Thursday, November 26, 2015

Paris Is the Last Best Chance for the World to Save Itself

Thinker (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
Greenhouse gas emissions, like nuclear weapons, represent a collective action problem straight out of Game Theory 101.  Everyone will be better off if everyone forgoes them.  But the biggest individual benefits may accrue to the jerk who doesn’t participate while everyone else does.  And no one wants to be the sucker who tries to be responsible when the rest of the world isn’t.  The only solution is to get everyone on board all at once.  If you’ve ever followed international relations in any way, you understand how hard that is.

None of this will come as news to the negotiators assembling in Paris next week for the U.N. climate negotiations, known as the Conference of the Parties (COP) 21.  For more than two decades, we have known that climate change is happening, that it’s caused by human activity, and that an international agreement with everyone’s participation is the only path to preserving life on Earth as we know it.  And yet it has been an enormous struggle, often seemingly futile, to forge a climate agreement equal to the task.

At the past two major COPs — Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009 — developing countries were reluctant to forgo the cheap, dirty energy that powered industrial growth in the West.  Some rich nations were reluctant to pledge significant cuts if India and China wouldn’t do the same.  Even those countries that did make commitments often failed to meet them. Global emissions have kept rising.

On the eve of the COP 21 kickoff on Monday, Nov. 30, which will feature speeches by heads of state, including President Obama, there is hope that the world will seize this opportunity to save itself.  Obama — who, perhaps not coincidentally, has made nuclear non-proliferation a priority since he was in the Senate — realized that American leadership was needed.  Through patient, intensive diplomacy, he helped move China and Brazil to make unprecedented commitments to reduce their fossil fuel dependency and restrain their emissions.  Although he has had less success with India, it is an ongoing effort:  While in Paris, Obama will meet bilaterally with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as President Xi Jinping of China. In any event, India has made substantial promises to reduce its carbon intensity — meaning emissions per unit of gross domestic product — and to expand its solar energy generation. Meanwhile, two rich countries that have taken a recalcitrant attitude toward climate action, Australia and Canada, have recently replaced their prime ministers with new ones who care more about climate change and have more respect for science.

These developments come at a key moment in the fight against climate change.  The Earth has now warmed 0.85 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.  If we stopped emitting carbon completely tomorrow, we’d warm about another 0.6 C over the next 40 years, due to our past emissions, some of which will hang around the atmosphere for thousands of years. Absent significant carbon sequestration through reforestation or new technology that can safely and economically suck carbon from the air and store it underground indefinitely, we’ve already guaranteed 1.5 C of warming.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that 2 C is the threshold at which large, unpredictable effects — some of which, like the melting of the polar ice cap, cause even more warming — will run out of control.  Some climate scientists, like the famously prescient NASA veteran James Hansen, say that point may be even lower, as low as 1.5 C.

Read more at Paris Is the Last Best Chance for the World to Save Itself

1 comment:

  1. From the very first sentence, the reader is being told by the author that this post is a colossal pile of crap.

    "Like nuclear weapons...represent a collective action problem straight out of Game Theory 101. Everyone will be better off if everyone forgoes them."

    Spoken exactly like someone who has totally ignored the history of the 20th century, especially the history of human conflict after 1945. If you had done your homework, you'd have already realised that nuclear weapons are the ONLY reason why a third major global war with widespread death and destruction far exceeding that of World War II was never fought.

    Nuclear weapons have completely eliminated war between powerful, industrialised first world countries. These countries are the ones who still have the capability to destroy the entire human race without using nuclear weapons. Conventional, biological, or chemical weapons are FAR more lethal than nuclear weapons for the simple fact that nuclear weapons are singled out as the "great enemy of mankind" by people like this author. Nuclear weapons have killed a mere fraction of the number of people killed by conventional weapons like guns, knives, swords, artillery, bombs, mortars, grenades, land mines, rockets, torpedoes, and many more. Even bare human hands have killed more people than nuclear weapons. In contrast to the "safe to use" conventional weapons like machine guns, land mines, grenades, and that the radical leftists love to ignore, nuclear weapons do not exist to be used, they exist solely to prevent war between major world powers. In that respect, nuclear weapons have maintained success rate of 100% since their inception in 1945. No other weapon can claim such a perfect record of deterrence.

    Tens of millions, probably hundreds of millions, of human lives have been lost to conventional weapons like guns, swords, bombs, crossbows, and artillery compared to the mere tens of thousands of lives lost in nuclear warfare.

    If human lives and the survival of the human race is the primary objective, then why don't anti-nuclear protesters focus their efforts on stopping conventional warfare? After all, that is the only form of war that is *still* being fought around the world, even as I type this comment. The first and last time anyone resorted to nuclear warfare was in August 1945, so it seems quite clear to me which threat poses a greater threat to humanity.

    It seems pretty hypocritical to protest against weapons which aren't being used, while totally ignoring the weapons which have continued to kill or catastrophically maim millions of people, including many women, children, and elderly civilians in the period since nuclear weapons were created. Why not protest to completely ban conventional, biological, and chemical weapons instead of nuclear? Or perhaps you might campaign for a ban on all of them, including nuclear?

    Perhaps anti-nuclear activists just haven't thought that far ahead yet? Or maybe the anti-nuclear activists are unfairly singling out nuclear weapons because they refuse to accept the fact that their reason for promoting the anti-nuclear movement was proven to be completely wrong. They said nuclear weapons made the us, the West, and the world as a whole, much more unsafe. But as we know, nuclear weapons kept the West safe, and it still continues to this day.

    Many anti-nuclear activists are also the most vocal supporters of the fight against global warming. They are always keen to blame humans and "Western imperialism" for causing the whole thing. Of course, we know that man is not responsible for global warming, but it seems to me that the same failed logic that these people used to justify their absurd anti-nuclear movement has also poisoned the climate change debate with misinformation and bias. Are these people just radical left-wing relics from the Soviet era, or something even worse?