and railways and on energy-efficient homes and communities.


We often hear that the kind of climate change we're facing has no parallel in recorded human history, but that's actually substantially understating the case. New measurements show greenhouse gas levels are already the highest they've been in 2.1 million years. That's grim new information, but not nearly as provocative as the fact that we need to go back 55 million years to find a rapid temperature spike like the one we are on our way to causing. Our great-great-umpeteengreat-grandparents were little tree-shrew-like primates back then. That's how unprecedented our climatic experiment is.

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How about this for smart? "Catastrophic Fall in 2009 Global Food Production:" due to unprecedented droughts around the world (the article spells them out in painful detail) we are looking at a food calamity next year, with widespread food riots and foreign regimes destabilizing. Our global dimming pollution is now cutting sunlight around 10%, so water evaporation is lower. Plus global warming has redistributed rain patterns, making more very dry, and some extremely wet. How can we sit here and debate long term emission cuts that will hardly make a dent in the temperature, when we are looking at a first class crisis in the making right now. Did you know that foreign regime instability has replaced WMD as the primary US national security threat according to the US government?

Posted by: Brad Arnold on 14 Jul 09

Well, I'm glad to know that small tree-dwelling rodents will probably have no trouble accomodating to the brave new "hothouse" world. Pity it will be so unforgiving to humans, but hey -- tree squirrels will probably do just fine!

Posted by: Nathanael on 15 Jul 09

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