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Why We Need to Shoot for 1.5 C Even Though We Might Miss — Part 1

Each day, as individuals and as a global civilization, we decide how difficult our future will be. We do this, ultimately, by deciding whether we will burn fossil fuels, and whether or not we will emit carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere. The most liveable climate change scenario is the one where we emit the least carbon, where we first switch carbon emitting energy systems with renewables, and where we then learn how to draw carbon down from the atmosphere. In scientific parlance, this best case response to climate change is described as the RCP 2.6 emissions pathway.

(Shooting for 1.5 C Warming — Risk and Necessity.)

What is RCP 2.6? How do we define it?

We do this in many ways. By one measure, it roughly equates to an average of 490 ppm CO2 equivalent greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere over the course of the 21st Century. By another, it equals an added average radiative forcing at the top of the atmosphere of 2.6 watts per meter squared. By another, it roughly equals 1.5 C warming by 2100.

In short, it’s the best case that we could rationally hope for. A much more liveable world. But it is also a long shot. A heavy lift. One that will require great courage, moral fiber, innovation, and effort if we are to have any hope of achieving it.

In order to have a shot at hitting RCP 2.6 we’ve got to, as a global civilization, achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. What this means is that U.S. carbon emissions need to be net zero by 2035. And the world needs to quickly follow suit. That’s not going to be easy. But I think it’s doable, if we work hard and honestly and if we are lucky.

Ultimately, it’s something that we can’t not try to do and still be a good people. For in undertaking the path to 1.5 C we commit to the greatest rescue operation in the history of the planet and of humankind. And that’s what part 2 of this post series is about.

Hat tip to Greg

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26 Comments

  1. Aaron Franklin

     /  July 12, 2018

    We’ve already missed. Temperatures are above that already. And the flood of hot Pacific and Atlantic water into The Arctic is triggering the permafrost methane clathrate gun. And a blue ocean Arctic is looking inevitable. Global Atmospheric circulation systems have gone mental.

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    • Factually incorrect:

      https://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/

      We are in the range of 1 to 1.2 C warming at this time. That’s present warming. Not 1.5 C.

      I wonder why you make this statement except with the aim to intentionally spread confusion?

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
      • rhymeswithgoalie

         /  July 12, 2018

        Please unconfuse me: Those graphs only shows current warming, not what’s baked in by CO2 levels, right?

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        • Graphs are pretty clear that this is present warming through 2017-2018.

          Liked by 1 person

        • entropicman

           /  July 13, 2018

          I’m afraid we have released enough CO2 already to “bake in” an eventual rise beyond 1.5C.

          The forcing due to increased CO2 alone since 1880 is 5.35ln(410/280)=2.04W.
          IPCC estimate that forcing warms the climate by 0.81C per Watt.
          That gives a warming of 2.04×0.81=1.65C.

          There is about 25 years of lag in the system, so if we could instantly freeze CO2 at the present 410ppm we would still see 1.65C in 2045.

          Even given some optimistic assumptions the back of my envelope suggests that to meet the Paris 1.5C target we need to get CO2 below 395ppm and keep it there.

          While I admire your determination, Robert, I think we should, at least among ourselves, be realistic about the scale of the problem.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Part of being realistic is to take in the fact that the coming level of damage, so long as we do not make a determined effort, is unaccaptable. There is nothing unrealistic about highlightning the need to make ambitious goals, to aim for the very edge of what’s possible, in such a situation. We need to make stretch goals for emissions reductions. We need to shoot for the best possible outcome and do all we can to save our people, our cities, our nations, the vitality of nature itself. That’s why we need to shoot for 1.5 C even if it’s not achievable. Any rational and realistic and unbiased person, listening to my video, would come away with that conclusion. What annoys me to no end is the level of stick in the mud resistance to progressive action that works as hard as it can to save lives and livelihoods and prevent harm.

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        • Brian

           /  July 13, 2018

          Entropicman, just curious where the “about 25 years of lag” comes from? I’ve been curious about how much lag is built-in for years now, but I haven’t come across any research papers that have clarified that for me. Please let me know. Thanks!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Kiwi Griff

           /  July 14, 2018

          Michael E. Mann from 2015
          https://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-e-mann/how-close-are-we-to-dangerous-planetary-warming_b_8841534.html
          While greenhouse warming would abate, the cessation of coal burning… would mean a disappearance of the reflective sulphate pollutants (aerosols) produced from the dirty burning of coal. These pollutants have a regional cooling effect that has offset a substantial fraction of greenhouse warming, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. That cooling would soon disappear, adding about 0.5°C to the net warming… So evidently, we don’t have one-third of our total carbon budget left to expend, as implied by the IPCC analysis. We’ve already expended the vast majority of the budget for remaining under 2°C. And what about 1.5°C stabilization? We’re already overdrawn.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul (also in Wales)

     /  July 12, 2018

    When and if we do these things, ie emit less CO2, unless we then go further and temper civilisation and curb voracious consumerism and ecocide, then we are simply delaying the inevitable.

