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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