Scientists say Ocasio-Cortez’s dire climate warning is spot on: Michael Mann: “There is no scenario for stabilizing warming below 2°C that doesn’t require rapid reductions in carbon emissions over the next decade.” By Joe Romm, ClimateProgress.com, 31 Jan 2019.
Back in October, the nations of the world unanimously approved a landmark report from scientists warning that we must make sharp reductions in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 to have any plausible chance of averting catastrophic climate change.
This report — published by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — led to headlines like “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN” by The Guardian, and “The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say” from the Washington Post.
But when the popular freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) made the exact same point as the IPCC, the world’s foremost scientific panel on climate change — that millennials in the U.S. fear “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change” — the right-wing and even some in the media pounced.
So, ThinkProgress contacted leading experts on exactly what the science says. They confirmed that, yes, as Ocasio-Cortez says, we must act swiftly if we’re to maintain any plausible hope that we can avoid the catastrophic impacts that come with warming of 2°C or more above pre-industrial temperatures.
“Projected impacts look especially bad beyond 2°C or so of planetary warming,” leading climate expert Michael Mann told ThinkProgress. “And there is no scenario for stabilizing warming below 2°C that doesn’t require rapid reductions in carbon emissions over the next decade.”
Andrew Jones, co-director of Climate Interactive, a U.S. think tank that generated some of the scenarios the IPCC used in its report, said he “definitely” agreed with Mann’s assessment. Rapid reductions means a 30-50 percent decrease in global emissions by 2030, rather than the 10 percent increase we are currently looking at.
It is not possible to overstate the urgency of the matter. As Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the report’s working group on climate impacts, told The Guardian back in October, “This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilizes people and dents the mood of complacency.”
Within this, it’s also important to note that some Ocasio-Cortez critics took her comments out of context and tried to make it seem as if she was declaring literally, “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.”
But as the video of her interview with the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates makes clear, she was talking about why millennials and younger people have a different sense of urgency about climate change — it is because they are the ones who will have to deal with the consequences. For them, the world they once knew will be dramatically and irreversibly altered.
“I think the part of it that is generational,” Ocasio-Cortez explained, “is that Millennials and people, you know, Gen Z and all these folks that will come after us, are looking up and we’re like: The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change, and your biggest issue is how are we gonna pay for it?”
She added, “This is the war — this is our World War II.”
A few hours later, after conservatives had begun taking her line out of context and attacking her, she tweeted, “For some reason GOP seems to think this is a gaffe, but it’s actually a generational difference. Young people understand that climate change is an existential threat: 3,000 Americans died in Hurricane Maria.”
Ocasio-Cortez added, “The U.N. says we’ve got 12 years left to fix it.” She included a link to The Guardian piece that made the exact same point back in October when the IPCC report first came: “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe”
So did The Guardian and the Washington Post and Ocasio-Cortez understand the IPCC correctly? What exactly does the IPCC’s “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC” say?
First and foremost, the report makes clear that on our current emissions path, we will cross a key threshold of dangerous climate change — 1.5ºC (or 2.7°F) — soon, by 2040. Furthermore, reversing any amount of global warming, and its accompanying impacts, is all but impossible on a time scale of decades if not centuries.
Even worse, absent much stronger global action and a very sharp reversal of President Donald Trump’s anti-climate policies, the world would hit a truly alarming threshold of catastrophic climate change (2°C or 3.6°F) just two decades after that.
Back in December 2015 in Paris, the world’s nations unanimously committed to make a series of increasingly deeper emissions reductions aimed at keeping total warming “to well below 2°C [3.6°F] above preindustrial levels.”The Paris Climate Accord further committed the world “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C [2.7°F] above preindustrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”
The 2018 IPCC report makes the strongest case so far that going beyond 1.5ºC warming is much, much more dangerous than we realized just a few years ago. It shows that as the planet warms from 1.5°C to 2°C, the risks grow rapidly for some very dangerous tipping points, including the irreversible collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet (which would raise sea levels 20 feet).
For instance, the report notes that “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C is projected to prevent the thawing” of as much as 1 million square miles of permafrost. And that matters because the northern permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does today.
