Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hope Less

A Vox piece lays bare the growing futility, bordering on human impossibility, of restraining warming to 2°C. Physically it still might be doable, but would require a greater-than-Herculean effort to shift the political-economic-and-technological dimensions of society at massive scale. It's a pretty horrifying read, but deep in our hearts, we knew this was probably the case.

"If only we would take concerted action!" "If we would act with a greater sense of urgency!" These are the lines mouthed by climate activists, environmental leaders, and millennial climate hopefuls, repeatedly deployed on an apathetic public and a static government.

As the article posits, the essential goal of containing warming to 2°C hasn't really changed for quite a while. For example, since the IntroSem on "Climate Change: Drivers, Impacts, Solutions" with Chris Field back in 2004. Was the goal of 2°C too shrill of a cry back then? I don't think so. The threat of climate change wasn't overstated. Indeed, every passing year has revealed more and more research that ought to jolt us into action. However, more than a decade later, we may be in rather worse shape, in terms of the "business as usual" curve.

Perhaps the future holds more promise with better technologies. Alternatively, it's possible we are simply hosed if 2°C is still the line we're trying to hold.

That's why the international conversation has moved on to adaptation (and maybe even reparations), instead of purely focusing on mitigation any longer. Sorry, folks! That's actually where the article doesn't quite get it right: there's been a quiet admission of realism, as adaptation takes a larger and larger role in the climate change negotiations.