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    • Red Herring statement. The primary driver of loss of sustainability right now is climate change. Dealing with climate change generates a far more survivable civilization. Why are you distracting from that goal?

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  3. wili

     /  July 12, 2018

    Good points, well put as usual.

    A glimmer of hope on the US public opinion front, even if it seems to be weather dependent!

    “As Americans Experienced the Warmest May on Record Their Acceptance of Global Warming Reaches a New High”

    http://closup.umich.edu/files/ieep-nsee-2018-spring-climate-belief.pdf

    Key Findings:
    1. More Americans think that there is solid evidence of global warming than at anytime since 2008 with 73% maintaining this view in the latest version of the NSEE conducted in late April and May of 2018.
    2. A record 60% of Americans now think that global warming is happening and that humans are at least partially responsible for the rising temperatures.
    3. While half of Republicans think that there is solid evidence of global warming, the divide between the 90% of Democrats that hold this view and the 50% of Republicans that maintain this position is as large as anytime since 2008.
    4. The divide between Democrats and Republicans on the existence of anthropogenic induced global warming is also at record levels with 78% of Democrats now holding the view that humans are at least partially responsible for warming on the planet compared to only 35% of Republicans.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Good news. IMO, the perception of climate change can have a pretty big impact on politics in general. Even if that influence isn’t presently acknowledged.

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    • rhymeswithgoalie

       /  July 13, 2018

      This seems like a local maximum. For too many fickle-minded Americans, the minute the weather turns cold they’ll be turning their attention to their favorite sports teams and the next SUV they’ll buy.

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  4. Mike S

     /  July 12, 2018

    How about another AC/DC song? I’m not bothering to post a link to a Youtube video, you can play the song in your head.

    “We’re On The Highway To Hell”

    …applicable if the world goes down a pro-FF, business-as-usual path, which hopefully will not happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  5. Robert McLachlan

     /  July 13, 2018

    New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Bill: Much ado about methane
    (I got a little bit of 1.5C in there)
    https://theconversation.com/new-zealands-zero-carbon-bill-much-ado-about-methane-99842

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  6. kassy

     /  July 13, 2018

    Fern’s sequenced genome holds environmental promise

    Azolla filiculoides is a water fern often found fertilizing rice paddies in Asia, but its ancestry goes much further back.

    “Fifteen million years ago, Earth was a much warmer place. Azolla, this fast-growing bloom that once covered the Arctic Circle, pulled in 10 trillion tons of carbon dioxide from our planet’s atmosphere, and scientists think it played a key role in transitioning Earth from a hot house to the cool place it is today,” said Fay-Wei Li, a plant evolutionary biologist at BTI, adjunct assistant professor of biology at Cornell and the lead author of the work, “Fern Genomes Elucidate Land Plant Evolution and Cyanobacterial Symbioses.”

    Nitrogen fixation is the process by which plants use the chemical element as a fertilizer. While plants cannot fix nitrogen by themselves, Li said, the genome reveals a symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria, a blue-green phylum of bacteria that obtain their energy through photosynthesis and produce oxygen. Special cavities in the Azolla leaf host cyanobacteria to fix nitrogen, while the plant provides sugary fuel for the cyanobacteria.

    and more on:
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180711122335.htm

    I have wondered about the power of Azolla before. It is easy to grow but how much do we need to grow? And where can we put it so most of the carbon is locked up for a long time.

    Quoting from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azolla_event

    In sedimentary layers throughout the Arctic basin, a unit reaching at least 8 m in thickness (the bottom of the longest core was not recovered, but it may have reached 20 m+[citation needed]) is discernible. This unit consists of alternating layers; siliceous clastic layers representing the background sedimentation of planktonic organisms, usual to marine sediments, switch with millimetre-thick laminations comprising fossilised Azolla matter.[2] This organic matter can also be detected in the form of a gamma radiation spike, that has been noted throughout the Arctic basin, making the event a useful aid in lining up cores drilled at different locations. Palynological controls and calibration with the high-resolution geomagnetic reversal record allows the duration of the event to be estimated at 800,000 years.[1] The event coincides precisely with a catastrophic decline in carbon dioxide levels, which fell from 3500 ppm in the early Eocene to 650 ppm during this event.[3]