This means we face the very real possibility of a snowballing catastrophe — where global warming of 2°C or more thaws a huge area of permafrost, and the resulting carbon emissions released because of this would create, say, another 1°C of warming that in turn releases yet more heat-trapping gases from the permafrost.
The IPCC report says that keeping total warming to 1.5°C is still technologically possible, but it would require “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems… These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale.”
The following chart shows the kind of abrupt reversal of emissions trends needed in order to avert dangerous global warming.
If you think that such a U-turn is increasingly unlikely given that Trump has started the process of undoing every major U.S. climate policy and abandoning the Paris Accord, you aren’t alone.
“Given the present political debate, I don’t see much chance of these near-term cuts happening,” Texas A&M climatologist Andrew Dessler emailed ThinkProgress back in October. “Overall, I’m worried people will look at this and conclude that we’re totally screwed and give up.”
But that would be a mistake. Because, as dangerous as 1.5°C warming is, 2°C is catastrophic — and warming of 3°C (5.4°F) to 4°C (7.2°F) would be worst of all, pushing us toward what would inevitably destroy human civilization as we have come to know it. Our children and grandchildren would be facing inundation of every coastal city, Dust-Bowlification of much of the world’s best farmland, and accelerating climate feedbacks (like the thawing permafrost) that could push us into a “Hothouse Earth” — warming of 5°C (9°F) or more.
Since the primary reason the IPCC wrote this special report was to create urgency, the question remains, what are reasonable rhetorical ways of conveying the extreme urgency the world faces while still being true to the science?
Jones from Climate Interactive explained to ThinkProgress how he discusses with others why many, like The Guardian, picked up on the “12 years” framing from the 2018 IPCC report.
First, he highlights a line from the report pointing out that limiting global warming to no more than 1.5°C above preindustrial levels requires very deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions — “a 40-50% reduction from 2010 levels” — by 2030.
Then Jones shows this simple box which does some simple math; there are just 12 years between when the report was released and 2030.
But absent an increasingly implausible U-turn in emissions starting immediately we are going to warm more than 1.5°C. That means we face a multitude of dangerous impacts: more sea level rise, more extreme droughts, more extreme deluges, more loss of permafrost carbon, and so on.
So we’re stuck with some dangerous warming. But how do we avoid the catastrophe of 2°C and beyond?
“For limiting global warming to below 2°C, CO2 emissions are projected to decline by about 25% by 2030 in most pathways” compared to 2010 emissions, the report states, “and reach net zero around 2070.”
So, under most scenarios where the world is taking strong action to curb emissions, these emissions will need to start declining almost immediately.
The thing is, even as the IPCC report was being written, global CO2 emissions, which had flattened out in the middle of this decade, were on the rise again — as seen in this International Energy Agency chart from last fall:
The world’s failure to reverse emissions this decade means that instead of having 20 years — 2010 to 2030 — to cut emissions some 25 percent, we now have 12 years to cut CO2 emissions more than 30 percent.
However, there is no precise amount of emissions cuts by 2030 that avoids catastrophe. Indeed, even if we hit a 2030 target, we then have just four decades or so to drive global emissions down to near zero.
And no, 2030 “isn’t a cliff we fall off, it’s a slope we slide down,” as NASA climatologist Kate Marvel explained to Axios last week. But for her, getting language right means not understating the urgency: “We don’t have 12 years to prevent climate change — we have no time. It’s already here.”
And no, “the world isn’t going to end in exactly twelve years,” Marvel said. But she added that Ocasio-Cortez is “right that decisions we make in the next decade will determine how bad climate change gets — we can’t prevent bad things, but we have the power to avoid the worst-case scenario.”
So, the world will not literally end in 2030 if we fail to make deep cuts. But figuratively, the stable climate of the past 10,000 years that made modern civilization possible will have ended. Young people today will face a lifetime of ever worsening and irreversible impacts.
Here’s one way to frame the urgency: If the world does not make substantial and sustained progress in cutting total global warming emissions by 2030, then the window will be effectively closed for averting the catastrophic warming of 2°C or higher.
Having lost the war to avoid catastrophic impacts, we will instead be fighting a war to save civilization itself.
