World continues to follow high emissions growth pathway that Exxon projected in 1982
The concentration of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere reached an unprecedented level this month. Researchers at the fossil fuel giant Exxon saw it coming decades ago.
Measurements taken on May 3 at the world’s oldest measuring station, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, recorded “humanity’s first day ever with more than 415 parts per million [ppm] CO2 in the air,” according to the United Nation’s climate change Twitter account. As of May 12, levels have remained steady at 415 ppm.
Never before in human history has there been so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The last time scientists believe it may have been this high was 2.5 to 5 million years ago during the Pliocene epoch, when sea levels were 25 meters higher than today and global temperatures were warmer by 2-3 degrees Celsius.
Unlike back then, however, the record carbon dioxide emissions being recorded now are the result of humans burning fossil fuels, which releases harmful heat-trapping pollution into the atmosphere. And scientists at Exxon predicted this decades ago.
According to an internal 1982 document from Exxon Research and Engineering Company — obtained by InsideClimate News as part of its 2015 investigation into what Exxon knew about the impact of fossil fuels on climate change — the company was modeling out the concentration of carbon emissions several years into the future.
According to a graph displaying the “growth of atmospheric CO2 and average global temperature increase” over time, the company expected that, by 2020, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would reach roughly 400 to 420 ppm. This month’s measurement of 415 ppm is right within the expected curve Exxon projected under its “21st Century Study-High Growth scenario.”
Not only did Exxon predict the rise in emissions, it also understood how severe the consequences would be.
“Considerable uncertainty also surrounds the possible impact on society of such a warming trend, should it occur,” the internal document stated. “At the low end of the predicted temperature range there could be some impact on agricultural growth and rainfall patterns which could be beneficial in some regions and detrimental in others.”
“At the high end, some scientists suggest there could be considerable adverse impact including the flooding of some coastal land masses as a result of a rise in sea level due to melting of the Antarctic ice sheet,” it continued, stating this would only take place centuries after temperatures warmed by 3 degrees Celsius.
Despite this knowledge, the company chose not to change or adapt its business model. Instead, it chose to invest heavily in disinformation campaigns that promoted climate science denial, failing to disclose its knowledge that the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must remain untapped in order to avert catastrophic climate change.
The world is already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change. As the very first line of the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment asserts, “The impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country.”
From more intense flooding, drought, heat waves, wildfires, and hurricanes, the world is becoming increasingly aware of what life in a warming world will look like. In 2018, the United States alone experienced 14 different climate and weather-related disasters, each costing over a billion dollars.
The record carbon emissions recorded this month indicate things will most likely continue to get worse; carbon remains in the atmosphere for a long time, meaning it continues to warm the world long after it is emitted. “This is a grim reminder of the perilous path we are on,” climate scientist Michael Mann said.
Mann was one of three scientists to first release what is known as the famous “hockey stick” graph in 1999. The graph, illustrating temperature increase over time, takes the shape of a hockey stick due to the sharp increase after the Industrial Revolution. Twenty years after the graph was released, CO2 levels were roughly 366 ppm. Today, Mann told ThinkProgress over email, they’re increasing by about 3 ppm each year.
“If you do the math, we’ll cross 450 ppm — which likely locks in dangerous planetary warming of more than 2C/3.5F — in just over a decade,” he said. “That means we have to act dramatically, now, to lower global carbon emissions (by about 5-10% a year) if we are to avert catastrophic climate change impacts.”
World ‘not on track’ to stop 1.5 degrees of global warming warns UN Secretary General: “Climate change is running faster” than we are warns António Guterres. “We need to dramatically accelerate… what everybody knows needs to be done.”
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres warned the world is “not on track” to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Speaking in New Zealand Sunday morning ahead of traveling to Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Fiji — nations among the most vulnerable to climate change — Guterres said: “Climate change is running faster than what we are… the last four years have been the hottest registered.”
Indeed, according to data released in February by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the past five years (2014-2018) have been the hottest years ever recording in NOAA’s 139 years of tracking global temperatures. And with more intense hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and flooding, the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, 195 nations agreed to take action to limit global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, “and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit].”So far, global temperatures have already increased by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the Industrial Revolution.
And according to the latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last fall, under the current emissions path the world will cross the 1.5 degrees threshold by 2040; and absent significantly stronger global action the world will surpass the 2 degrees target two decades after that.
Global warming beyond these targets would risk triggering irreversible climate tipping points including the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet and with it dangerous sea level rise, along with melting permafrost — this frozen Arctic tundra stores carbon dioxide and methane, emissions which would be released into the atmosphere if it melts, further triggering even more warming.
