Without Drastic CO2 Cuts Immediately, the World Faces a Massive ‘Oh Shit’ Moment

Without Drastic CO2 Cuts Immediately, the World Faces a Massive ‘Oh Shit’ Moment

By Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation. Posted October 15, 2009.

A frightening new climate change study says the United States must eliminate its enormous rate of carbon emission within ten years.

Editor’s Note: This is the kickoff to a series of pieces as a Copenhagen Primer about climate change that we will be running in the lead up to the international climate talks in Copenhagen beginning on December 7. Stay tuned.

They say that everyone who finally gets it about climate change has an “Oh, shit” moment — an instant when the full scientific implications become clear and they suddenly realize what a horrifically dangerous situation humanity has created for itself. Listening to the speeches, ground-breaking in their way, that President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao delivered September 22 at the UN Summit on Climate Change, I was reminded of my most recent “Oh, shit” moment. It came in July, courtesy of the chief climate adviser to the German government. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, chair of an advisory council known by its German acronym, WBGU, is a physicist whose specialty, fittingly enough, is chaos theory. Speaking to an invitation-only conference at New Mexico’s Santa Fe Institute, Schellnhuber divulged the findings of a study so new he had not yet briefed Chancellor Angela Merkel about it. The study, Solving the Climate Dilemma: The Budget Approach, has now been published here. If its conclusions are correct — and Schellnhuber ranks among the world’s half-dozen most eminent climate scientists — it has monumental implications for the pivotal meeting in December in Copenhagen, where world leaders will try to agree on reversing global warming.

Schellnhuber and his WBGU colleagues go a giant step beyond the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN body whose scientific reports are constrained because the world’s governments must approve their contents. The IPCC says that by 2020 rich industrial countries must cut emissions 25 to 40 percent (compared with 1990) if the world is to have a fair chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. By contrast, the WBGU study says the United States must cut emissions 100 percent by 2020 — in other words, quit carbon entirely within ten years. Germany and other industrial nations must do the same by 2025 to 2030. China only has until 2035, and the world as a whole must be carbon free by 2050. The study adds that big polluters can delay their day of reckoning by “buying” emissions rights from developing countries, a step the study estimates would extend some countries’ deadlines by a decade or so.

Needless to say, this timetable is light-years more demanding than what the world’s major governments are talking about in the run-up to Copenhagen. The European Union has pledged 20 percent reductions by 2020, which it will increase to 30 percent if others — i.e., the United States — do the same. Japan’s new prime minister likewise has promised 25 percent reductions by 2020 if others do the same. Obama didn’t mention a number, but the Waxman-Markey bill, which he supports, would deliver less than 5 percent reductions by 2020. Obama’s silence

~ by Cory Morningstar on October 16, 2009.

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