Emissions

2. EMISSIONS REDUCTION WILL BE “TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE.”

That's because nature's cleanup processes take a thousand years to remove 80% of the excess CO2. They also acidify the oceans. That means that we have to do the cleanup ourselves--and needs to be quick.

At www.climateinteractive.org/tools/climate-bathtub-simulation, there is a good “bathtub simulator” for accumulating emissions, which will allow one to see just how little most “climate solutions” affect the temperature outcome by mid-century. As shown at right, almost everything has to be pushed to the max merely to keep temperature from rising further. That tells you that CO₂ removal is essential, and quickly.

The framing of climate action as an emiss­ions reduct­ion task is like telling a heavy smoker to cut back to one pack a day; it merely slows disease progression if one is already sick.

We seldom have any discussion of back­ing out of the danger zone for extreme weather. Within decades, that climate inaction will take us straight into “too little, too late” and the massive social conseq­uences of hope­less­ness. We do not want to go there.


Prevention and treatment often demand different approaches, but that was seldom mentioned in pre-2018 major scientific reports about our climate problem. Civic organizations sup­port­ing climate action usually un­critically echo them, focusing solely on rallying the troops to use less.

Most reason, in effect, “Emissions caused the problem. Reducing them ought to fix it.” How­ever true for smog cleanup in the 1970s, CO₂ is not clean­ed up by nature as fast as visible air pollution is (a thousand years vs. two weeks). That’s rarely mentioned.


Emissions reduction is not working

The annual world-wide bump up in carbon dioxide has increased about 50 per­cent since the turn of the 21st cent­ury. The annual bump is now three times what it was in the 1960s.

This acceleration is not progress. And in the future?


Future prospects are poor, given A/C

About a third of annual emiss­ions now come from the developing coun­tries, soon to need overnight air cond­it­­ion­ing to survive heat­waves. They will burn their local fossil fuels to generate elect­ric­ity to run the extra A/C units, whatever treaties say. But it’s a global common because of air mixing, and so the CO₂ doesn’t stay local—just as ours did not.


Emissions reduction does not remove CO₂

Today, the continuing emphasis on “use less” without a cleanup is like treating a painful tooth solely with reduced sugar consumption. While emissions re­duct­ion was the obvious strategy for CO₂ fifty years ago, it is a preventative measure (like reducing smok­ing), not a fix once a disease (like lung cancer) develops.

However, reducing emissions is still needed because that shortens the time until cooling can begin. It's much like what is known as an adjuvant in medicine.

A warmer world causes more forest fires, the release of stored carbon adding to annual emissions, which triggers even more forest fires that raise CO₂ further.

Things have changed, but our strategy has not. The U.S., with only five percent of the world’s population, managed to create the largest national share of the present CO₂ accumulated excess—and then we ran away from the 2015 Paris Agreement on future emissions.

REFERENCES

David Archer, et al (2009). Atmospheric lifetime of fossil fuel carbon dioxide. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 37:117-134; doi.org/10.1146/annurev.earth.031208.100206.



Continue to Surges

The world-wide bump up in carbon dioxide each year has increased about 50 per­cent since the turn of the 21st cent­ury. The annual bump is now three times what it was in the 1960s. Black lines are decadal averages.


Hot and humid New Delhi at noon in the summer.
Credit New York Times.