Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
Let's take more than the purely physical facts into account here as
well. It will take us a few years to pass the necessary legislation and sign
the key international agreements, as I suggested above, and a few years
ater that to research and implement an array of new technologies, build
the solar and wind plants, create a new energy infrastructure, convert our
transportation system, and fund the protection of forests. If we're lucky,
perhaps we will begin to see steep reductions in greenhouse gas emis-
sions in about a decade. By then, however, we will have emited so much
more carbon dioxide that we'll have much further to go to meet our tar-
gets. How far is impossible to say—but clearly we'd need to achieve many
more than the thirty-two wedges I mentioned a moment ago.
From these estimates it seems that if we acted now , our change in pol-
icy would finally begin to take effect roughly ten years from now, some-
where in the early 2020s. But the severity of our situation is clear if we
take into account the seventh reason—the fact that, as I've said above,
2020 is the new 2100. As recent research indicates, we've already crossed
one tipping point with the melting of the Arctic sea ice and may cross one
or two more by the mid 2020s. Nearly all the above estimates take as their
fundamental principle the overriding task of not crossing through those
tipping points; once we reach them, we need not work our way through
all those calculations but can sense our situation immediately from the
state of those tipping points. We're now witnessing the very events we
were trying to avoid, and all this talk of targets, all this arithmetic, how-
ever useful it may have once seemed, ultimately distracts us from what
is right in front of us. And from the evidence of the melting sea ice, the
exploding methane clathrates, the morphing permafrost, and the crack-
ling Amazon rainforest, the essential story is becoming increasingly clear.
So it seems that even under the best case scenario , even if we acted today
our efforts might take effect in the mid 2020s—just as we may be trig-
gering severe and irreversible climate change. Fortune may smile upon
us and allow us a few years of grace to hit our target, but if so, we really
must achieve everything in a ridiculously tiny span of time. It is far more
likely that we will be in the position of taking action after the feedback
loops have already begun—making ourselves poster children for defiant
foolishness. We are more than flirting with disaster; we're inviting it. It's
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