The Climate Conversation

12/16/2011 12:51 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2012
  • John F. Bruno Marine ecologist; Associate professor, UNC Chapel Hill

There has been a big conversation in the climate-o-sphere over the last week or two about what we need to do -- or can do -- about greenhouse gas emissions.  I don't agree with a lot of the points people have made, but it certainly got me thinking.  Start here with Andy Revkin and Naomi Klein's insightful if pessimistic conversation.

Klein: I agree that some market incentives and R&D investments are part of the solution, and I say so in the piece. But do I think they can get us to 80 per cent emissions reduction by mid-century? No. Not everything is win-win, some very powerful players are going to have to lose if we ever decide to get serious about climate change, which is why the denial movement is so well funded. A recent example is the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, which I have been a part of. We all know that real solutions lie in shifting to renewable energy. But in the meantime we also need to ask our governments to say 'no' to the dirtiest extraction projects on the planet -- projects that, if fully realized, would make catastrophic climate change far more likely. And since the eighties, our governments have gotten really bad at saying no to corporations, in large part thanks to the triumph of the no-intervention (except when we need a bailout) "free-market" ideology represented by the Heartland Institute.

Then go read David Roberts' two posts at Grist, here and here.

Jeez, 2 degrees C looks hard. Can we just do 4 degrees C [7.2 degrees F] instead?

It might seem that, given the extraordinary difficulty of hitting 2 degrees C, we ought to lower our sights a bit and accept that we're going to hit 4 degrees C. It won't be ideal, but hitting anything lower than that is just too difficult and expensive.

It's seductive logic. After all, to hit 4 degrees C we would "only" have to peak global emissions in 2020 and decline thereafter at the relatively leisurely rate (ha ha) of around 3.5 percent per year.

Sadly, even that cold comfort is not available to us. The thing is, if 2 degrees C is extremely dangerous, 4 degrees C is absolutely catastrophic. In fact, according to the latest science, says Anderson, "a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond 'adaptation', is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable."

Finally, go to Joe Romm's post responding to a follow up post by Revkin about the ever-controversial Bjorn Loborg's "post pollution" ideology.

It is all about investment in renewable energies, when carbon emissions will peak, how rapidly we can bring them down to 20% of 2000 levels and how much CO2 we can emit without ensuring "dangerous climate change" -- a post-apocalyptic world, 8-12C warmer than the one we now inhabit.  What is being questioned is in essence how much rapidly reducing emissions would affect the US and global economy.  I agree, there will be serious pain.  But you have to weigh that against the impacts -- yes to the economy -- from climate change, whether we peak at 2 or 8 degrees C of warming.  You can't do a cost-benefit analysis without the benefit part!  Not reducing emissions also has costs, and not just on climate but via military spending, energy security, human health, etc. And since we are going to eventually run out of coal and oil and will be forced to transition to renewables, why wait?