60% less CO2 by 2050? How ’bout err….zero carbon emissions

9 12 2007

The task ahead is much greater than we presently comprehend argues George Monbiot.  Our decisions must be based on the latest science – not the science of pre-1995.  A prolonged state of emergency seems a reasonable response.  Here’s the closing paragraphs:

Underlying the immediate problem is a much greater one. In a lecture to the Royal Academy of Engineering in May, Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College explained that a growth rate of 3% means economic activity doubles in 23 years(24). At 10% it takes just 7 years. This we knew. But Smith takes it further. With a series of equations he shows that “each successive doubling period consumes as much resource as all the previous doubling periods combined.” In other words, if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2030, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs. Then, between 2030 and 2053, we must double our total consumption again. Reading that paper I realised for the first time what we are up against.

But I am not advocating despair. We must confront a challenge which is as great and as pressing as the rise of the Axis powers. Had we thrown up our hands then, as many people are tempted to do today, you would be reading this paper in German. Though the war often seemed impossible to win, when the political will was mobilised strange and implausible things began to happen. The US economy was spun round on a dime in 1942 as civilian manufacturing was switched to military production(25). The state took on greater powers than it had exercised before. Impossible policies suddenly became achievable.

The real issues in Bali are not technical or economic. The crisis we face demands a profound philosophical discussion, a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means. Debating these matters makes us neither saints nor communists; it shows only that we have understood the science.




5 responses

11 12 2007

Of the people who have regular newpaper columns, Monbiot is the only one I know of who is as clear as a bell on this issue. The shear scale of the problem is hard to comprehend. The changes happen slowly enough that they don’t seem that alarming year to year on a personal level. You have to look at data over a long time scale to see what’s happening (or be old enough to be able to look back several decades), work with some large numbers, get a grip on abstract concepts like doubling time — not the typical activities of the average voter. And, as Monbiot notes, this is now all about politics; we need voters to understand at least the basic facts.

The CO2/person numbers he uses in his post are more severe than the one’s I present here — and I thought mine were quite shocking.

11 12 2007


I think Monbiot has a way of cutting through. I do worry at times that he is almost too bleak for the average Joe, but then it is the situation that is bleak and not his fault. Your post (linked to above) well demonstrates the issues.

20 12 2007

World War Two which Monbiot mentions was a bleak time as well, but one that people the world over responded to with their best efforts. Somehow we need to encourage our fellow human beings (and ourselves) to look the current crisis in the eye and not just fold up, but rather to gather our best efforts and address it responsibly like the adults we are or wish to be.

22 12 2007

You’re right. It can be quite paralysing to learn some of the scientific priniciples behind humanities effect on the planet. But somehow we must embrace change and not fear it.

7 01 2008
Magne Karlsen

“The real issues in Bali are not technical or economic. The crisis we face demands a profound philosophical discussion, a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means.”


But you could equally argue that the crisis we face demands a discussion of the spiritual aspects of human living, as concerned with the apparent fact that we really do not have an intention to doing anything useful here, in order to stop global warming and thus maybe prove ourselves able — over time — to stabilize the climate systems which are being distorted by the heating of the world’s atmosphere.

Only a tiny fraction of modern, westernized humanity are prepared to do away with overconsumption and make way for serious lifestyle changes. All you are in need of in order to understand that the vast majority of modern humans are quite ready to speed up the global warming process by means of consuming more and feeding the fire with ever more coal and gazoline, is an eye and an ear. No, even blind people or deaf people can understand that this is so. All you need in order to understand this much, is a heart, most probably. And it’s pissing me off, but okay: human nature is human nature, and we’re no more than humans, any of us. It’s a sad case.

We’ll be astonishing the Gods by way of embarrassing ourselves; that’s what really is up here.

As for Bali: well, the delegates to the climate talks proved to me, once and for all, that it really is all about the money.

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