Prescription for Paralysis

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorAug 2, 2011 4:49 PM


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At the NYT Green blog, Justin Gillis writes (my emphasis):

Climate scientists have long called for steps to limit the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and they are growing more and more worried about the slow pace of action. Yet their sense of urgency has not permeated society at large, and it certainly does not seem to be influencing the course of events in Washington, where climate legislation stalled last year.

All true. So if we know that progress on the domestic and international policy fronts is stalled, then this leaves one last option for the climate concerned community: generating a larger "sense of urgency." Hence the new report from the San Francisco-based ClimateWorks Foundation that, says Gillis, "does the best job I have seen of explaining, in layman's terms, why scientists keep pressing the [climate] issue." The report cuts right to the chase (my emphasis):

The physics of the earth harbor a frightening punch line for the climate change story: Even though the consequences of climate change persist for the very long term, the time to avoid those consequences is very short. A delay "” of even a decade "”in reducing CO2 emissions will lock in large-scale, irreversible change. Delay also increases the risk that the whole climate system will spin out of control. This message may be alarming, but it is not alarmism; it's physics. And the earth's climate physics have serious implications for political action and technological innovation in the coming decade.

So the clock is ticking. But the real punch line--which I've bolded below--comes at the end of the report:

ClimateWorks' goal is to limit annual global greenhouse gas emissions to 44 billion metric tons by the year 2020 (25 percent below business-as-usual projections) and 35 billion metric tons by the year 2030 (50 percent below projections). These ambitious targets require the immediate and widespread adoption of smart energy and land use policies. ClimateWorks and its network of affiliated organizations promote these policies in the regions and sectors responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions.

"Immediate," as in now? Next week? Next year, or just by 2020? And what does "widespread" mean? I'm kinda thinking it's another way of saying much of the world. So what happens if the world is no closer to adopting these ambitious targets by, say, 2015? What if we're still having the same debates then? What if there is still no sense of urgency permeating society at large? Does the climate concerned community continue blaming oil companies, "deniers," and the media for the lack of progress? Do they have a Plan B? To avert "large-scale, irreversible change," does ClimateWorks have particular "smart energy and land policies" in mind? The clock is ticking.

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