14 September 2009

83 Days - Why "80% by 2050" is Specious

We've been trying to figure out why so many environmental groups and NGOs are willing to back specious climate change mitigation proposals such as "80% cuts by 2050." Eighty percent is a long way from the needed 100% cuts, and 2050 is a long way from now.

Specious, by the way, is the right word to use in this situation. It means "superficially plausible, but actually wrong." It can also mean "misleading in appearance, especially misleadingly attractive." Getting down to 20% of 2006's, or even 1990's, emissions — especially giving ourselves such a long deadline — is still suicidal given the lag effects and feedbacks and how long greenhouse gases radiate heat after they've been emitted.

Backing the call for 80% cuts below [insert your favourite baseline year here — it won't matter one iota] levels by 2050 will get us nowhere fast. We must get to virtually zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible. Positive carbon feedbacks, especially in the Arctic and in the oceans, are kicking in too fast to wait for 2050.

As long as we are arguing over numbers, we are not taking decisive action. So arguing about the numbers is exactly what Big Money and Big Oil want us to do. Delay, delay, delay radical legislation that could safeguard the future. In fact, I read somewhere recently (in an ENGO document) "Creative Actions + Targeted Specific Message = Real Change in Policy Discussion." See what that's saying? Be cute, keep saying "350" or "80% by 2020," and we'll get people talking about something new. NOT we'll get all nations to lower their greenhouse gas emissions enough to save the world.

Why have we set the bar so low? Why do we continue to support specious targets? Is it because many environmentalists are naive? Perhps they believe that governments are telling them the truth (governments just want to get re-elected), that climate scientists are telling them the whole truth (scientists just want to be popular). Are they only asking for what they think they can get (which is despicable, cowardly and unethical, in my view)?

No matter what the reason, if enviros and social justice NGOs don't start demanding zero carbon as quickly as possible — no haggling over dates or "even playing fields," every nation just starts getting to zero right away — then we'll be joining the ranks of those making the future a thing of the past.

This trailer for the new movie Earth Days explains it well, but also check out New film 'Earth Days' takes a sometimes devastating look at the history of environmental activism in today's Grist. We who claim to care about the Earth, the future, and the children of all species have got to get our groove back!

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?