Ocasio-Cortez is right. “This is the war — this is our World War II.” But it is a war that will last many, many decades.
Since she was speaking at a January 21 event honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., she repeated his famous line about “the fierce urgency of now.”
It’s also worth repeating his next few lines, “In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
Bolstering urgent warnings from the global scientific community that the world must rapidly transition away from fossil fuels to avert climate catastrophe and keep global warming below 1.5°C within this century, a new study out Tuesday suggests meeting that end is simply a matter of political will.
“We are basically saying we can’t build anything now that emits fossil fuels.”
—Christopher Smith, University of Leeds
Published in the journal Nature Communications, the key takeaway from the study is that “although the challenges laid out by the Paris Agreement are daunting, we indicate 1.5°C remains possible and is attainable with ambitious and immediate emission reduction across all sectors.”
While that goal is described by some as “daunting,” critics of the Paris accord—which is backed by every nation on Earth except the United States under President Donald Trump—and its recently established rulebook have concluded that neither go far enough. Beyond those squabbles, though, there is a general consensus among the world’s scientists that tackling the climate crisis requires “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented” societal reforms.
Specifically, the new research shows that if carbon-intensive infrastructure is phased out from this point forward, there is a 64 percent chance of keeping global temperature rise within this century below 1.5°C. However, the window of opportunity is closing quickly. According to the report, “delaying mitigation until 2030 considerably reduces the likelihood that 1.5°C would be attainable even if the rate of fossil fuel retirement was accelerated.”
“It’s good news from a geophysical point of view. But on the other side of the coin, the [immediate fossil fuel phaseout] is really at the limit of what we could we possibly do,” lead researcher Christopher Smith, of the University of Leeds, told the Guardian. “We are basically saying we can’t build anything now that emits fossil fuels.”
While the findings suggest the world still has the option to meet the Paris agreement’s ambitions, there are some limitations to the research. As the Guardian pointed out, “the analysis did not include the possibility of tipping points such as the sudden release of huge volumes of methane from permafrost, which could spark runaway global warming.”
Smith, for his part, anticipates that global warming will surpass 1.5°C. “We are going the right way, but I don’t think we will do enough, quickly enough. I think we are heading for 2°C. to 2.5°C,” he said, but “if you don’t have a goal, you are not going to get anywhere. If you have a target that is really hard to achieve and you miss it slightly, that is better than wandering aimlessly into a future climate that is no good for anybody.”
The study comes as a new report from Oil Change International warns the United States is “drilling toward disaster” with fossil fuel expansion, and that if it doesn’t rapidly shift course—such as by implementing Green New Deal—the country “will impede the rest of the world’s ability to manage a climate-safe, equitable decline of oil and gas production.”
The planet, meanwhile, is experiencing the consequences of ongoing fossil fuel production. According to recently published research, the world’s oceans are warming about 40 percent faster than scientists believed in 2013, and Antarctica is melting six times more quickly than it was in the 1980s. As oceans and the atmosphere warm, ice melts, and sea levels rise, experts have also warned that extreme weather will grow increasingly more common—and deadly.
These dozen states could move to 100% renewable electricity, By IRINA IVANOVA, CBS News, Jan 31, 2019
The push for state legislation comes as renewable energy is growing overall, spurred by consumer demand and favorable economics. By 2050, if no new laws are passed, 31 percent of U.S. electricity will come from renewable sources, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Here are the states that are set to go even further.
The climate leaders: Washington, Massachusetts, New Jersey
Massachusetts, by many measures the bluest state in the U.S., started work last year on the country’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm and plans to double its wind generation in the next two years. Lawmakers in both houses of the legislature have introduced bills to make the state’s power 100 percent renewable by 2045.
New Jersey has taken a series of aggressive climate steps since the 2017 election of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. The state adopted a goal last year of 50 percent renewable electricity and is in the process of creating an Energy Master Plan, which environmentalists hope will push renewables further.
Washington came close to becoming the first state to tax carbon last year. Washington State introduced a bill this year that aims to eliminate coal within six years, require 80 percent clean utilities five years after that and make all electricity carbon-free.
