This week of Halloween, I thought we’d settle on a creepy, nay terrifying, topic – the topic of how far we actually are from preventing runaway climate change. In a Time Magazine article I read this morning, it was noted that even some of the most well-educated and prestigious young minds in America don’t really understand what level of effort is required to prevent catastrophic climate change. These are MIT students, strong in math and science, and yet 84% of the respondents got the question wrong. Before you read any further take a moment to answer these two questions: (1) How much do we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to stabilize their concentration in the atmosphere at safe levels? (2) How much time do we have to do it?
If you said that we have to freeze emissions at today’s levels as fast as we can, you’d be sadly mistaken. I’ll admit that it’s difficult to imagine how we could achieve even that goal given (1) how much of the world’s population still lives without adequate access to the resources that they need to survive, and (2) how economic growth and accelerating greenhouse gas emissions traditionally go hand-in-hand; for example see India or China. So this goal, challenging as it is, is still way off the mark. The correct answer, according the best scientists on the subject, is that we need to curb greenhouse gas emissions 80% below current levels by 2050. Maybe this doesn’t worry you much since we have over 40 years to figure it out. Again, sadly mistaken.
The types of technological changes required to prevent dangerous levels of climate change will take many years to develop and then it will take serious effort to deploy and implement these solutions on the required scale. Let’s consider that right now the United States isn’t even capping greenhouse gas emissions. Despite several state-based efforts, emissions in all 50 states remain basically “off the hook.” China now surpasses the US in total greenhouse gas emissions, which gives some Americans the sense that China was tagged and suddenly named “it”, and that we were finally “off the hook” as individuals too. Nope, not so fast.
Worldwide per capita emissions are 5.6 metric tons a year. So where do you think that would put China per capita emissions or US per capita emissions? I’ll tell you. China averages 3.9 metric tons per person and the US (sit down for this) averages 24.5 metric tons per year. Neither American citizens nor American businesses can afford to be laissez faire about this issue. We are frankly too much a part of the problem to begin pointing fingers. So what do we do?
One thing is, we start today. We measure. We monitor. We radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions through changing the way we live and the way we do business. What’s required is as much an intellectual shift as it is a technological shift. As the Time Magazine article makes clear, our typical “wait and see” mind set (meaning we’ll deal with the problem when the symptoms start to manifest) simply will not work in this case. By the time the symptoms start to be undeniable, it will already be too late to stop the train. Even though it’s Halloween, I’ll avoid a description of what happens if we don’t stop the train, but I will give you a sneak peak. If you feel like you have the stomach for it, click here.
ClimateCHECK is a greenhouse gas (GHG) management services and solutions company. The firm’s solutions support all facets of the carbon commodities market, including the verification, validation and consultation of GHG inventories and program portfolios, as well as quantification protocols for emissions reduction projects and clean technologies. ClimateCHECK is a sponsor and co-founded, with World Resources Institute and Carbon Disclosure Project, the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (www.ghginstitute.org). Founded in March 2007, the company has locations throughout North America. For more information visit www.climate-check.com