Scientists in the IPCC report warned that in order to avert this dangerous warming urgent action must be taken to sharply reduce carbon emissions by 2030.
Guterres’ statement comes after he warned last week in an interview with the Associated Press (AP) that countries must stop building new coal plants otherwise the world will face “total disaster.”
In September, world leaders will convene, Guterres said, and he plans to tell them “they need to do much more in order for us to be able to reverse the present trends and to defeat the climate change.”
In addition to no more coal by 2020, Guterres will call upon leaders to take action to end fossil fuel subsidies, put a price on the use of carbon, and ensure that by 2050 the level of greenhouse gas emissions that are released into the atmosphere is less than what nature is able to remove (such as through trees, soils, or oceans absorbing carbon dioxide).
Echoing the call made by the world’s leading scientists in the IPCC report, Guterres told the AP that the goals under the Paris climate agreement don’t go far enough.
If countries do only what they promised under this accord the world will warm by another 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) said Guterres. Many countries, however, aren’t on track to meet their Paris targets while the United States under President Donald Trump has said it will withdraw from the global accord and is actively pursuing efforts to rollback environmental protections.
“That is why,” Guterres said, “we need to dramatically accelerate… what everybody knows needs to be done.”
So far, only a few Democratic presidential candidates have offered concrete climate plans. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Cory Booker (NJ) have respectively released proposals for public lands and environmental justice. But only two candidates have rolled out full-scale climate action plans with the intent of decarbonizing the entire U.S. economy.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX) rolled out a sweeping climate proposal at the end of April, one that would see $5 trillion powering a national effort to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Some climate scientists and environmental groups cheered that plan, but Sunrise criticized O’Rourke’s timeline as not ambitious enough. After initial hesitation, however, he backed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge that Sunrise has been campaigning for, and the group softened some of its criticism.
Inslee, a self-styled climate candidate, also released a detailed climate proposal days after O’Rourke. The governor’s plan offers an ambitious timeline — with 2045 the latest possible date for net-zero emissions and much of the progress underway by 2030 — but failed to put a price tag on the endeavor. Sunrise was more supportive of Inslee’s plan, but called for a greater emphasis on social justice elements and protections for frontline communities.
And while Sanders called for dramatic climate action Monday night, he has yet to release a specific climate proposal.
Sunrise has not issued an endorsement of any candidate, but on Monday one candidate came under fire more so than any other. Former Vice President Joe Biden has yet to release a climate proposal, but Reuters reported last week that he would seek a “middle ground” on climate issues, one that would not completely abandon fossil fuels.
The Biden campaign has argued the report is incorrect but has not elaborated on that rebuttal, saying instead that the candidate’s “bold” environmental vision will be unveiled in coming weeks. On Monday night, however, speakers repeatedly knocked the idea of a “middle of the road” approach, including Ocasio-Cortez, who went on to slam “conservatives on both sides of the aisle.”
Going forward, it is unclear if Sunrise will demand climate plans from candidates in exchange for their support. But the group is pushing all presidential hopefuls to pledge not to take fossil fuel money, in addition to making the Green New Deal a “day one” priority and agreeing to a Democratic debate focused solely on climate change. The deadline to do all this? July 30, says Sunrise — the date of the second Democratic presidential debate.
** South Carolina – ban on offshore drilling holds appeal
Along with Warren, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) co-sponsored a 2017 bill that would have blocked any oil and gas activities in U.S. waters. Another candidate has already shifted his stance — former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) apologized for a 2016 vote that left open the possibility of expanding offshore drilling to the eastern Gulf of Mexico, where it is currently banned.
That about-face from O’Rourke speaks to larger Democratic awareness about the unpopularity of offshore drilling in states that could prove critical in 2020. And opposition to the practice is only growing. Officials have pointed to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which devastated the Gulf Coast, as an example of the hazards of drilling.
Experts say those concerns are rooted in reality. According to a study from the nonprofit organization Oceana, released Thursday, the danger associated with offshore drilling is only increasing. The report found that nearly a decade after the BP crisis, the Trump administration’s push to weaken safety and environmental protections is putting coastal communities and ecosystems at greater risk of a damaging oil spill in addition to threatening workers.
Risks associated with offshore drilling were already high to begin with. Oceana found that the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) regularly grants exemptions to offshore drilling safety requirements and that 1,568 injuries were reported by offshore operators between 2011 and 2017. Moreover, between 2007 and 2017, at least 6,500 oil spills occurred in U.S. waters. Such spills are often devastating for human health along with the environment and can be catastrophic for tourism and local economies.
