What Countries Have to Do To Meet the Paris Accord's 2-Degree Climate Target
November 6, 2016
Eric Alterman / The Nation & Zoe Carpenter / The Nation
Years from now, historians will marvel at the absence of global warming in the 2016 US presidential campaign debates. Pentagon planning recognizes climate change as "an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water." And yet the Republican Party platform simply dismisses it. Planetary survival means no new drilling, no new fracking, no new coalminers, and no new pipelines.
What We Talk About When We Don't Talk About Climate Change
Eric Alterman / The Nation
(October 31, 2016) -- August 2016 was the hottest month in recorded history. Nothing new there. As a recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies, "Combat vs. Climate," explains, 15 of the 16 hottest years ever recorded have been in the 21st century.
Official Pentagon planning documents recognize climate change as "an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water."
And yet the 2016 Republican Party platform simply dismisses it. None of the moderators at the presidential or vice-presidential debates in 2012 deemed the topic worthy of even a single question, and none have done so this year either.
When Donald Trump isn't musing on grabbing lady parts or bragging about what a bodacious babe his young daughter was, he sometimes spouts his belief that "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."
You may have heard about that because, unbidden by the moderators, Hillary Clinton brought up Trump's crazy tweet in the first presidential debate. True to form, he denied it, though it was seen by millions of people before and after the debate.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway got all postmodern regarding his loony notion while spinning on CNN: She explained that Trump simply meant he believes that "global warming is naturally occurring" -- that is, independent of human activity.
While this position may appear marginally less lunatic than Trump's true beliefs -- if such things can be said to exist -- scientific support for it remains no less rare. Disbelief in the human role in global warming among qualified climatologists has fallen into "margin of error" territory -- that is, between 1 and 3 percent.
And yet, according to a recent Pew poll, roughly three-quarters of Republicans still think the whole idea is really some sort of conspiracy. Just 15 percent are willing to accept that there's a scientific consensus on the issue. All told, according to Pew, barely a third of Americans say they "care a great deal" about climate change.
As the IPS report points out, the United States spends 28 times as much on traditional military security as on climate security. And so, as we spend tens of billions of dollars for weapons that won't work for wars we will never fight, we have all but disarmed ourselves in the face of a future that will likely see a devastating loss of arable land, taking our food supply with it.
We can look forward to increasingly frequent hurricanes and a rise in sea levels that will threaten all the world's coastal cities. The Pentagon's planning reports have been warning since 2008 that a warming world will provoke a massive increase in the flow of refugees, violent conflicts over depleted natural resources (especially water), and a sharp spike in energy prices.
The news media don't deserve all the blame for Americans' ignorance and corresponding lack of alarm. Almost all political systems display a natural inertia when confronting a not-yet-visible catastrophe, and every modern president, for better or worse, has had to grapple with Americans' distaste for any form of sacrifice or even collective action for anything short of military attack.
In this case, we must recognize the enemy within. Barack Obama has been admirably alarmist about the problem. Hillary Clinton has been less so, but she's still on the right side of the issue. Alas, the Republican Party's remarkable combination of purposeful ignorance and obstinacy has stymied congressional action for over a generation.
Twice, the Republican House majority attached an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that explicitly denied the Pentagon the right to address climate threats. Last year, the House Budget Committee actually tried to pass a measure that would have prevented the Pentagon and the CIA from even studying climate science.
Trump may position himself as an outsider candidate whose wealth insulates him from corrupt interest groups, but the fossil-fuel lobbyists he's picked to shape his energy policy would guarantee more of the same.
Perhaps it's just a coincidence that the GOP's billionaire backers -- Charles and David Koch most prominently -- have dedicated themselves to building an iron wall against any form of regulatory action that could eat into their profits. In the past, the Kochs have used middlemen and secretive organizations to impose their political and intellectual blackmail on Republicans (and therefore on the rest of us).
Recognizing that Trump is unelectable, they're now using their network to endorse and fund House and Senate candidates as a way to ensure that President Clinton will have no better luck defending America in this area than Obama did.
Sadly, many in the media have simply played along by ignoring the issue as well. To be fair, this is true of almost all genuine issues. Using a particularly generous yardstick, Harvard's Shorenstein Center found that during the first five months of this year, 56 percent of election coverage was devoted exclusively to the horse race. A mere 11 percent focused on "substantive concerns," with immigration, terrorism, and other fear-driven issues dominating the coverage.
News organizations, particularly the cable stations, enjoyed record profits during this period as they repeated and amplified the lies, exaggerations, and invective upon which Republicans, led by Trump, based their campaigns. Now they're being held responsible for failing to notice that the GOP presidential nominee is a sexist pig who thinks it's OK to grab women's private parts and agrees that his own daughter is a "piece of ass."
Critics point out that the evidence of Trump's psychopathology was there for all to see; it merely took a salacious tape and a white American victim to get people to notice.
