Don’t give up on combating climate change
By John Ward
Special to The Sun
The Trump administration has claimed that global warming will increase by a catastrophic 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. This conclusion appeared last August in a 500-page impact statement used to justify freezing fuel efficiency standards for cars because it’s too late (they claimed) to stop global warming.
Are they right? Should we just give up?
Royal Dutch Shell had already warned in an inhouse report in 1988 that “by the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilize the situation.” In 2015, an internal Shell planning document projected a short-term global surface temperature increase of up to 4 degrees Celsius, continuing on to 6 C, since governments would continue to do too little to prevent it.
But even now there is much we can do if we will. Failure to act condemns us to a world with temperatures rising higher than human bodies were designed to tolerate. Let’s prove Shell wrong. Let’s lead the world, as we used to do, to fix the problem.
In court this year, Chevron admitted that climate change is real, serious and caused by human activities. The other plaintiffs — BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips — stated that Chevron’s presentation was largely accurate. But they blamed the public for worsening the climate by buying their product.
Chevron’s lawyer quoted the following conclusion from the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
The most recent IPCC report, written by 91 climate scientists from 40 countries, based on over 6,000 studies, assigns the cause even more completely: It finds that human activities have been responsible for all of the global warming since 1850, because warming and cooling effects of climate cycles and forces that affect temperature canceled one another out over that period. That’s reassuring!
Since we caused the problem, working together we should be able to lessen its damage by stopping what we do to cause it: emit heat-trapping gasses. And we must do that. The new report warns that even a global temperature rise of 1.5 C will have serious consequences, and a 2-degree rise will be far costlier and more harmful.
The 4 C rise expected by the president’s administration and by Shell, a global temperature level that humans have never experienced, is unthinkable, but probable if we fail to act. The report says we have only a dozen years left to get the threat under control.
If we follow the president’s advice to put America first, the evidence says we must do everything we can to stop the warming. A study published in September, “Country-level cost of carbon,” finds the United States has the second- highest cost of carbon emissions after India. Countries that will benefit financially from global warming are all north of us, including Canada, Russia and northern Europe.
And stopping the warming is especially beneficial for us Floridians. A study in 2017, “Costing out the effects of climate change,” found that the southern states would suffer the most — especially Florida.
The new IPCC study finds that it will be extremely hard, though possible, to keep global warming below the 1.5 C level. Regrettably, that’s not likely to happen. Even the more dangerous 2 C level may be beyond our reach. But it’s important to do as much as possible and as soon as possible.
The technology now exists to rapidly lower carbon emissions, which we must do while we develop cost-effective means to remove some of the CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere. Wind and solar continue to drop in price, and battery technology has made an important breakthrough with the first zinc air rechargeable cells, which have a lower cost, don’t explode, don’t use any rare materials and are already backing up solar panels in 110 communities in Africa and Asia.
The sooner the world converts to clean energy, the more we can save of our health, our security and our way of life, and the more we can limit the temperature rise above the relatively stable range of the last 10,000 years that made civilization possible.
Don’t let anyone tell you we can’t afford to stop global warming. We can’t afford not to.
John Ward lives in Gainesville.
Solar panels are seen near power lines. [AP PHOTO/NG HAN GUAN, FILE]