“States on every coast would face unacceptable risk if President Trump’s plan for offshore drilling moves forward,” Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins said.
Warren’s comments on Monday indicate Democratic presidential contenders may increasingly campaign on the issue, which has pitted coastal Republicans against Trump. In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster (R) and Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) are among officials opposing drilling off the state’s coast. Other states likely to be political battleground areas include Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia — all coastal states where anti-drilling sentiment runs deep.
Hoskins called the growing attention to the issue from candidates “incredible” and said that offshore drilling comments on the campaign trail are a broader rebuttal of the Trump administration’s drilling ambitions.
“President Trump is uniting both Republicans and Democrats at every level of elected government along the East Coast against his offshore drilling plan,” she said. “Ultimately the question will be, is President Trump going to stand with the coastal communities who have the most to lose from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling?”
** IOWA: climate change is among the top two issues that matter most to Democratic voters in Iowa; 80% of Democrats polled said they want presidential candidates to dedicate time to speaking about climate change. The only issue that polled higher was health care.
According to a CNN/Des Moines Register poll conducted by Selzer and Company in March, climate change is among the top two issues that matter most to Democratic voters in Iowa; 80% of Democrats polled said they want presidential candidates to dedicate time to speaking about climate change. The only issue that polled higher was health care.
Youth political engagement is also on the rise. Millennials are quickly taking over Baby Boomers as the largest demographic in the United States. Meanwhile, Generation Z — which comprises those aged 18 to 23 — is expected to make up one in 10 eligible voters during the 2020 election, according to the Pew Research Center. And as multiple polls have shown, climate change is a top concern for young people across the country, regardless of party affiliation.
So, climate change likely won’t stray far from people’s minds as campaign season ramps up, especially for those recovering from its impacts.
This spring’s historic flooding is an example of the type of disaster scientists predict will occur more frequently as climate change intensifies. The government’s own National Climate Assessment, for instance, emphasizes that increased flooding in the Midwest is one of the expected impacts of a warming world.
Devastating floods are expected to inflict at least $3 billion in damages to American homes and farms. In Iowa alone, the cost of repairing damages to homes is expected to reach over $480 million as at least 1,200 residences have been destroyed or seriously damaged. Businesses will take a $300 million hit and agricultural damage in the state is expected to total $214 million.
And this is likely only the beginning, as unprecedented flooding is expected to continue into the spring across the United States, according to a forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), putting millions of Americans at risk of serious inundation.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that this is all taking place in the same state that’s home to one of the most decisive presidential primary caucuses. In February 2020, Iowa voters will be the first in the country to have the chance to say who they want as their president; a strong showing in Iowa traditionally sets a candidate up for a successful bid to the presidency.
Most 2020 Democratic contenders support the Green New Deal, for example, but only 10 have committed to declining to accept any contributions over $200 from political action committees or companies associated with the fossil fuel industry, in addition to executives and lobbyists. According to Oil Change U.S., at least eight major Democratic contenders have not taken that pledge.
And of the very large field of Democrats, only a small handful have offered real plans touching on climate issues. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is one of the only candidates so far to roll out climate-related policy. On Monday, she released a detailed plan to protect public lands while bolstering renewable energy.
At least 11 organizations have backed the call for a climate debate, including 350 Action, the Women’s March, and Greenpeace USA. They have issued their own petition, arguing that voters need to know which candidates will commit to acting on climate change “Day One” in office, and that a debate is an important forum to assess that likelihood.
“A dedicated climate change debate would motivate candidates to develop clear plans and commitments, and would let voters find out where candidates stand on a range of potential solutions and responses to climate-related problems,” said Hymas.
The DNC has so far remained vague in its response.
“The DNC’s goal is to provide a platform for candidates to have a vigorous discussion on ideas and solutions on the issues that voters care about, including the economy, climate change, and health care,” said DNC Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa in a statement.
“While Republicans refuse to even acknowledge that climate change is real, Democrats are eager to put forward their solutions to combat climate change, and we will absolutely have these discussions during the 2020 primary process,” Hinojosa said. “The DNC is currently ironing out the details for all 12 debates and will work with the networks to ensure that Democrats have a platform to discuss these issues directly with the American people.”
Republicans are gearing up to attack the Green New Deal — the latest effort by Democrats to address the growing climate crisis with a big push to deploy clean energy.
But because the public has long been supportive of both climate action and clean energy — and the momentum behind calls for action only continues to grow — the GOP has to pretend that they have a plan of their own.
