Yes, 1.5 Degrees Celsius Is Long Gone as a Climate Change Target

Here’s a depressing story. It’s from David Roberts, who writes about energy and climate change for Vox, and he’s telling us that we have already missed our goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C. But this is not the depressing part since it’s been obvious for a while. This is:

To hit 1.5˚C, emissions would need to fall off a cliff, falling by 15 percent a year every year, starting in 2020, until they hit net zero. That’s probably not going to happen. Temperature is almost certainly going to rise more than 1.5˚C.

A lot of climate activists are extremely averse to saying so. In fact, many of them will be angry with me for saying so, because they believe that admitting to this looming probability carries with it all sorts of dire consequences and implications. Lots of people in the climate world — not just activists and politicians, but scientists, journalists, and everyday concerned citizens — have talked themselves into a kind of forced public-facing optimism, despite the fears that dog their private thoughts. They believe that without that public optimism, the fragile effort to battle climate change will collapse completely.

….From where I’m sitting, it looks like the 1.5˚C goal is utterly forlorn. It looks like we have already locked in levels of climate change that scientists predict will be devastating. I don’t like it, I don’t “accept” it, but I see it, and I reject the notion that I should be silent about it for PR purposes.

It’s pretty obvious that Roberts had to pump himself up to say even this much. He’s nervous about it because going public means he’s going to be hit hard by activists and possibly drummed out of the corps of “serious” climate change journalists. He tries to forestall this a bit by saying we “probably” won’t hit 1.5°C and then going on for more than 3,000 words to explain why he’s taking such a pessimistic attitude.

This is crazy. Of course we’re not going to hit 1.5°C. We left that in the rear-view mirror years ago. It would take a miracle for us just to hit 2°C. Realistically, we might manage to top out below 2.5°C, but only if we (a) get lucky and invent something spectacular or (b) give up and start spraying sulfates in the atmosphere. Is this really so hard to admit? All it takes is a quick look at the most basic CO2 emissions chart to see that there’s no reason at all to believe that emissions are suddenly going to start plummeting anytime in next few years:

For what it’s worth, I’d add one more truth bomb to this: It’s time to stop blaming Republicans for this state of affairs. Don’t get me wrong: Republicans are obviously lying about climate change for partisan purposes, and they are just as obviously a big obstacle in the way of serious climate action by the United States. They don’t care that they are helping destroy the planet and they deserve every bit of scorn they get.

But. Even if Republicans were fully on board with a serious climate plan, it would have only the smallest effect. The USA line in the chart above might be slightly lower than it is. But not a lot. After all, even the biggest plans from Democrats wouldn’t make more than a small dent in that line. And it wouldn’t make any dent at all in the lines that really matter: the ones for China, India, and the rest of the developing world. Those are going up like a rocket, and until that turns around we’ll never make any serious progress on climate change.

If you want to be serious about global warming, this is what you have to confront: it’s a global problem. It’s a human nature problem. Your solution, whatever it is, has to be global too. Mine is here. What’s yours?

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FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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