Disgusting as Trump's views about women may be, they will pale in the eyes of future historians struggling to understand America's failure to stop the slow-motion destruction of our planet.
Nation columnist Eric Alterman has been writing for the magazine since 1983.
Here's the 1 Thing Countries Have to Do
To Meet the 2-Degree Climate Target
Unless we stop developing new fossil-fuel reserves, the Paris agreement is a joke
Zoe Carpenter / The Nation
(October 14, 2016) -- Next month, the Paris climate agreement will enter into force. Major greenhouse-gas emitters, including the United States, China, Brazil, and India, have approved it; the European Union became the latest to do so last week, pushing the pact over the participation threshold needed for it to take effect.
The main goal of the agreement is to keep global warming "well below" a 2 degree Celsius increase from preindustrial levels, and, because many scientists believe that upper limit is still too dangerous, to try to keep warming to less than 1.5 degrees.
To have a chance of meeting either of those targets, there is one thing every single country must do: stop drilling and digging for new oil, gas, and coal -- right now. That's the conclusion of a recent analysis from the think tank Oil Change International.
Using investment-grade data from a Norwegian firm that tracks fossil-fuel reserves, OCI calculated two global "carbon budgets" -- in other words, two scenarios that show how much of our fossil-fuel reserves we can tap into before the resulting greenhouse-gas emissions cause catastrophic warming.
One scenario gives us a "likely," or 66 percent, chance of keeping overall warming below 2 degrees C, and the other provides a 50 percent likelihood of staying below 1.5 degrees.
What they found is that the oil and gas fields already in production alone are enough to raise global temperatures by more than 1.5 degrees C. Add in the coal stocks currently being mined, and we'll blow past 2 degrees.
To be clear, those are the oil and gas wells and coal mines that are already in operation or under construction (called "developed reserves").
Exploiting new fossil-fuel reserves, those that are considered recoverable but haven't yet been tapped into, "would either commit the world to exceeding 2°C of warming, and/or require an abrupt end to fossil-fuel production and use at a later date," the report states. In order to meet the Paris goals, even some currently operating fields and mines will probably have to be closed before they've been fully exploited.
Source: Oil Change International
"At this point we should be looking to manage a decline in the fossil-fuel industry as soon as possible," said Stephen Kretzmann, the executive director of OCI. Otherwise, the consequences could be financial, as well as environmental. OCI calculates projected investment in new wells, mines, and related infrastructure in the next two decades to be $14 trillion -- either "a vast waste of money or a lethal capital injection," according to the report.
"Ongoing, unchecked expansion of the fossil-fuel industry leads inexorably to climate chaos, or to massive stranding of assets and major issues not only for investors but also for communities and fossil-fuel workers," Kretzmann said.
Kretzmann anticipates energy interests will say, "Oh my God, you're going to turn off the gas overnight and people are going to freeze in the dark." But by "managed decline," he doesn't mean stop using fossil fuels tomorrow.
Currently operating oil and gas wells will be in production for at least another 30 years, Krezmann estimates. That gives us three decades to ramp up renewable-energy capacity to fill the gap left by gradually depleted wells.
As OCI's report argues, this is technically possible, but requires political will and "robust" planning, particularly to ensure a just transition for workers in the fossil-fuel industry.
The big problem is that "nobody's doing this math internationally," Kretzmann said. OCI points to a few bright spots where countries halted the development of some new fossil-fuel reserves: China and Indonesia put a moratorium on new coal mines, and the US government has done so on federal lands. But no government has addressed the need to stop energy companies from looking for and extracting new sources of oil and gas.
Instead, the Paris goals are based on the assumption that by midcentury we'll be able to suck carbon back out of the atmosphere on a massive scale -- a seriously risky bet.
Last week, in a blog post related to a new discussion paper, climate scientist James Hansen noted, "Proposed methods of extraction such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) or air capture of CO2 imply minimal estimated costs of $104-570 trillion this century, with large risks and uncertain feasibility."
Even if carbon capture technology were to be available at scale, OCI estimates that it would extend the carbon budget only by an estimated 12-14 percent by 2050.
If we don't want to stake the future on a "carbon-sucking fairy godmother," as one leading climate scientist puts it, then OCI's calculations demand no new drilling, no new fracking, and definitely no new coalmines. It also means no new pipelines or other construction to facilitate fossil-fuel production, beyond repairing old, faulty infrastructure.
It's a conclusion at odds not only with energy interests, who have a lot to lose, but also with the policies of mainstream Democrats who claim to support the targets set in Paris. (Hillary Clinton, for one, reiterated her support for continued natural-gas production during Sunday's debate.)
Calls to keep fossil fuels in the ground are often derided by these serious people as "unrealistic" -- but unless that happens, it's the Paris agreement that's implausible.
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