So that means you can expect many conservatives critical of the plan to start using talking points from a playbook developed two decades ago by Republican word-meister and messaging expert Frank Luntz — a plan built around repeating the poll-tested words “technology” and “innovation” over and over and over.
In fact, some leading House Republicans have already started doing this. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) published an a op-ed this week on the conservative website Real Clear Policy that argues “Republicans Have Better Solutions to Climate Change.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a parody, as it starts out quite unexpectedly. The opening line reads: “Climate change is real, and as Republican Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, we are focused on solutions.”
In the real world, Walden, Upton, and Shimkus have all repeatedly voted against amendments recognizing that climate change is real and have taken money from the leading funders of climate denial, the petrochemical and fossil fuel billionaire Koch brothers.
In 2011, for instance, Upton said of global warming, “I do not say that it is man-made.” Shimkus has said cutting CO2 emissions is “Taking away plant food from the atmosphere” and said global warming won’t destroy the earth because “The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth.” And in 2017, Walden actually warned against supporting renewables.
So how do hardcore opponents of climate science and climate action pretend they have solutions? It’s all about “innovation,” as the op-ed makes clear:
We must address climate change in ways that focus on American prosperity and technological capabilities while maintaining America’s leadership in clean and renewable energy innovation. By doubling down on innovation, we can supply the world with new tools to combat emissions.
We should continue to encourage innovation and renewable energy development.
Walden and the others don’t support the actual solution to global warming — which is deploying clean energy. But, beyond that, they don’t even support developingrenewable energy. Instead, they want to “encourage it.”
If you are wondering why they repeat the word “innovation” three times in three sentences — and six times in the entire short op-ed — it’s because they are likely following the script laid out by Luntz in an infamous 2002 memo to conservatives and the George W. Bush White House.
In the memo, Luntz explained that the best way to pretend you care about the climate and the environment — while opposing regulations that might actually do something to reduce pollution — was to talk about “technology and innovation.” Indeed these words are a cornerstone of Luntz’s poll-tested euphemisms for “we want to sound like we care about the climate, we just don’t want to do anything about it.”
In the memo’s key paragraph, Luntz also repeats the word “innovation” three times (emphasis in original).
Technology and innovation are the key in arguments on both sides. Global warming alarmists use American superiority in technology and innovation quite effectively in responding to accusations that international agreements such as the Kyoto accord could cost the United States billions. Rather than condemning corporate America the way most environmentalists have done in the past, they attack us for lacking faith in our collective ability to meet any economic challenges presented by environmental changes we make. This should be our argument. We need to emphasize how voluntary innovation and experimentation are preferable to bureaucratic or international intervention and regulation.
Yes, progressives do like to argue that; because of successful American innovation and technology development efforts — much of it backed by the federal government — it is now super-cheap to slash carbon pollution.
Of course, progressives like to argue this point because that’s what all of the major independent scientific and economic analyses show, and so that’s what every single major government in the world agrees is actually true.
Indeed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reviewed the entire literature on the subject and concluded back in 2014 that the annual loss to global economic growth from preserving a livable climate would be a mere 0.06 percent — and that’s against a benefit of saving billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries.
And that was five years ago — renewable energy and other core clean technologies like batteries — have dropped sharply in price since then.
That’s why the key point for Luntz is that it is “voluntary innovation and experimentation.” Republican leaders don’t actually want to require people to replace dirty energy with clean energy. They just want to keep experimenting.
Tragically, however, because we’ve ignored the science for a quarter century, “technology and innovation” are not magic wands that can preserve a livable climate without strong government programs to spur deployment — such as a price on carbon or carbon pollution standards, which these three politicians have long opposed.
And so in the end, the three Republican politicians falsely claim “the Green New Deal is a policy of regulation, taxation, and ultimately, economic stagnation.”
But in fact, it is the opposite. It is a policy to finally take advantage of the remarkable innovation and technological development led by America to solve the gravest problem facing the country.
But true action like this is something these three Republicans could never endorse, and so they conclude with more Luntz-inspired pablum free from specifics and substance.
Americans deserve better. That’s why we back sensible, realistic, and effective policies to tackle climate change. Let’s encourage American industry to do its part through innovation. Let’s focus on community preparedness. Let’s harness our great American ingenuity to develop new tools that we can market to the world, as we’ve done before.
Republicans don’t have a solution but they are really good at staying on message. As ThinkProgress reported back in 2007, the “technology trap” is where the hypothetical promise of future innovation in carbon-free technology is used as an excuse to reject immediate action on climate change with the carbon-free technology we already have.