Editorial: Climate change calamity confronts a world struggling to cut emissions
This Wednesday, at the 24thannual U.N. climate conference held in Poland, scientists around the world agreed on one sobering finding: global emissions of carbon dioxide have reached the highest levels on record — despite world-wide efforts, pacts and promises by nations around the world to reduce their carbon footprints.
Scientists found that between 2014 and 2016 (as the Paris Climate Accord was being enacted in 2015) carbon dioxide emissions had remained largely flat — giving environmentalists and world leaders hope that they could turn the tide and begin to reverse some of the damage done.
But global emissions increased by 1.6 percent in 2017 and are expected to be 2.7 percent higher in 2018 — a period in which President Trump rose to power, has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord, and has worked steadily to boost fossil fuel production and consumption.
This news comes on the heels of other dire scientific reports recently released that suggest the hazards of rising global temperatures are happening faster than predicted just a few years ago. Scientists now say that nations have barely a decade to take “unprecedented action” to cut emissions in half by 2030, if the world is to prevent the worst consequences of climate changes that increase 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels.
In a nearly 1,700-page report released earlier than expected by the Trump administration on the day after Thanksgiving (widely criticized as an attempt to bury the news because the report refutes Trump’s rhetoric and policies), the report noted that the U.S. already has warmed on average 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century and will warm at least 3 more degrees by 2100 unless fossil fuel use is dramatically curtailed.
The report, which is required by law to be updated and released publicly every four years, was authored by more than 300 researchers and scientists from more than a dozen federal agencies, made clear that the world was headed toward “catastrophic ? perhaps irreversible ? climate change.” The reportconcluded that warming “could increase by 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century,” if worldwide efforts do not significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
But temperatures don’t have to increase 9 degrees to be crippling to the worldwide economy. In an October report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a consortium of researches said that if emission weren’t cut in half over the next 12 years to avoid warming of just 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, damages of $54 trillion annually would be conceivable — in fires, floods, hurricanes and typhoons and other climate-related disasters. The U.S. report noted that last year was the second hottest in the United States causing a record $306 billion in damages.
Almost inconceivably, as the past 16 of 17 years have recorded the hottest years on record globally, the Trump administration is moving full-steam ahead to remove the long-established barriers preventing fossil fuel exploration in Alaska’s pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He and a Republican-led Congress have done so in an attempt to lock in oil drilling permits before the 2020 elections, even though production is expensive there and the world currently has a glut of oil in the marketplace. He has also rolled back safeguards adopted after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and has already approved the first oil production facility in the Arctic waters off Alaska. It’s all senseless and idiotic, which, sadly, is representative of this administration.
That said, let me direct your attention to an excellent letter in today’s Independent by Willa Brown that reflects on the reasons why governments are finding it so difficult to curb carbon dioxide emissions and the personal responsibility it will take to get governments to change.