    Azolla has been deemed a “super-plant” as it can draw down as much as a tonne of nitrogen per acre per year[4] (0.25 kg/m²/yr); this is matched by 6 tonnes per acre of carbon drawdown (1.5 kg/m²/yr). Its ability to use atmospheric nitrogen for growth means that the main limit to its growth is usually the availability of phosphorus: carbon, nitrogen and sulphur being three of the key elements of proteins, and phosphorus being required for DNA, RNA and in energy metabolism. The plant can grow at great speed in favourable conditions – modest warmth and 20 hours of sunlight, both of which were in evidence at the poles during the early Eocene – and can double its biomass over two to three days in such a climate.[1]

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    • So to put this in context, the reliable mid range of an admittedly murky science indicates that we might see around 100 billion tons of CO2e from the Arctic under a 2 C warming scenario, a bit less below 2 C, and as much as 300 tons of CO2e under 4-5 C warming scenarios. This feedback should be taken into account and mitigated. But we should be clear that such mitigation must occur coinciding with a complete cessation of human carbon emissions and that the goal to aim for solidly is by or before 2050.

      In this context, this effort is admirable. And I wonder if this kind of research can help to enable other land forms to draw down carbon as well.

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      Reply
  7. kassy

     /  July 13, 2018

    The Trump Baby Blimp is getting a lot of headlines but here is a very British protest:

    We Brits might be rubbish at a lot of things, but protesting is one thing we’ve got down to a fine art.

    Especially when it comes to infusing that signature British wit into our protest materials. Take this Trump Dalek, for instance.

    The Dalek was seen whizzing through Westminster — the centre of UK politics — flanked by “secret service agents” just as Trump was arriving in the UK on Thursday.

    ICYMI, Daleks are “one of the most feared races in the universe” in Doctor Who and these pesky creatures are hellbent on “destroying all human life.”

    Turns out there was a human inside the Dalek costume. Environmental activist Al Binnie-Lubbock

    “They will destroy your planet one climate agreement at a time,” Binnie-Libbock tweeted.

    https://mashable.com/2018/07/13/donald-trump-dalek-london

    Hit the link for the pictures.

    Never seen a Dalek which such glorious hair. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • I think this is the appropriate public response to someone who clearly possesses infantile authoritarian ambition who lifts up dictators while tearing down the free world and who completely defiles his sacred responsibility as leader of the largest liberal democracy on the face of our Earth.

      Kudos to the British. And best hopes that you overcome this Brexit nightmare that has been inflicted on you by Russian manipulation in as large a part as Russian attacks have inflicted Trump upon us.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
    • cushngtree

       /  July 13, 2018

      Did you notice the “Secret Service” is shooing people away with a toilet plunger? How apropos on MANY levels!

      Like

      Reply
  8. Mick Walker

     /  July 13, 2018

    Good for you Robert for getting it right. So many Americans have been hoodwinked into other interpretations. We can only hope the one’s that don’t get it, do later and a blue wave can ensue in the next election cycle and in 2020. Absolutely need to go all in on renewables.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • It’s a great American tradition to fight fascism. But there’s also an emerging great tradition to fight anti-renewable energy FUD 😉

      Welcome Mike and warmest regards.

      #bluewave

      Like

      Reply
  9. Jeremy in Wales

     /  July 13, 2018

    Five years ago I would have said not a hope but now I feel more positive as actual change can be seen on the ground in my local area:
    Last week the street light outside my house went LED, not by itself but the community council (parish in England) changed a number of lights they are responsible for in the town sized village. These are on for 6 months of the year, spill less light into my bedroom and give true colour rendition in the street. This is a very visible sign of demand destruction and significantly reduces peak demand as they are installed across the UK.
    Speaking with my neighbour who runs a garage and he was telling me about doing his first MOT on an electric car (MOT = Ministry of Transport = Test all 3 year old & older cars have to pass every 12 months, MOT stuck as the name decades ago). He got in the car and was a bit perplexed as the first thing a mechanic normally does is start the car and squirt the accelerator, but of course he couldn’t. Apparently a local electricity company offers employees a cheap deal to lease electric cars. Some electric cars can be seen regularly and you spot chargers occasionally especially in the bigger cities..
    Even though this government is consumed by Brexit and is basically anti renewables, electricity generation is still getting cleaner. Coal is on the way out and wind especially continues to make gains. It could go a lot faster if the government was actually positive.
    https://utilityweek.co.uk/uk-powered-without-coal-for-over-1000-hours-in-2018/
    From the hills I can see the Irish sea wind farms including 8MW machines at Burbo Bank but 12MW turbines are coming to the North Sea so the cost continues to reduce and the amount generated goes up. The government even has to contend with its own Infrastructure Commission which wants nuclear cut back and renewables boosted to 50%
    https://www.current-news.co.uk/news/50-renewable-power-at-no-added-cost-national-infrastructure-commission-backs-2030-power-mix
    Basically change can happen quickly once the right circumstances drop into place, technology, scale, price and political will.

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