Thursday, October 06, 2016

This is Our Future

It was big news when China and the US ratified the Paris agreement on climate change, and did so together.  It should have been big news when an essential partner and so far a recalcitrant one--India--ratified the agreement a few days ago.

India is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and because of its growing population and economy, would otherwise be likely to make the task of reducing those gases impossible, had it not made this commitment.

Getting China and India to sign on is enormously important, and seemed so unlikely that it became a routine objection by deniers: they would never join, the US would sacrifice for nothing.

Now of course it is US recalcitrance that is the greatest threat to confronting the climate crisis.  The latest polling shows significant divergence of support, or even acceptance of the climate reality, and it mostly relates to party affiliation.  So if the US government remains divided, or even worse, falls into Republican hands, it's all up for grabs.

The climate crisis is here, and there is no more room for temporizing.  Every month breaks a new global heating record, and the latest studies indicates the planet is at its hottest in 115,000 years (Hansen) or 120,000 years (Stanford.)

Moreover the task of reducing greenhouse gases just became more complicated, or it will if this study is confirmed: "A study published Wednesday in Nature says that methane emitted during the production and use of fossil fuels are 20 to 60 percent higher than experts had thought."

These temperatures and the changes demonstrably underway in the oceans and the atmosphere also mean that we need to gear up more seriously to deal with effects, from multiple simultaneous natural disasters and health crises to long-range efforts to protect against catastrophe.

Now with the nations of the European Union formally ratifying the Paris agreement, it passes the majority threshold and goes into effect in 30 days.  As President Obama said on this occasion: "This gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we've got...One the reasons I took this office was to make America the leader in this mission."

"Now, the Paris Agreement alone will not solve the climate crisis. Even if we meet every target embodied in the agreement, we’ll only get to part of where we need to go. But make no mistake, this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change. It will help other nations ratchet down their dangerous carbon emissions over time, and set bolder targets as technology advances, all under a strong system of transparency that allows each nation to evaluate the progress of all other nations. And by sending a signal that this is going to be our future -- a clean energy future -- it opens up the floodgates for businesses, and scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation at a scale that we’ve never seen before. So this gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got."

In his five minute address (above), President Obama makes a case for how America assumed that leadership, and did so successfully in his administration.  He deserves great credit for his effective commitment--his seeding of the clean energy economy in particular did a great deal to move it into the strong position it is in today.

John Kerry deserves a lot of credit as well, not only for his diplomatic efforts as secretary of state but for taking the mocking from the ignorant when he names the climate crisis as the greatest threat, or when he said recently that saving the oceans is a life or death matter for human civilization.  This is the kind of perspective--and courage--that is needed in public officials.

Whether America continues to be a leader in this mission depends in part on what happens in November.  But it depends on more than that.  It's going to require commitment at every level, including the career choices of young people.

Making the Paris agreement work is essential, but it is only a framework.  It must generate a great deal more than what is obvious.  This is the work of generations, and will almost inevitably soon become the main work.  Best to get started.

No comments: