Can We Stop Climate Change?

earth-wavesThe short answer is, “no”.

However, we can slow it down so that it causes less damage.

Here is a synopsis of the answer to this question from environmentalist Bill McKibbon  The Spring of Sustainability.

Q: Can we reverse the problem, can we stop climate change? A: The climate is changing, there is nothing we can do about it – but we can still – we must – keep working to slow down emissions of fossil fuels. We have already increased the earth’s temperature by 1°C and this has caused more damage than expected. For example already 20% of the Arctic summer ice has disappeared. Even if we do everything absolutely right, we will get close to 2 degrees increase, considered our absolute limit and above which temperatures are thought to be life-threatening to civilization.” (Note: Scientists are saying even 2°C increase is too lenient a target and dangerous: for example, see We Need a Radical Plan). This limit is what everyone (including the US) at Copenhagen agreed to work towards. (Right now we are on target for a 4 to 6°C increase.)

Q: Can you summarize your article: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math?  A:  Three numbers: 2°C – that is the line in the sand above which we cannot go if we want civilization to survive.  500 gigatons: that is the carbon budget – how much fossil fuel could be burned over the next 30 years, allowing us to stay within a 2°C increase in global temperature.  2800 gigatons: this is how much fossil fuel the oil and coal companies now hold in reserve – 5 times the carbon budget – and of course their business plans are to exploit their reserves; and more, as they continue to explore for more fossil fuels.

Q: Why is it that even with the knowledge that we have about climate change, that the political will has not been there to make the changes required to avert climate change?  What are the main obstacles? A: The power of the energy industry. Last year Exxon made more money than anything seen in the history of money. There is a lot you can do with that money.  (See for example Secret Funding: The Guardian Feb 14 2013).

 Q: What actions can people take to make a difference? A: We need to organize to change the system.  We can do things around our homes like change our light bulbs but at this point we need to take drastic action. That is why we must work together. One way is the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement. This movement is gaining a lot of attention and students have taken this on and are demanding their colleges and universities divest endowments from fossil fuel companies.

Q: What about cooperation – can we work together in some way? A: Cooperation is great and I’m sure at some point the energy industry will be great at getting us on to other forms of energy, but right now they do not have the will to do so. They are focused on their business plans, to sell the fossil fuels they have in reserve and continue to look for more sources.

Q: What about appealing to oil executive’s moral sensibilities? A: Recently the CEO of Exxon Rex Tillerson was on record as saying, in response to the question ‘Is is your philosophy drill, baby drill?’, answering ‘No, my philosophy is to make money’ It’s a waste of time attempting to work with that. We need to structure things differently. (Note: the full answer from Rex Tillerson was “No. My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do.” See full article here.)

Q: What actions do you recommend? A: The moment has now come, we need you to do whatever you can do.  That might mean getting ready to go to jail – we are going to do a lot of civil disobedience action this summer.

Disclaimer: This is my paraphrasing (NOT quoting!) of the interview through quickly jotted notes- apologies in advance if I got anything down incorrectly. To sign up for the series of speakers, which started today, please go to Spring of Sustainability here and sign up. You can get a link to the webcast over the next 48 hours, or for a small price purchase the downloadable transcript.

Here are some websites mentioned in the interview to learn more and get involved.

Dr. Jeff Master’s Wunderblog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.