Washington has a leg up as the nation’s top producer of hydroelectric power, which accounts for two-thirds of all electricity generated in the state. Last year’s wildfires across the Northwest also mean the state is deeply familiar with the effects of climate change.
- Record-breaking heat and fires are worsened by climate change, scientists say
- Wildfires may soon be uninsurable risks for homeowners
Former coal producers: Pennsylvania and Illinois
Pennsylvania is the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country (after Texas, California and Florida). The state’s economy, until a few decades ago, relied largely on coal. In recent years, it has become a lead generator of natural gas, a coal replacement that still creates carbon emissions, but on a smaller scale.
That’s why its recent about-face on clean energy is notable. Last year, a Republican legislator led a bill to put the state on a path to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Another Republican is set to introduce it sometime this month, according to PennEnvironment, a state environmental group. The group is hopeful this will be the year it passes.
“We’re not California. We’re not Hawaii,” said David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment. “When you have a purple state that Trump won, where the general assembly is dominated by conservative Republicans, it’s significant and shows that other states with a history of fossil fuel production can lead the way.”
Illinois’ statehouse is far bluer than Pennsylvania’s, but the state is just as dependent on coal. The country’s sixth most populated state, it still gets nearly two-thirds of its energy from fossil fuels.
But the new Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, has signaled a change in direction. Last week he signed on to the U.S. Climate Alliance, a pact that commits the 18 states in it to the goals of the Paris climate agreement, which the U.S. exited in 2017. Pritzker also campaigned on a goal of 100 percent clean energy.
Solid blue states: Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, New York
All four of these states have newly elected Democratic “trifectas,” in which the party controls both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion — and they’re pushing for an energy overhaul.
In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis has set the most ambitious target of any state — going to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, a full five years earlier than California and Hawaii. A recent study found that consumers would save $250 million if the state achieves that goal. Colorado’s largest utilty, Xcel Energy, last month promised to go carbon-free by 2050, a move it a said was “motivated by customers who are asking for it.”
“Consumers look to their utilities to be good citizens, and that includes protection of the climate,” said Andrew Heath, senior director of the utilities practice at J.D. Power. When utilities announce they’re shifting to renewable energy — whether it’s a response to law or on their own initiative — it’s met favorably, he added.
Maine is already the top wind-power producer in New England, and new Gov. Janet Mills offers the strongest contrast with her Republican predecessor. Former Gov. Paul LePage routinely drew criticism for his anti-environment moves, including quashing bipartisan pro-solar legislation and putting a moratorium on new wind turbine development.
On her inauguration, Mills set a goal to have 80 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources. Another Maine legislator is already leading the push for a “Green New Deal” in Maine, which would make the state’s energy entirely renewable by 2030.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for 100 percent clean energy by 2040, a plan that would require boosting the state’s solar, wind, hydroelectric and nuclear resources. The state legislature, which is Democrat-controlled for the first time in 10 years, must approve his plan by April 1.
And New Mexico is eyeing a goal of 80 percent renewable electricity by 2040, which Environment America calls “a first step” to being 100 percent renewable.
Great Lakes states: Michigan and Minnesota
Both these states have Republican-controlled legislatures and Democratic governors, and they have a higher-than-average reliance on coal (getting 36 percent and 41 percent of all electricity from it, respectively). Minnesota environmental groups, in addition to pushing for 100-percent renewability by 2030, are seeking a moratorium on new pipelines in the state. Those in Michigan have set 2050 as the target date.
Both states have a higher-than-average reliance on nuclear power (as do others on this list, like Pennsylvania and Illinois), which is excluded from the planned legislation — and that could be a problem when it comes to emissions.
Nuclear power has divided environmentalists because, while it emits no carbon, it isn’t renewable and has the potential to cause massive devastation. Many clean-energy groups favor phasing out nuclear, but doing so makes it harder to reduce emissions.
“What we’re starting to see is [renewable-energy requirements] are increasing market pressure on nuclear power plants, and the emissions increase from the loss of those plants offsets the gain in renewable energy,” said Whitney Herndon, a senior analyst at Rhodium.
She added: “In order to get the emissions benefit, you really want an increase in renewables, plus keeping the existing nuclear power there.”